August 17, 2023
A second person is suing Philadelphia's landlord-tenant officer after being shot during an eviction lockout.
Latesa Bethea, a former resident of Grace Townhomes in Port Richmond, was shot in the leg by a private security contractor hired by Landlord-Tenant Officer Marisa Shuter to evict her in July. Bethea filed a lawsuit this week against Shuter, her former landlord and the deputy who shot her.
The incident was the third shooting that took place during the course of an eviction this year. In late July, a similar lawsuit was filed by a woman who was shot in the head while being evicted in March. The string of shootings has sparked criticism and calls for reform from housing advocates and public officials.
The litigation takes aim at Philadelphia's unusual system for enforcing evictions, which relies on the court-appointed landlord-tenant officer, who then hires private security contractors to evict tenants from their homes. The Sheriff's Office also performs evictions, but the landlord-tenant officer hires private contractors to perform many. In other cities, the sheriff's department or other law enforcement officers handle evictions.
Bethea's lawsuit charges the defendants with negligence and alleges Shuter's office inadequately trained its deputies. The security contractor who shot Bethea has not been identified by name.
The lawsuit comes as Shuter is planning to resume evictions after a hiatus prompted by the string of shootings. Earlier this month, it was reported that Shuter's office was planning to resume evictions "within weeks" using constables from the suburbs. Notably, Philadelphia does not have constables – which are law enforcement officers that are elected to municipal positions – because the city abolished them in 1970 to create the landlord-tenant office.
A preliminary proposal for resuming lockouts was circulated by Shuter's office last week, according to the Inquirer. In addition to hiring constables to help carry out evictions, the new plan reportedly involves changes to the paperwork and fees required of landlords seeking evictions, but does not include any of the more substantial changes – like removing guns from the evicting officers or giving tenants more explicit notice of impending lockouts – that housing advocates and public officials have demanded.