Pubdate: Sun, 08 Dec 2002
Source: Belleville News-Democrat (IL)
Copyright: 2002 Belleville News-Democrat
Author: GEORGE PAWLACZYK, and Beth Hundsdorfer


Belleville Inspectors And Armed Police Officers Show Up Without Search
Warrants To Check For Occupancy Code Violations, And Ticket People Who
Don't Let Them In -- A Practice Experts Say Is Unconstitutional.

Invite friends over, babysit your grandchildren or allow relatives to spend 
the night in Belleville and you risk an armed police officer turning up at 
your door to search your home and give you a ticket.

Enforcement teams consisting of a housing inspector and a police officer do 
not obtain search warrants before showing up to check for occupancy code 
violations, a Belleville News-Democrat investigation found.

Most residents give their permission to come in, although reluctantly, and 
those who don't usually are charged. Sometimes they simply walk in.

Jim Reese said he was standing in his kitchen when he heard a noise at 7 
a.m. and found a housing inspector and police officer standing in his 
living room.

"I wanted to know who walked in without permission," he said. "They didn't 
answer me. They just started walking through the place."

Such aggressive enforcement of a city law designed to prevent overcrowding 
violates the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unlawful search and 
seizure, legal experts say.

"I think the way they are using the housing ordinance is unconstitutional," 
said Jamie Carey, a law professor at Loyola University. "I think it's just 
a way to get around the Fourth Amendment."

"You can't come in without a search warrant," said William Schroeder, a 
professor and expert in federal law at Southern Illinois University 
Carbondale. "The Supreme Court decided a case on this that is right on 
point. It's based on the Fourth Amendment. And you can't arrest anyone for 
refusing a search without a search warrant."

Belleville attorney Bruce Cook said: "If they suspect you of something, 
then they can go to a police officer and get an affidavit and then get a 
search warrant. Your home is protected by the Fourth Amendment."

In more than 30 interviews, residents said officials show up without 
warrants and ticket people, sometimes for just having visitors. While many 
times the tickets were justified because of significant overcrowding, 
others were given for everyday events.

A young mother who works two jobs was ticketed because the elderly couple 
she hired to babysit were not listed on her occupancy permit. A man who 
agreed to house sit for a friend in the Air Force who was overseas was 
cited when he was found alone in the house.

In 70 percent of cases, documented in city records since 1999, housing 
inspectors, called compliance officers, and uniformed police offcers have 
gone into homes in the city's poorest areas -- around Hough Park, in the 
Franklin neighborhood and near downtown.

Ninety-five percent of these surprise inspections were at rental housing.

City officials say enforcement of occupancy and housing codes is crucial to 
prevent overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, and to keep the city's 
housing stock from deteriorating.

But civil rights experts argue such tactics are discriminatory and 

"It's pretty much like the Gestapo. There is no right to privacy," said 
Will Jordan, executive director of the Equal Housing Opportunity Council in 
St. Louis, which works with the federal government to investigate civil 
rights violations.

"This is much more intrusive than making a random stop on the highway 
because this is your home," he said.

The findings

None of Illinois' 15 largest cities, including Chicago, sends police 
officers on housing inspections, according to a survey by the newspaper. In 
fact, none require occupancy permits.

The searches usually are based on anonymous calls and often come during the 
early morning hours, according to a review of 263 Belleville Housing 
Department occupancy violation case files since 1999.

The newspaper found:

 At least four times, the police-compliance officer teams have been 
accused of simply walking into houses unannounced without knocking first.

 A dozen times when people refused to let the officials in without first 
seeing a warrant, they were charged with obstruction or interfering with a 
health officer, despite a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is 
unconstitutional to arrest someone who doesn't allow a search without a 

 Fifty-seven percent of those cited for occupancy code violations were 
white, while 43 percent were black. Belleville's black population is 15.5 
percent, according to the 2000 Census.

 The Police Department has taken advantage of the housing inspections, the 
records show. In at least 10 cases, the housing inspections gave police an 
easy way into homes to search for drugs.

"This is a problem one sees all across the country -- the use of these 
housing codes for doing what really amounts to drug sweeps," said Ed Yohnka 
of the American Civil Liberties Union

 People cited with an occupancy violation are compelled to give the police 
officer personal data that is entered into the Belleville Police Department 
computer base and used for routine criminal investigations.

The personal information includes race, marital status, birthdates, home 
and work telephone numbers, criminal history and even a description of 
scars and tattoos. Crystal Wilson, 25, was asked to describe a Caesarean 
scar on her abdomen during an occupancy inspection on Nov. 14, 2000, 
according to an arrest report.

The permits also record the relationship of each person living in a 
residence to the head of the household. Even an unwed couple who want to 
live together discretely must state their relationship on a public document.

"What is the public policy served by knowing specifically who lives where?" 
said Todd Swanstrom, a sociologist at St. Louis University.

 Of the 584 people charged altogether, 164 were cited for "allowing 
illegal occupancy," or having too many people living in a house or 
apartment. Most of the remaining 420 were charged with living in a 
residence where they weren't listed on the occupancy permit. A dozen or 
more were held on other charges, such as outstanding warrants.

