Philadelphia’s landlord-tenant officer has agreed to temporarily stop performing evictions, according to a spokesperson for the First Judicial District.
The decision comes less than 24 hours after a deputy landlord-tenant officer allegedly shot a 33-year-old woman in the right leg during a lockout in Kensington. It was the third time in four months that a landlord-tenant officer fired a gun on the job.
“Marisa Shuter, the current LTO, has agreed to suspend all lockouts immediately, until the Court has been assured that the LTO and all of her employees and contractors have received the most up-to-date training in the use of force and all up-to-date de-escalation procedures. The suspension of all lockouts will remain in effect until the LTO is confident that all individual LTOs are appropriately trained in de-escalation and use of force,” said Martin O’Rourke.
The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office will continue performing evictions. A spokesperson for the office did not respond to a request for comment.
Shuter’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Until late Wednesday, her office had not made any public statements about any of the shootings involving landlord-tenant officers.
In a statement, a spokesperson said Shuter “supports the Court’s initiative to suspend court-ordered evictions pending retraining of eviction officers in the use of force and de-escalation procedures.”
According to the statement, Tuesday’s shooting at Grace Townhomes came after the tenant “attacked” the landlord-tenant officer and “physically assaulted” the property manager.
“After that assault, the tenant then threatened the officer with a knife. The officer demanded several times that the tenant drop the knife and cease the assault before discharging his weapon, striking the tenant once in the leg,” said Michael Neilon.
Police say the officer was not charged and was released. “The investigation is still active and ongoing with the Shooting Investigation Group,” said a department spokesperson.
‘Insult to injury’
The incident came less than a month after the last one.
In late June, police say a landlord-tenant officer shot at a dog while serving an eviction in the Olney section of the city. The officer fired his weapon “in defense” after a locksmith opened a door and a dog “charged” at him, according to a police spokesperson.
The dog was not struck, and no one was injured, according to police.
In late March, a landlord-tenant officer allegedly shot a 35-year-old woman in the head during an attempted lockout at a North Philadelphia apartment building. She was hospitalized in critical condition, but survived the incident.
While the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office performs some evictions in the city, many of them are carried out by these private contractors hired by a private attorney appointed by the courts. The attorney is known as landlord-tenant officer, a position that dates back to the 1970s that is currently held by Shuter.
The incident in Kensington comes less than a month after elected officials, residents, and housing advocates condemned the use of landlord-tenant officers during a City Council hearing.
Tenants and lawyers who testified described a process that lacks accountability, predictability, or transparency. For example, people being evicted by the landlord-tenant officer never know the date or time they will be locked out of their apartment because the office has an internal policy not to share that information.
“Immediate change is necessary for the safety of all involved. CLS continues to support the Court’s efforts to establish clear training protocols and policies for performing eviction lockouts that allow for transparency and accountability. Ultimately, every eviction is inherently violent and traumatic for tenants who cannot afford to pay rent. Philadelphia must create truly affordable housing to end this crisis of violence, forced displacement, and instability,” said a spokesperson for Community Legal Services.
Some landlords, however, may not be pleased about the suspension. Lockouts performed by landlord-tenant officers are considerably less expensive and considerably faster than the sheriff’s office.
“What it means is that the suffering continues. Insult to injury is what this is. What does it accomplish?” said Gregory Wertman, president of HAPCO Philadelphia. “Those tenants that either aren’t playing by the rules or don’t pay over very long periods of time win again and they will stay once again in the units, destroying them and/or living rent-free.”
Change on the table
Shortly after the shooting in North Philadelphia, a pair of state lawmakers introduced legislation that would bar private law firms from enforcing evictions by amending the state code.
The measure has been referred to committee, but has yet to have a hearing.
“One shooting is too many. But a series of violent incidents shows clearly to me that the Landlord-Tenant Officer is beyond reform and should not be tasked with performing evictions in the city. An act as solemn and severe as forcibly removing someone from their home really needs to be handled by public officials with proper training and public oversight, “ said state Sen. Nikil Saval, who co-sponsored the bill.
On Wednesday, City Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks — perhaps the body’s most fierce housing advocates — released a joint statement regarding the recent shootings. It includes calls for specific reforms, including:
- A policy notifying tenants of the date and time of evictions
- guidelines and training for conducting evictions, including protocols for discharging firearms and de-escalation tactics
- Public accountability, including a public process to release the names of deputies involved in shootings
“We cannot think of any other aspect of our justice system that operates as recklessly, opaquely, and dangerously as the landlord-tenant officer and her private security contractors. We owe it to our residents to bring transparency, accountability, and oversight to this government service. Our neighbors facing eviction should not have to worry about being shot by an untrained private security contractor while they are enduring one of the most traumatic moments of their life,” the lawmakers said.
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