Woman files suit claiming wrongful eviction

Published February 16, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Shirley Safreed lived at Palm Village Mobile Home Park for about nine months until the management heard she had complained to friends and code officers about the poor living conditions.

Safreed was given a written notice June 3, 2004, that she had seven days to leave the park. Just six days later, on June 9, the park's manager gave her another written notice, telling her she had to "immediately" leave.

A few minutes later, Pinellas Park police drove into Palm Village and told her she was trespassing. If she did not leave, she would be arrested. Safreed left behind food and furniture.

Now Safreed is suing Palm Village's owner, its manager, the city of Pinellas Park and its Police Department, claiming she was wrongfully evicted.

And her attorney, Lynn Hanshaw of Gulfcoast Legal Services, says this is not the first time Pinellas Park police have helped Palm Village wrongfully kick people out of the park.

"Under no circumstances is a police officer" supposed to evict people, Hanshaw said. Only the sheriff can, and "the sheriff knows the rules," she said.

Pinellas Park had been warned about helping with evictions, Hanshaw said, so "there's no excuse for this."

Pinellas Park officials had not seen the lawsuit by Tuesday, city spokesman Tim Caddell said. The Police Department had some correspondence about the matter, which it turned over to the city's insurer, the Florida League of Cities. The league, he said, denied the claim.

"That's the last we have in our file," Caddell said.

Walter Posusta, who owns Palm Village, 12474 66th St. N, said, "I have absolutely no idea what this is regarding."

Posusta said he has a management company that runs Palm Village and referred questions there. The company could not be reached for comment.

Under Florida law, a landlord must go through the courts before evicting a tenant, Hanshaw said. If the sheriff gets involved, the deputy must have a court order.

What typically happens in cases like Safreed's is that the landlord gives notice and then calls the police and claims the tenant is trespassing.

"That allows them to bypass the court procedure that every other landlord has to go through," Hanshaw said.

Generally in those cases, the tenants are poor and usually do not fight back, she said.

That happened in 2002 when Palm Village evicted Mark Self, whom Hanshaw also represented. Hanshaw sued Posusta, who defended himself by saying he had not evicted Self, that the Pinellas Park police had kicked him out.

That's when the Pinellas Park police should have learned that they were wrongfully acting, Hanshaw said.

In this case, Safreed, 44, has a bad back, emphysema and asthma and lives on Social Security disability. Safreed said she had paid her $440 monthly rent June 1, just two days before getting the first eviction notice.

When she got it, Safreed said she was watering flowers in the yard and the park manager "tried to stuff it down the back of my shorts."

Safreed said she was served again on June 9 and told she had 15 minutes to get her possessions and leave. Four cruisers pulled into the park a few minutes later, she said.