Doraville city officials have issued a public response after being served notice of a civil action brought about as a result of alleged revenue-generating speed traps and housing code enforcement cases.
Attorneys for the Institute for Justice are representing two Doraville homeowners and two Doraville drivers that allege the city is guilty of the unconstitutional practice of policing for profit.
“We came to Doraville after we were contacted by a resident who had received some outrageous property code tickets and after investigating, we realized that Doraville was one of the most prolific ticket writers in the country and certainly in the Atlanta area,” said Attorney Joshua House.
Doraville residents claim they have been threatened with probation or even jail time for simple code violations.
One resident and plaintiff, Hilda Brucker, said she found out that the city had issued a citation after a hostile phone call, although she had received no prior warnings. She later learned the citation stated she was charged with “rotted wood on house and chipping paint on fascia boards”; “high weeds in backyard and ivy on tree and vines on house”; and “driveway in a state of disrepair.” Brucker pled guilty to the driveway charge, while the other two charges were dismissed. She paid a fine of $100 and was sentenced to six months probation, where she had to report to a probation officer, avoid alcoholic intoxication, and cooperate “with code enforcement upon request.” Brucker later hired an attorney who filed a motion to vacate her sentence, but the motion was continued several times, eventually being granted only after her six-month probation would have already ended.
“Even before this happened to me I would be out on my morning walk and I would see code enforcement officers skulking people’s front yards, taking pictures,” Brucker said.
In a public statement, officials from Doraville responded with the following:
“Because this is to be litigated, the city will not at this time directly respond publicly to these allegations, except and foremost to say this lawsuit is without merit and our attorneys will address this through the justice system. However, what the city does desire to share with the public at this time is reminders about the city’s Police Department law enforcement and traffic activities; and code enforcement policies. The city has adopted laws and ordinances for the sole purpose of ensuring that our city is a safe, clean and healthy place to live and visit. The goal of the police department is to protect and serve our citizens. The city has no Traffic Division as our police officers are focused on community policing in our neighborhoods and crime prevention of a serious nature.
Our property maintenance codes, enforced by a contractor, has no ties to how many citations are written, but to public outreach and education to ensure neighbors maintain their property to a standard to which all are held. In fact, in the recent Request for Proposals for this contract service the requirements specifically cited the desire of the city to prevent violations. Potential contractors were requested to submit ways and programs in which they would work to mitigate the need for enforcement measures.
In both the Police Department and Code Enforcement Division of Community Development, there is no responsibility for revenue collection and the focus is on progressive compliance (with) citations being a last resort.
The Doraville budget for this fiscal year 2018 is $13.5 million, of which the major source of revenue is taxes at sixty-nine percent (69%). The percent of the court revenue is $2.5 million which is eighteen (18%). The 2019 Proposed Budget which is $15.1 million projects court revenue at $2.0 million which is 13% of the city Proposed Budget.
For Doraville, it is not these numbers that tell the story, but the day to day manner in which we go about the interaction of our police officers, code enforcement officers and other city employees to provide quality public service.”
The lawsuit was filed in May. According to the Institute for Justice website, it is currently litigating 40 cases in 25 states.