The state has sued the Village of Freeport for allegedly
violating the constitutional rights of Hispanic residents, state Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer said Friday.
Spitzer, who is running for a second term, said the lawsuit follows an
18-month investigation into complaints from Hispanic residents that, since the
early 1990s, village officials have engaged in a pattern of unlawful and
unconstitutional conduct when enforcing the housing code.
In his lawsuit, Spitzer charged that Hispanic households were
disproportionately inspected and issued summonses even when similar conditions
existed in nearby non-Hispanic homes.
But village officials said they have never targeted any group of residents
or any particular area in the village. "We simply go after unsafe housing
conditions, including over-occupancy that creates unhealthy and potentially
life-threatening situations," village spokeswoman Patricia Murphy said. "And
we always adhere to the law.
"Building code inspections and summonses cannot be based on the use of
statistics and local demographics, as Mr. Spitzer infers. The very idea is
silly. This is a frivolous lawsuit ... a campaign stunt."
Specifically, the lawsuit charges that as part of a program to stamp out
"over-occupancy," village inspectors bullied their way into residences where
Hispanics lived, failed to get valid consent or a warrant before searching and
used deceptive and illegal tactics to enter the residences to conduct
Spitzer charges that such actions by the village violates the Fourth and
14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which, respectively, is the right to
be free from illegal search and seizure and the right to equal protection under
Pascual Blanco, the head of La Fuerza Unida, a Glen Cove-based activist
organization, said he and members of his staff met several times in Freeport
with residents "who had been victimized by the village. Some of the cases
involved code enforcement inspectors lying to get into houses without search
warrants or forcing themselves past children."
But both Blanco and Juanita Scarlett, a spokeswoman for Spitzer, said they
would not release the names of any "victims" because such people are potential
Spitzer's brief asks the court to stop the village from continuing its
"practice and custom of unlawful entries and searches ... [and] of national
origin discrimination ..." and to appoint a special master to monitor
compliance with such a court order.
Census data show Freeport's population stayed fairly stable from 1990 to
2000 at about 40,000, but the percentage of Hispanics increased from 20 to