Lawsuit against DC Housing Authority alleges ‘unconstitutional surveillance’ of resident

A woman has filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia Housing Authority and the police department, challenging a network of security cameras that she said has resulted in “a severe invasion of residents’ privacy in their most sacred places.”

The suit filed on Dec. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia describes how the housing authority began installing the security cameras at the Highland Dwellings complex in 2017, including on the home of plaintiff Schyla Pondexter-Moore.

According to the lawsuit, DCHA has a total network of 650 cameras at all of its complexes. The lawsuit calls the cameras a “massive surveillance program” that gives DCHA and D.C. police access into the private lives of public housing residents.

“As soon as Schyla Pondexter-Moore (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Pondexter-Moore”) steps outside her home, she knows she is being watched,” the first line of the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit challenges the “unconstitutional surveillance network of over eighty cameras on nearly 200 homes” at Highland Dwellings that could capture “intimate details” on public housing residents there.

The suit said that the cameras constantly monitor people that live there, and the footage has been given to D.C. police to break up “lawful activities,” such as dice games.

Click to enlarge. Map of camera locations at Highland Dwellings. (Court Documents)

In 2017, the suit stated, Pondexter-Moore received notice that workers would have to enter her home to install a camera on her home and a power box in her bedroom. She refused access several times and asked DCHA for information about the cameras capabilities and purpose, but she never received an answer.

The suit goes on to say that on Jan. 31, 2018, Pondexter-Moore saw workers again trying to install equipment at her house and asked them to stop. A DCHA police officer stated that she did not have any rights as a public housing resident, and that she could not stop the worker from installing the cameras. The officer then pinned her against the side of her house and “slammed” her son against a wall, according to the lawsuit.

Eight D.C. police officers then came to the complex and arrested both Pondexter-Moore and her son. They were taken to jail, where they spent the night. Charges against them were later dropped, the suit said.

The Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic, who is representing Pondexter-Moore in the case, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the camera network is “another example of over-policing and  surveillance of Black and brown communities in DC.”

The suit is seeking compensatory damages and for the city to remove the cameras on the Highland Dwellings property.

The D.C. Housing Authority has been the subject of criticism over the last few months following a report from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which found unsafe and unsanitary conditions at some public housing units in the city.

DCHA did not return a request for comment.

Stetson Miller

Stetson Miller is an anchor and reporter for WTOP. He has worked in TV newsrooms for the last several years in New York, Baltimore, Washington and Charleston, SC.

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