Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Sunnyside police unlawfully evicted at least 43 mostly Latinx tenants

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Supreme Court ruled today that Attorney General Bob Ferguson has broad authority to pursue legal action to protect the civil and constitutional rights of Washingtonians.

Specifically, the court found that the attorney general can challenge a pattern of unlawful evictions carried out by law enforcement officers in the City of Sunnyside. The lawsuit asserts Sunnyside abused the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program by forcing tenants out of their homes, without a court order, over unsubstantiated claims of crime or nuisance. Police forced dozens of residents out of their homes with little or no notice, causing them to become homeless. Most of them were Latinx, women or families with children.

This decision sends the state’s case back to Yakima County Superior Court for further proceedings. 

“One of my office’s core functions is to defend the civil and constitutional rights of residents,” Ferguson said. “In this case, Washingtonians were unlawfully removed from their homes, separated from their families and rendered homeless. My office will protect Washingtonians from harmful and illegal discrimination.”

Ferguson filed the complaint in February 2020 asserting Sunnyside’s police department unlawfully and repeatedly used the city’s Crime-Free Rental Housing Program to evict tenants without due process and in a discriminatory manner. The lawsuit alleges that dozens of residents have been forced out of their homes by police with little or no notice, causing them to become homeless. Ferguson seeks a court order to stop the unlawful police practices, along with compensation for Sunnyside residents who were illegally evicted.

There have been at least 123 documented instances of Sunnyside police enforcing the local ordinance against renters, resulting in the unlawful evictions of at least 43 tenants — most of them Latinx, women or families with children.

The Crime-Free Rental Housing Program has operated for years throughout the City of Sunnyside. As a result, any of the city’s 16,000 residents who rent their homes could be subject to this police misconduct.

Anyone with information to share about Sunnyside’s operation of its Crime-Free Rental Housing Program, including anyone directly affected, should contact the Attorney General’s Office by calling (833) 660-4877 and choosing option 1 from the menu.

Ferguson asserts that the city and its officers conducted the unlawful evictions under the guise of enforcing the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program, which is established by local ordinance. By law, a local ordinance cannot override state and federal civil rights laws. Police officers must comply with federal and state constitutions, the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The State’s lawsuit claims that these evictions in Sunnyside violated all of those laws.

The Attorney General’s Office won nearly all of its claims before the Supreme Court. The office also asserted Sunnyside violated the Residential-Landlord Tenant Act, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of that claim.

In concluding that the State may maintain its claims against the City of Sunnyside, the court confirmed that “the State has an interest in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of its residents, including holding government actors accountable against allegations of discrimination and violations of constitutional rights.”

The court also wrote that "matters of civil rights like due process and protection against discrimination are matters of public concern that significantly affect residents of Washington" and that the Attorney General may take action to remedy.

Details of Ferguson’s lawsuit

Ferguson asserts Sunnyside abused the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program by forcing tenants out of their homes, without a court order, over unsubstantiated claims of crime or nuisance.

The Attorney General’s Office repeatedly urged the City of Sunnyside to change the program to bring it into compliance with state and federal law. When Sunnyside officials refused for years to do so, Ferguson filed the lawsuit.

These unlawful evictions were executed by uniformed, on-duty Sunnyside police officers and code enforcement officers, entirely outside the judicial process. 

Among the tenants who were unlawfully evicted was a pregnant Latina mother of three, who was kicked out of her residence after a fight occurred in the parking lot of her building. The mother, who had lived there for seven months without incident, never faced any criminal charges. Eviction proceedings were never filed in court. Police gave her three days to vacate and she went without stable housing for more than a year.

In another case, a Latina mother, a grandmother and seven children were evicted without a court order. The mother says she had refused repeated sexual advances from the landlord, who responded by accusing her and her son of theft. Three officers came to the home and gave the family two days to leave. The family became homeless and lived apart for more than a year.

A third case involves a couple who received a three-day notice to vacate their home after it was the subject of a search warrant. Despite the lack of any eviction proceedings or criminal charges, police came to the home several days later and ordered them to leave not just their home, but the City of Sunnyside, by midnight. The couple had about eight hours to move out of the city altogether. They were homeless for more than a year.

Assistant Attorneys General Mitchell Riese and Neal Luna, Investigators Alma Poletti and Jennifer Treppa, and Paralegal Anna Alfonso with the AGO’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Division are handling the case for Washington. Division Chief Colleen Melody delivered oral arguments before the State Supreme Court.

Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washingtonians by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.


Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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