- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit between a Hunters Brooke couple and a security company hired to safeguard the Indian Head neighborhood at the time of the 2004 arsons, which destroyed or damaged more than two dozen of its homes.
Terms of the settlement were confidential, said Steven Schulman, a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which represented the plaintiffs along with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Terri Rookard and Derrick Potts and their children had recently moved into their new home in Hunters Brooke when the arsons consumed the neighborhood in flames Dec. 6, 2004.
Early that morning, five white men in their early 20s, one of them a security guard with Security Services of America, which had been contracted to protect Hunters Brooke, set fire to nearly 30 newly and partially built homes in the predominantly black community.
Plea agreements and statements made by some of the suspects, who were ultimately convicted of the arsons or conspiring to commit them, seemed to confirm suspicions that the fires were racially motivated, though none of the men was ever charged with a hate crime.
“Acts of violence and intimidation intended to dictate where persons may live cannot be tolerated in the United States,” Isabelle M. Thabault, senior counsel with the committee, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “This lawsuit should send the clear message that every individual has the right to live wherever they choose without discrimination and intimidation on account of race. These arsonists destroyed houses, and attempted to destroy the peace and tranquility that all Americans should feel in their homes and communities.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2005 on behalf of 32 minority homeowners in Hunters Brooke, alleged that the arsons were racially motivated and held the security company responsible. A jury trial had been scheduled to begin Monday.
“Employers, and particularly security companies, should insure that when they hire employees that they do so with the utmost care to protect the public from discriminatory and harmful acts by their employees,” Thabault said in the statement.
All but two of the plaintiffs had their claims dismissed last year because, unlike Rookard and Potts, they were not living in their homes at the time the arsons were committed, said Schulman, who leads the firm’s pro bono program.
The firm plans to appeal the dismissed claims by the end of the year, he added.
“All the plaintiffs in this case are courageous and patient,” Schulman said in the statement. “We hope that the resolution of this case can bring them some measure of closure.”