Mary Jones-Joyner, 55, of 132 Lauren Circle was babysitting her 
grandchildren when Sgt. Joe Stumph came to her door at 7:10 a.m. May 31, 
2000, and handed her an already completed occupancy violation citation 
because the children were not listed on her occupancy permit.

"I told him my grandkids don't live with me. I asked, 'What is it you're 
going to charge me with?"

When Jones-Joyner appeared in St. Clair County Circuit Court with a copy of 
her daughter's lease showing the children lived with their mother, a judge 
dismissed the case.

"I had to take time off from work for this crazy stuff," she said.

 In 190 cases, homes that had children age 16 and younger were searched. 
In one case, six family members were issued citations.

Chandra Miller, 29, was ticketed Jan. 25 for allowing her estranged husband 
to sleep on her living room floor when their daughter was ill. Tyrone 
Miller, 30, also was cited, even though he showed the enforcement team a 
driver's license listing his address in Cahokia.

"I want to know when it became illegal to have someone sleep on your living 
room floor?" she said.

Jordan said the fact families are involved is significant.

"If they're going after women and children, this is a situation where the 
Justice Department will come in and make them stop," he said.

John Farley, head of the Sociology Department at Southern Illinois 
University Edwardsville, said the unannounced inspections occurring almost 
exclusively at rental housing also is a concern.

"It sounds like they're trying to keep out lower-income people," he said. 
"It sounds like this is a case of keep the renters out and send them 
somewhere else."

The 'overcrowding police'

Henry Johnson said he was fired because he refused to go along with what he 
called discriminatory practices in enforcing the municipal housing code.

Johnson, 51, was hired in 1993 by the housing department after a U.S. 
Justice Department investigation into Belleville's failure to hire 
minorities. He was one of the city's first black employees.

Johnson said that after Mayor Mark Kern took office in 1997, a series of 
"disturbing" strategy sessions took place in the housing department.

"At one of these meetings, Stumph, the police sergeant, advised that 
residents who balked at allowing a search without a search warrant should 
be threatened with arrest," said Johnson, who now lives in Fairview Heights.

"Joe would say that when a person wouldn't let us in, we should say, 'You 
mean you're not going to let that inspector do his job? Do I have to arrest 
you for obstructing?'" Johnson said.

Stumph did not respond to requests to comment.

"I wouldn't go along with this kind of thing, and finally I was cut out of 
the meetings," Johnson said, "I was finally told I wasn't to supervise 

Six months after he was fired, the city settled a civil rights lawsuit 
Johnson had filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis for an 
undisclosed amount.

Kern declined to be interviewed for this story but issued a written 
statement: "Enforcement of occupancy permit regulations is important to our 
residents, and we have strived to enforce these rules."

In his statement, Kern insisted city inspectors do not enter people's 
property without permission.

But Reese said compliance officer Robert Craig and police Sgt. Don Sax 
entered his apartment at 3419 W. Main St., at 7 a.m. on May 20 without 

"They told me that I had to get out right away, the next day," said Reese, 
a 55-year-old former Air Force enlisted man who was ticketed for not having 
an occupancy permit. "I said I needed time to move but they told me, 
"Didn't you hear? You've got to leave."

In another case, James R. Burnette of 611 E. McKinley awoke on May 6 to 
find a Belleville Police officer and a housing inspector standing over his bed.

"We found the residence open and upon further inspection, Burnette was 
found inside sleeping," the inspection report stated.

Belleville Housing Director Mike Eckert declined to be interviewed, but he 
said, "Our department never forces its way into anyone's homes." He said 
the purpose of the city's occupancy law is to prevent "dangerous overcrowding."

In one case, 12 people were found living illegally in a residence at 516 W. 
C St. that was supposed to have only four. They included six children 12 or 

That presents problems for schools as well as the city.

"Taxpayers in this district do not want to be paying taxes to support 
children who do not actually live in this district," said James Rosborg, 
superintendent of Belleville School District 118.

"We strongly support the Belleville housing code. We want people to come 
into the district. We're not against that. But we want them to legally 
reside here," Rosborg said.

Many who were ticketed said they were friends or relatives who were 
visiting. They included 49 school-aged teenagers, two as young as 15.

"The problem is that people say they are just visiting, but 30 days becomes 
60 days, which becomes 90 or six months or a year," said Louis Tiemann, a 
strong supporter of municipal housing codes who helped draft the city's 
current code in the late 1980s. "How do you police that? It's very difficult."

The city's housing code does not define "occupy." A housing department 
employee said that a visitor usually can stay "a week, or a week and a 
half" before the occupancy permit must be changed.

Most of the residents interviewed said they allowed the searches because 
they felt intimidated or feared being issued a criminal citation.

They complained that police would ticket anyone who happened to be in the 
house when they showed up to check for overcrowding, refusing to listen to 
their explanations.

"Whoever heard of the overcrowding police?" Reese said.

