By: Kristen Kridel Chicago Tribune
June 17, 2008
The owners of a Rolling Meadows apartment complex filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday charging that their civil rights are being violated by a police decision to block off most access to the property and set up a checkpoint at the only open entrance.
“There is no proper basis whatsoever for a police department to come in and wall in a community,” said Blake Horwitz, a lawyer with civil rights expertise who is representing owners of 12 Oaks at Woodfield. “Just none at all.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, names as defendants the northwest suburb, its city manager, police chief and unidentified officers.
On June 9, police used concrete and construction barriers to block 12 of the 13 spots that allowed vehicle access to the complex, west of Illinois Highway 53 and north of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. Two police officers staff the only open entrance, which police call a “safety zone,” for several hours a day. The department took the actions without a hearing to inform residents and owners or give them a chance to voice their opinions, Horwitz said.
“Blocking off entrances to people’s home, using cement barricades and requiring individuals to be subject to police inquiry is unconstitutional,” the suit alleges. “Rolling Meadows is not engaged in a war, nor is it fighting imminent criminal activity.”
The lawyers for the apartment complex also plan to file a request Wednesday for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, asking a judge to order that the barricades be removed.
Rolling Meadows officials said they could not comment on the lawsuit, which they have not seen, but Police Chief Steve Williams has said that the department is attempting to create a “gated community” for the approximately 2,000 residents of the complex in hopes of deterring crime and increasing their level of comfort about asking police for help.
Williams said that the complex has seen almost as many major incidents – batteries, burglaries and gang-related activities – in the first five months of this year as there were all of last year. There have been 23 major incidents so far this year, compared with 25 in 2007, he said.
The owners refuse to recognize there is a crime problem, said Deputy Police Chief Dave Scanlan.
“It might not be important to you, but it’s important to the people we have to take reports from in the morning,” said Scanlan, who declined to address the suit directly.
Williams and City Manager Thomas Melena, who were named in the suit, were out of town and unavailable for comment, Scanlan said.
Horwitz said that the complex is not a high-crime area and that the increase in number of reported crimes is a result of management working more closely with police when there is suspicious activity.
Officers at the checkpoint approach residents and visitors stopped at a stop sign, give safety tips and hand out a variety of brochures about crime prevention, city services and citizenship opportunities, Scanlan said.
“We have had people who have kept their windows rolled up and driven right by,” he said.
Although police deny it, residents have said officers have asked to see their identification and have questioned them about their addresses and how long they plan to stay, according to the lawsuit.
Within days of the police barricade, 27 residents signed affidavits saying they felt their civil rights had been violated, and seven of them said they were asked to provide police with their driver’s licenses and other personal information, said Miguel Arceo, manager at 12 Oaks at Woodfield. Over a three-day period beginning Saturday, management received at least 50 complaints from residents about the barricades, he said.
“The residents feel they are paying rent to live in a community, which is open, and they have to come in and check in as if they are in a compliant prison,” Arceo said.
He also said that the number of prospective renters visiting the leasing office at the complex has dropped significantly. Usually, nine to 12 people a day show interest. Last week, only two or three people a day stopped by the office, he said.