October 6, 2016

Indianapolis – Yesterday a federal judge ordered the Housing Authority of East Chicago and the East Chicago Police Department to stop warrantless, non-consensual entry into the homes of its residents, including their use of drug-sniffing dogs in the halls and units of apartment buildings, saying these searches violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class action lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of all tenants living in East Chicago Housing Authority units.

The lawsuit challenges ECHA’s policy and practice of conducting inspections and searches of tenant apartments without the tenant’s voluntary consent, without a warrant, and absent emergency circumstances that might justify gaining immediate entry. At least once a year, ECHA staff and East Chicago police conduct drug sweeps using drug-sniffing dogs without first obtaining a warrant or consent as the Fourth Amendment requires.

Yesterday’s order by Federal Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen, adopting an earlier report and recommendation by Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry, prohibits ECHA from conducting warrantless, non-consensual searches absent emergency circumstances.

“Indigent citizens cannot be asked to forego their Fourth Amendment rights as a condition for living in subsidized housing,” said Jan Mensz, ACLU of Indiana staff attorney. “We argued, and yesterday the Judge agreed, that ECHA’s policy of not seeking tenant consent or a warrant before entering their homes or using drug-sniffing dogs at their door violates its tenants’ reasonable expectation of privacy in their home, a place where Fourth Amendment protections are at their strongest.”

Shawn Polk, an ECHA resident and named plaintiff in the class action, said he was thrilled with the decision: “Far too often, we are treated like prisoners in our own homes. This decision sends a message to management that they need to respect tenant rights and treat us like any other citizen who wants basic privacy when they come home and close their door.”

The preliminary injunction decision in Mary Gutierrez and Shawn Polk v. City of East Chicago and the Housing Authority of the City East Chicago., Case No. 2:16-cv-00111-JVB-PRC was entered in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, on Oct. 5, 2016.

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