Drug search angers renters

Many residents question the right to use dogs.
Friday, August 29, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:55 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

The canine drug search at Columbia Square Apartments earlier this summer has angered some community leaders. But at least one resident who attended a meeting Thursday said she is happy the complex’s owners are targeting drug users.

“I really don’t have a problem with what they are doing,” said resident Sylvia Sprinkle. “I have two teenagers, and I don’t want them to have drugs.”

Sprinkle was among about two dozen people who met at the Columbia Public Library to discuss the July 1 search of Columbia Square Apartments, a federally subsidized complex at 1801 W. Worley St. Employees of Metropolitan Patrol of Kansas City entered 10 apartments with drug-sniffing dogs.

Unlike Sprinkle, most of those who attended Thursday night’s meeting remain concerned about what they perceive as violations of tenants’ rights by Yarco, the Kansas City-based owners of the 128-unit complex.

Mary Ratliff, head of the local NAACP, said Columbia Square residents were targeted “because of their address.”

All but seven of Columbia Squares’ apartments are designated Section 8 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rents for low-income residents are capped at one-third of their gross income; HUD pays the difference between the lower rate and the market rent.

In a June 27 memo Yarco notified residents of “random unit inspections” — without mentioning that the inspection would be conducted by a private security company aided by specially trained canines.

Dan Fletcher, property supervisor, said drugs were found in some of the units entered by Metropolitan Patrol, but no one has been evicted. Fletcher, who did not attend the community meeting, declined to say how many units were found to contain drugs or whether Yarco planned to begin eviction proceedings against the residents. However, he defended his company’s actions, saying residents’ leases give Yarco “the right to search their property with proper notification.”

But, while the inspections are apparently legal, “I don’t think that these searches count as inspections,” said Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who was asked to research the matter by City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton.

Yarco could be considered “agents of the state,” said Viets, because they are paid with federal housing money to manage the complex.

Residents said that these searches were very different from their past experience with inspections.

“In all the years I have lived in public housing, an inspection means checking for broken toilets or a broken light bulb, not searching for drugs with dogs,” resident Cheryl Carter said.

While the meeting was marked by indignation, local leaders in attendance gave no indication that they planned to take legal action on behalf of Columbia Square residents. One attendee, however, asked the city’s elected officials to look into the matter.

“I call upon the Columbia City Council to stop these searches, and if needed, to enact an ordinance to grant constitutional protections for all Columbia residents, rich and poor,” said Anthony Johnson, president of the MU Law School ACLU.

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