Rape victim files lawsuit against Area Housing Commission
PENSACOLA, Fla. (WEAR) —
When you move into a new apartment, you trust that the complex screens anyone who may be given access to your home. One Pensacola woman says that trust was violated in March when a maintenance man used his keys to break into her apartment and rape her.
Now, she's suing the maintenance man and the Area Housing Commission. She claims the Area Housing Commission handed the keys over to a dangerous man, despite all the warning signs. She says she's sharing her story now to expose the problem and help encourage other women to come forward.
Letitiea Feagins says she always felt safe in her home until St. Patrick's Day.
"I woke up to him standing by my living room door, with the clipboard in his hand," says Feagins.
She says that familiar face, she saw standing by her door, was Terry Hamilton. The maintenance man who worked at her apartment complex and who she once had a sexual relationship with.
"I dozed off again because I was under medicine, and then I woke back up and he was on top of me having sex," she says.
Feagins says Hamilton used his maintenance keys to break into her apartment and then raped her while she was sedated.
"Because of the previous history we had, I didn't look at it like that at first, to be honest," says Feagins. "Until I told one of the area housing persons what had happened and he said to me, just like this, he said, 'Ms. Feagins, you was raped'. Then it just hit me."
Her apartment manager reported it to the Area Housing Commission, who then reported it to the Pensacola Police Department.
"I was really at the point where I didn't want to press charges," says Feagins. "I was scared about what he might do to me or my family."
Four days later, Hamilton was arrested and charged. That same day, he was also fired from his job.
Feagins has now filed a lawsuit against the Area Housing Commission for hiring Hamilton in the first place.
"Just a simple background search of his criminal record in Escambia County raises red flags," says Feagins' attorney Ryan Barnett.
According to Hamilton's personnel file, the Area Housing Commission ran a background check before they hired him. He had been charged with four crimes, ranging from grand theft to burglary.
Three of those crimes were never prosecuted. But Hamilton pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge and received one-year probation.
According to the Area Housing Commission's own policy, they don't hire anyone with a felony conviction and use their decretion when considering applicants with misdemeanors on their record.
Barnett says he hopes the lawsuit will convince the Area Housing Commission to change its policies.
"This is a problem most of us don't have to deal with. We don't have to worry about who is coming into our home and whether we are safe and secure," says Barnett. "There is a duty, as a matter of law, to ensure these folks are safe and that duty was breached, without question, in this case."
According to his personnel file, Hamilton was far from a model employee. He had been disciplined eight times and suspended four times for not doing his job or failing to follow instructions. He was also allowed to drive a company truck, despite a history of traffic violations and having his driver's license suspended several times.
Feagins says Hamilton had power and abused it. She says he made unwanted advances to other women and trading sexual favors to keep repair work off the books.
She says she tried to break off her own relationship with Hamilton, but she says he continued to pursue her right up to the day she was raped.
"I didn't want to be with him. I didn't want him to leave his wife," says Feagins. "I just did what I had to do, at that time, to keep a roof over me and my kids' heads."
Barnett says complaints were not taken seriously and were often ignored.
"If not condoned, it was tacitly permitted to continue because these were women who largely don't have a voice," says Barnett. "Nobody's listening to them."
Feagins says any tenant labeled a problem would be evicted, which is why she says many chose to stay silent.
"I am doing this for other women to come out and tell their story," Feagins says.
Abe Singh, the executive director of the Area Housing Commission, says no other maintenance workers have been discharged or reprimanded for their treatment of female residents, but he declined to comment further on the allegations.
In late October, a court hearing was held to determine if another woman's allegations against Hamilton would be admissible in this case.
That accuser says she was a teenager when Hamilton tried to rape her. The woman claims it happened in 2004, while Hamilton was working as a maintenance man at another complex.
The judge has yet to rule on that motion.
Hamilton is now out of jail on a $125,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court, for a docket day, on February 7th.