African American family and real estate agent win $135,040 in Mississippi racial intimidation case

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Administrative Law Judge Robert Andretta has ordered a Mississippi man to pay $135,040 for threatening and intimidating an African American family. Chris Hope made violent threats and told Michael and Pamela Keys, an African American couple with three children, that he and his neighbors did not want African Americans in his neighborhood.

Andretta's May 8, 2002 order awarded $125,000 to the Keys and $7,500 to real estate agent Katherine Beard for the "intangible harm" of Hope's discrimination. He also awarded the Keys $1,400 for new carpeting in the home they later purchased and $500 for the earnest money they forfeited on the home next to Hope's. Judge Andretta awarded Beard, the sellers' agent, $200 to reimburse her for additional expenses associated with selling the property next to Hope's and $440 in lost commissions. Andretta also ordered Hope to pay the maximum civil penalty of $11,000. According to their HUD complaint, the Keys made a contract offer on a house on Dana Street in Brandon, Mississippi on March 15, 1999. The Keys and the sellers scheduled a walk-through on April 20, 1999.

The walk-through of the home went well, and the Keys were excited as their real estate agent, Michele Nesbitt, took them on a home tour. Outside, the group noticed two barking dogs next door. The dogs slightly disturbed Mrs. Keys, but the walk-through continued without additional problems, until the group made its way to the front yard. As Nesbitt and the Keys made their way out front, Chris Hope pulled into his driveway. Nesbitt invited Hope to come over to meet his "new neighbors."

At first, Hope appeared friendly. He shook everyone's hand and spoke pleasantly. However, Hope's demeanor quickly changed and he began shouting angrily. Hope said, "You're kidding me. You just bought this house?" After repeating those statements several times, he asked the Keys why they would want to live on Dana Street.

Mr. Keys responded that he and his wife liked the neighborhood, because it was nice and quiet. He also said he thought it would be a good place to raise their children.

Respondent: My dogs "don't like blacks, either."

Hope responded that it was a good neighborhood, because it was "an all-white neighborhood." Hope then added, "We don't want blacks here. That's why my wife had to go hold the dogs. They were going crazy, and they don't like blacks, either." Hope then asked the Keys why they didn't "go back to South Jackson," which is a predominantly African American neighborhood. Mr. Keys responded, "Sir, we didn't come from South Jackson. We live less than three minutes from here." Hope continued to verbally assault the Keys, asking them why they liked his "redneck neighborhood." Hope backed away, pointed to his dogs, and said that he was going to go tell a neighbor who owns a gun shop about the Keys. "He feels the same way I do," Hope said.

After the confrontation, the Keys felt frightened and left. They later decided that they could not go through with the purchase of the home on Dana Street. The home eventually sold to a single white woman for less than what the Keys had offered to pay. The sellers of the Dana Street home made some vague threats that they might sue the Keys for backing out of the real estate transaction but never followed through.

In early June, Secretary Martinez approved Judge Andretta's decision and order. He approved the decision and order as written.

HUD v. Hope
HUD ALJ 04-99-3640-8, 04-99-3509-8
Complaint filed: May 1999
HUD Charge issued: November 29, 2000
HUD ALJ Hearing: December 5-6, 2001
ALJ Initial Decision: May 8, 2002