Missouri village and its marshal to pay $40,000 for intimidating African American buyer and agent

The Village of Vinita Terrace, Missouri and its marshal will pay $40,000 to settle claims of racial discrimination brought by the United States Department of Justice. The June settlement will be divided among an African American man, a woman who attempted to sell her home to him, and two real estate agents.

Calvin Vinson is an African American man. In 1998, he and his real estate agent, Fannie Simpson, looked at a home in Vinita Terrace that Vinson intended to purchase as an investment property. Simpson is also African American. As Vinson and Simpson prepared to look through the home, they noticed Albert Zadow, the village’s marshal, sitting in his patrol car near the house. Zadow is white. In 1998 and 1999, his sister was mayor of the village. After viewing the house, Vinson decided to buy it. Two days later, Vinson, Simpson, and Vinson’s cousin visited the house to see what improvements might be needed.

Vinson’s cousin was also interested in renting the home from him. Again, Zadow was sitting in his patrol car near the house. As the trio made their way back onto the front porch, Zadow pulled into the driveway. He got out of his patrol car and began yelling at Simpson. Zadow told Simpson that she was acting illegally, because she was showing a house that had not passed a local inspection.

According to Simpson and Vinson, Zadow repeatedly put his hand on his gun in a threatening manner during the incident. Simpson asked Zadow who she needed to speak to about the inspection. Zadow replied, he was the “chief of police. Now what are you going to do?”

Village marshal threatened locking up African American real estate agent for showing house

Zadow threatened to jail Simpson for showing the house and claimed there was documentation on the front door detailing the illegality of showing the home. According to Vinson, the note on the door simply stated that the home couldn’t be occupied until a permit was issued. Vinson tried to explain that to Zadow, who again began reaching for his gun and making threatening gestures. After several intense minutes, Zadow gave Simpson a summons to appear in court. As he left, he called, “Welcome to Vinita Terrace” to Vinson and Simpson.

Vinson and Simpson filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The investigation revealed evidence of racial discrimination by Zadow and the Village. Specifically, HUD investigators found that although there were several other homes for sale in the same neighborhood as the home Vinson intended to purchase, no other homes had been inspected by the Village. The other homes for sale in the neighborhood all had white listing agents.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, local HUD officials called the incident “one of the most egregious acts of discrimination in the history of the department.” Roy Pierce, field office director for the St. Louis HUD office, told the Post-Dispatch, “We interviewed many white real estate professionals and they all said they were never approached by the marshal.”

The summons issued to Simpson for “illegally” showing the house was later dismissed by a local judge.

Although the settlement took nearly five years to achieve, Vinson told reporters that it was still vivid in his mind. “Once something like this happens, you don’t forget it,” Vinson said.

Marc Kramer, the attorney that represented the Village said the incident was just a big  misunderstanding. “Nobody is trying to keep out minorities. I’m surprised that HUD would spend the time to investigate this,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve not violated any regulations, and there’s no reason to make a federal case of it.”

The $40,000 settlement will be divided four ways. Vinson will receive $20,000. Simpson will receive $16,500. Bonnie Kelly, the seller, and Marion Kelly, her agent, will receive $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. Vinson did not purchase the home after the encounter with Zadow. The settlement also calls for Village officials to attend a two-hour fair housing training session on July 16, 2003.

U.S. v. Zadow
Civil Action No. 4:01CV1898 CEJ (E.D. Missouri)
The Honorable Carol E. Jackson, U.S. District Judge
HUD Complaint filed: December 1998
HUD Charge Issued: October 12, 2001
Justice Department Lawsuit Filed: December 5, 2001
Settlement Agreement signed: June 17, 2003