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NY Sues Freeport In Rights Violation / Suit: Hispanics targeted in housing inspections

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

wide-ranging inspections.

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

the law.

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


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