About a dozen residents and city officials gathered at the MLK Community Pool Center Thursday night to help clear the air over loitering trespassers at Housing Authority properties.
The Key West Housing Authority residents sign a lease saying they are responsible for their visitors, but some residents said the issue remains unclear and officials need to do a better job making the rules clear to police and incoming tenants.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Manny Madruga and Housing Authority Director Manny Castillo went over renters rights as well as the rights of police officers, who have an agreement with the Housing Authority to keep would-be criminals off the properties.
"We're here to prevent any misunderstandings about what our expectations are," District 6 City Commissioner Clayton Lopez said.
One apparent misunderstanding took place on Sept. 16. Tenant Sheila Butler alleges in a complaint that Officer David Hall harassed her brother, Courtney Mitchell, that day, according to records she filed with the Citizen Review Board, the volunteer panel that investigates complaints filed against police.
According to those documents, Hall gave Mitchell a warning. He allegedly was sitting on Butler's porch in Roosevelt Sands housing, on Truman Avenue. Hall told Butler that she needed to escort Mitchell when he was on the property.
Mitchell did not commit a crime. The Police Department's Internal Affairs (IA) found that Hall was "performing his duties as a police officer and was following the direction of the Key West Housing Authority by making contact with a non-resident and possible trespasser," according to IA records.
Officials made clear Thursday night that Butler's complaint had not been resolved and they were not there to address her case specifically.
Castillo read portions of the tenant lease agreement to the audience. The portion he read states merely that residents are responsible for their visitor's actions.
Madruga explained that his office has seen many cases in which criminals simply lie to police officers about knowing a family member in order to be on the property. Police with"reasonable suspicion" can detain such people. If police have probable cause to believe that person committed a crime, he or she can be arrested.
Traditionally, the Housing Authority properties have more calls for police service than other areas, Madruga noted.
Castillo and Madruga suggested to residents that the issue is really making sure tenants know that their visitors are not allowed to loiter on the property.
"The Housing Authority properties are not public parks," Madruga said. "Everyone is not allowed to come and go as they please."
Key West police Chief Donie Lee told residents he wanted to hear directly from them about any issues they have, but added that his officers have a job to do.
"Perhaps there can be a orientation set-up with new residents," said resident Peggy Ward-Grant. "If I'm a single mother with three children working two jobs, I may not understand the lease."
Lopez and Castillo agreed the idea was a good one and that they'd look into it.
The next District 6 meeting was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 13.