Rick Brown, an activist for mobile home-dwellers and a frequent critic of 
the city's housing policies, said, "You no longer have to register a dog or 
cat in Belleville, but when my nephew comes to visit, I've got to register 
him with housing."

A change in strategy

Soon after taking office, Kern changed the way the city enforces its 
housing code.

Mike Pierceall, the former city planning director under Mayor Roger Cook, 
said police did not escort housing inspectors except in rare cases 
involving repeat offenders.

Police Chief Terry Delaney refused to answer questions but said in a 
written statement it is necessary to send a police officer out on a housing 
inspection to issue a criminal citation, and for "the security of the 
housing officer."

"Neighbors call us all the time. When we go into the area around Memorial 
Drive, it's terrible. They (youths) stand in the street and defy us to run 
into them," he said earlier.

Pierceall said that under the Cook administration, a housing code violator 
received a certified letter with a warning that unless the problem was 
remedied, a citation and a fine would follow. Permits listed only the head 
of household and the maximum number of people allowed to live there.

Using the certified letter approach, Belleville brought just three people 
to court in 1996 for housing violations. In 1997, during Kern's first year 
in office, housing court cases jumped to 222.

Last year, 521 people were given criminal citations stemming from housing 
complaints, including 143 people cited for occupancy violations.

"I think it's just a difference of philosophy in handling matters," said 
Pierceall. "Our way was to not force the issue. It worked pretty well. But 
Belleville's got some very serious housing issues. Maybe the way they're 
doing it now is overzealous, I don't know."

Alderman Bob Blaies said he thought certified letters still were being sent 

"We need to keep people in line with the housing code, but if it's 
violating anybody's rights, we need to take a look at it," Blaies said.

Alderman Paul Seibert said he approves of using police officers to enforce 
the housing codes.

"You can send a letter to anybody, that doesn't mean they obey," he said.

Asked whether people cited for a housing violation should be required to 
provide the same personal information as someone charged with a crime, 
Seibert said, "I don't believe they do that."

Court records show most people end up paying a fine of $75 to $100 for 
housing ordinance violations rather than go to trial.

Ordinance violations are similar to traffic tickets, and a conviction goes 
on a person's criminal record. Failure to show up in court to answer them 
can result in a bench warrant being issued with bail set for up to $2,000.

"Unfortunately, under the law, the poor are not a protected class," said 
Carl Carlson, a staff attorney for Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance 
Foundation in East St. Louis, which provides legal services to low-income 

"You can discriminate against them and prosecute them and they don't have 
much legal recourse," he said.

City vs. the Constitution

Belleville's current housing codes, which require mandatory inspections and 
a $25 occupancy permit, were adopted in 1988, but language was added in 
1997 that allows inspectors to enter a home without a resident's or a 
court's permission.

Chapter 18 reads, in part, "With reference to any health nuisance or any 
housing or maintenance code violation, the director shall have the power to 
enter and examine any property for the purpose of enforcement ... " and 
this authority extends to "one-half mile outside the city limits."

Eckert said the language was adopted from the Building Officials and Code 
Administrators, or BOCA, a Chicago-based, nonprofit organization that has 
compiled a model housing and building code used by thousands of communities 

But Tom Frost, a BOCA vice president, said the group's code does not state 
that local officials can force a search without a search warrant.

"Forced searches are unconstitutional," Frost said. "You need a search 

The city also can declare a residence unfit to live in and force people to 
move out if the utilities are temporarily shut off, Eckert said. The BOCA 
code does not call for this.

City Attorney Bob Sprague said in a written statement he sees no problem 
with having a rule that says housing inspectors can search homes without a 

"I see no conflict between Chapter 18 (of the city code) and the Fourth 
Amendment," Sprague said, adding, "As the mayor has already informed you, 
the city does not enter a premises without permission."

However, refusing to allow a search without first seeing a search warrant 
is every citizen's right, according to a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision, 
Camara vs. San Francisco.

In that case, the court said a warrant is needed for housing inspectors to 
enter a home, and that a person cannot be charged with a crime for refusing 
to allow his home to be entered without a search warrant. The only 
exception is when an emergency, such as a fire or gas leak, is thought to 

Even so, local laws to the contrary usually aren't struck down until 
someone challenges them, said Schroeder, the SIUC law professor.

"You do need a test case to go forward with these things. Local 
municipalities pass these laws all the time, and they are allowed to stand 
because no one challenges them," he said.

Belleville has been under the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department since 
signing a consent decree in 1995 and agreeing to end its discriminatory 
hiring practices.

If Belleville is performing improper searches aimed at low-income people, 
the Justice Department would be interested, spokesman Casey Stavropolous said.

"We would certainly be interested in any civil rights complaints apart from 
the employment consent decree," he said. "They would be investigated."

Brown, the mobile home activist, said he understands the need to enforce 
the housing codes, he just disagrees with sending a gun-toting police 
officer to do it.

"It's like when you get stopped by a cop, you say 'yes, sir' even though 
you haven't said that since you were in trouble with your dad when you were 
in high school," he said. "When police show up, people will agree to just 
about anything."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart