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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lakewood Settles Six-Year Discrimination Lawsuit Filed By Hidden Village Apartments

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 10:25 AM

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Lakewood City Council approved a settlement of $507,500 with local apartment complex Hidden Village this week, bringing an end to the city’s longest-pending civil lawsuit. For the past six years, the Hidden Village litigation has come up routinely in both public meetings and hushed conversations.

At issue have been allegations of ongoing racially charged harassment directed toward Hidden Village’s black residents. Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, which also runs the 2100 Lakside men’s shelter, began housing youth at Hidden Village in 2006 as part of the organization’s Youth Re-Entry Program. Within the year, former Mayor Tom George wrote LMM, saying: "I will seek to have the program removed from Lakewood at the earliest possible time.” The mayor literally did not have the power to make that happen, anyway.

Nearby residents were circulating fliers, warning others that Hidden Village had become a “halfway house.” The social preconceptions flew like flapjacks, and Lakewood’s subsidized renter population took heat daily. "We moved here 'cause we thought it would be a good community for our kids," neighbor Cheryl Moorman told Scene in 2007. Now, "We're no better than Cleveland."

(In fact, these two features set the tone for how the lawsuit came about.)

In 2008, Hidden Village sued the city, Tom George, housing and building officials, and the police and fire chiefs. and accused them of violating Fair Housing Act and federal civil rights statutes. The city has denied the charge for six years.

Typical troublemaking abounded, as an apartment complex housing some 28 troubled teens is wont to have, but allegations of an ongoing crime wave from one side and a campaign of discrimination from the other continued to play out.

But it was a May 22, 2007, raid by firefighters, building officials and health officials upon the apartments that stoked Hidden Village landlords’ litigious ire. Three Lakewood police officers patrolled the complex’s halls alongside the other city employees, going door-to-door and asking permission from cooperative residents to enter their apartments. The police report literally cites “past history” as support for the event. Nothing criminal was reported that night, although the landlords do term the action a “government-sponsored reign of terror motivated by race” in the lawsuit.

Regardless, the city decided to put the whole thing in the past this week by paying out more than a half of a million dollars to Hidden Village.

“The settlement does not represent an admission of liability by the city, and Lakewood has always disputed the allegations made in the complaint,” Mayor Michael Summers says. “But we believe the resolution of a very old, very time-consuming and potentially costly case was in the best interest of our citizens.

“We were prepared for this settlement so our financial strength is unaffected,” he adds.


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