Longmont to pay $200,000 after unwarranted drug searches of subsidized apartments

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A Colorado city will pay more than $200,000 in a settlement with residents of a subsidized housing apartment complex whose homes were searched by police without warrants.

The settlement between the City of Longmont and four residents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado also requires the city to take input from the ACLU on search policies, hold a public forum to address the incident and release a report on the May 2017 drug searches produced by a local sheriff's office.

The tenants provided the ACLU with copies of notices that described the searches as a training opportunity for dogs in the police department's K-9 unit. But city officials said Tuesday that the officers involved weren't following department standards.

ACLU attorney Rebecca Wallace said the four residents were particularly disturbed by officials' initial description of the searches as a way to reach people with drug addictions.

"Our clients do not see themselves as needing caretaking," Wallace said. "The fact that they live in public housing in no way diminishes their privacy rights."

The tenants didn't file a lawsuit against the city. The settlement negotiations began when the city's top public safety official reached out and acknowledged problems with the searches, ACLU attorneys said.

Wallace said the four residents still intend to sue the Longmont Housing Authority, which manages the building but operates independently from the city.

"They certainly bear equal responsibility for inviting the police in and opening the door of residents," Wallace said.

The city has said the Housing Authority requested the searches. The organization's executive director Michael Reis didn't immediately return a voicemail on Tuesday afternoon.

Longmont's Mayor Brian Bagley, who was sworn into office on Monday, said he would consider changes on the housing authority's board. But he noted that board members appointments are determined by the entire city council.

Bagley said he hadn't spoken to any housing authority officials about the incident. Wallace said the ACLU received no response after notifying the authority last week of its clients' plans to file a lawsuit.

Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler said an internal investigation is in progress to determine any consequences for the officers involved.

Butler said he personally apologized to the tenants represented by the ACLU when the settlement was finalized. The city also plans a mediated meeting between the residents and the officers who conducted the searches, he said.

"We know that saying you're sorry is an important part of the healing process," Butler said.

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