‘Living hell’: Woman says sexual violence went unchecked at KC housing complex

Lawsuit says woman was sexually assaulted at Kansas City housing authority complex

A former resident of the Kansas City housing authority's Brush Creek Towers has sued the agency, saying she was sexually assaulted after asking to be moved. The suit says sexual violence has been pervasive at the complex.
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A former resident of the Kansas City housing authority's Brush Creek Towers has sued the agency, saying she was sexually assaulted after asking to be moved. The suit says sexual violence has been pervasive at the complex.

A resident of a public housing complex in Kansas City was sexually assaulted after she made complaints about safety and asked multiple times to be moved elsewhere, according to a federal lawsuit she filed last week.

The woman, who now lives elsewhere, sued the Housing Authority of Kansas City and Securitas, a security company hired by the housing authority, saying she was subjected to a “living hell of pervasive sexual harassment and multiple sexual assaults at her home” at the Brush Creek Towers.

The defendants have denied the allegations.

Identified in court records by a pseudonym to protect her identity, the woman moved in October 2016 to the towers at 1800 Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, a complex developed to assist low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly. The complex falls under a voucher program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The woman experienced frequent harassment from male tenants in the complex, which she said was “rife with open criminal conduct,” such as drug use, according to the lawsuit. The petition also noted that people had sex in the stairwells.

Because of the dangerous conditions, the woman requested an emergency transfer to safer housing in April 2017, according to her petition.

The request was labeled a “Category 1,” meaning it was requested because of immediate threat to her health or safety, court records show. She lived in an environment described in her lawsuit as “unsafe and sexually discriminatory.”

The woman’s request was denied and she was not able to move until July 1 of that year, her attorney alleged.

By then, she reported she was sexually assaulted at least three times — twice in the elevator and once as she left a laundry room, according to the lawsuit.

There were 15 other reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, at the property in the three years before the attacks on the woman, according to her petition. In total, there were 425 reports of criminal activity at the site during that time, her lawsuit alleged.

The woman’s attorney, Anthony LaCroix, said management “turned a blind eye” to the history of complaints. Other women had also been harassed and assaulted at Brush Creek Towers, to the point where they were afraid to get on the elevator, LaCroix said.

The lawsuit claimed the housing authority and Securitas did not take reasonable steps to prevent assault and harassment for residents, such as properly providing adequate lighting or video cameras that cover the entire complex.

In separate responses filed in court, the housing authority and Securitas denied the allegations, saying, as a matter of law, they did not owe the woman a duty to prevent crimes by third persons who they had no legal control over.

Securitas’ filing called her claims “frivolous, unreasonable and without legal foundation.”

In her lawsuit, the woman said the complex’s former manager did not share her transfer request with others at the housing authority until May 18. The housing authority denied the woman made any reports of safety concerns before that date.

In court records, the housing authority said if the woman suffered the injuries she alleged, it was not the result of negligence by the agency. It said the woman did not report the assaults to police, get a protective order or testify “upon request and assist the HAKC in prosecuting an eviction action against one of the allegedly responsible tenants,” among other things.

An attorney representing the housing authority referred questions to Edwin Lowndes, its executive director. He said he could not comment on the pending litigation.

But generally speaking, Lowndes called the towers just as safe as other apartment buildings in Kansas City. He said the complex provides 24-hour security at its front door and called housing authority’s relationship with the Kansas City Police Department “excellent.” He noted that to gain access to the elevator, a person needs a key card.

‘Well-known offender’

In one of the woman’s alleged assaults, she said a male resident knocked on her door, asked to borrow cooking oil and grabbed her breast, according to the lawsuit. It caused her to scream. She reported the incident to management, her petition stated.

Weeks after she asked to be moved, a different man, visibly intoxicated and holding a beer, rushed into an elevator she was in, according to her lawsuit. He grabbed her breasts and genitals, tried to unzip his pants and demanded oral sex, her petition stated. She shouted for him to stop and fought to protect herself, her attorney wrote in court documents.

The woman ran to the complex’s security desk once the elevator reached the main floor, according to her lawsuit. A Securitas employee restrained the attacker but did not contact Kansas City police, the woman’s attorney said.

The alleged assailant was let go and the woman was taken to a hospital for her injuries, her petition stated.

Numerous past complaints had been filed against the man because of his heavy use of alcohol at the complex, according to the 16-page lawsuit. A manager knew the dangerous man was not a contractual tenant even though he stayed there, the petition stated.

After the assault, tenants demanded increased security, something that was discussed at a meeting with residents, according to the lawsuit. In its response, the housing authority said attendees at the June meeting did request security personnel walk around the complex.

When the woman complained about a resident blowing down her shirt to see her breasts, another incident in the elevator, the then-manager told her: “Don’t worry. He is on his way out,” according to the lawsuit.

That resident was dating a Securitas employee at the time, the petition stated. The lawsuit described the resident as a “well-known offender” who had several complaints lodged against him, which included ones for threats and domestic violence.

Because of the assaults, the woman said she began to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to the lawsuit.

The housing authority’s website states the complex consists of 135 units with secured entrances and 24-hour maintenance. It is listed as one of 15 Housing Authority of Kansas City developments.

The lawsuit was initially filed in Jackson County Circuit Court but was refiled in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri. Its claims included negligent security and breach of contract.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.