Gregory and Sophia Bonds say the slurs and threats began the day they moved into the brick ranch rental home in a well-kept neighborhood in Gainesville, northeast of Atlanta, back in February 2012.
Roy Turner Jr., the white neighbor who worked for the city’s solid waste department, verbally assaulted them whenever he saw them outside, including sometimes while he was working, the couple contends. He also sometimes walked and made sounds like an ape when he saw them, the Bonds family asserts in a lawsuit filed last month against Turner and the city.
Turner told The Associated Press he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit but that he never threatened anyone.
“I said ‘porch monkey,'” he said with a chuckle. “That’s just a joking-around term.”
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit details more than a dozen specific instances of alleged harassment. Gregory Bonds said the final straw came in May: The family had company and Turner came out into his yard with a baseball bat and began hitting a tree aggressively and yelling more slurs. The family moved the next month.
They cite a provision of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and a nearly identical section of Georgia law that says it’s illegal to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with someone who is exercising or enjoying any right guaranteed by that law. Conceived to protect against violent actions such as cross burnings, bombs or other physical attacks, it also applies to verbal attacks, said Robert Schwemm, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who has decades of experience with the Fair Housing Act.
“It’s specifically a separate section of the statute that was designed to apply to people who were not housingproviders — neighbors and others,” Schwemm said.
That provision isn’t used very often against neighbors in the modern era, Schwemm said. He’s aware of one or two cases a year but said there are likely others he doesn’t hear about.
Schwemm said he’s never heard of a case that sought to hold a municipality accountable for a neighbor’s actions.
Gregory and Sophia Bonds had saved money to move out of an apartment into a house so their three teenage children would have a yard for the first time and would have more space to invite their friends over, their lawyer Ashley Bell said. Turner’s behavior violated fair housing statutes that bar discrimination on the basis of a variety of factors when people are renting, buying or seeking financing for housing, the lawsuit says.
The city’s knowledge of Turner’s actions, many of which occurred while he was a city employee, and its failure to curb them make it liable for them, the family argues.
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