SAN JACINTO, Calif. (AP) — The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County city of San Jacinto alleging it discriminated against disabled people living in group homes by cracking down on them and conducting intrusive interviews with residents during an early morning sweep.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges city officials enacted zoning code changes in 2008 that put severe restrictions on group homes operating there.
The zoning changes were followed by a sweep at 19 addresses, including 15 that were group homes, and residents were asked about their criminal history, drug and alcohol use and whether they were registered sex offenders, the complaint alleges.
Federal officials declined to comment Tuesday beyond the complaint and a news release.
The city says the lawsuit is without merit.
Officials were conducting code enforcement inspections — not a sweep— to make sure the group homes were legitimate operations, said John Higginbotham, the city's civil rights attorney. The city had received complaints about some locations, which also prompted the changes to zoning rules, he said.
"We'd get complaints that 50 people or 20 people are living in this house next door. Is this in fact a group home or is it just a whole bunch of people living in one house? Nobody wants that. Can you imagine if you had 20 people living in the house next door?" he said.
The lawsuit, which was filed Friday and assigned to a judge in Riverside County, seeks a court order banning the city from enforcing laws in a discriminatory fashion. It cites violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
The city's enforcement actions have led several group homes to shut down, federal authorities allege.
Those that continue to operate have been repeatedly cited and fined between $100 and $1,000 per day, the complaint said.
San Jacinto is located in Riverside County about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles.