U.S. News

05.01.14

Rochelle Sterling: The Clippers’ Cruella de Ville

If Mrs. Sterling has any intention of attending more playoff games—much less holding on to the team—she needs to explain her role in her husband’s effort to push out minority tenants.

If Rochelle Sterling wants her family to retain ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, she better first prove she was not complicit in her husband’s effort to drive black and Latino tenants from the apartment buildings he owns.

As has been widely reported, one of Donald Sterling’s former property supervisors testified in a 2003 housing discrimination suit that when she remarked on an odor at a newly acquired building, her boss responded, “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”

The property supervisor, Sumner Davenport, testified that Donald Sterling had then said, “So we have to get them out of here.”

What has not been widely reported is Davenport’s testimony regarding Rochelle Sterling’s unusual role in managing the properties.

“Sumner Davenport declares that when she worked for Sterling she often accompanied Rochelle Sterling on apartment inspections. Rochelle Sterling would regularly pose as a government official in order to gain access to tenants’ apartments, and during the inspections Sterling directed her to record, among other things, tenants’ ethnicity,” noted federal Judge A. Howard Matz.

The defense contended that the information regarding ethnicity was in response to a request by an unnamed FBI agent in the wake of 9/11 that Sterling’s company “make every possible effort to learn whether any tenants in his building are foreign nationals.”

The judge noted the plaintiff’s contention that the true purpose of the bogus “official” inspections Rochelle Sterling conducted was “to harass and intimidate African-American and Latino tenants.”

The evidence in the discrimination suit included a video filmed by a black tenant named Daryl Williams that shows Rochelle Sterling posing as a health inspector at his apartment.

The charges of actual harm being inflicted on decent working people generated little more than a shrug from the public and no action at all by the NBA.

“The Williams tape, together with Sumner Davenport’s identification of Rochelle Sterling, is evidence sufficient to support a finding that Rochelle Sterling did tell Plaintiff Williams she was a health inspector,” the judge wrote. “[Rochelle] Sterling’s failure to deny that she made that statement reinforces this conclusion.”

Anybody who inspected the apartments under whatever guise would not likely have failed to notice that black and Latino tenants were being denied necessary repairs. Some were reportedly forced to live without working toilets or showers.

Another strategy was to refuse rent checks from blacks and Latinos and then institute eviction proceedings against them. Maybe Rochelle Sterling failed to see the vacate notices.

She certainly was aware of the suit. She was among the witnesses who were deposed.

The particulars of the settlement are confidential, Sterling cash having assured silence. But the main allegations were reported in 2009, including Donald Sterling not only speaking as a racist—saying blacks smell and are “not clean”—but acting as one, having sought to drive them from their homes.

To everybody’s lasting shame, the charges of actual harm being inflicted on decent working people generated little more than a shrug from the public and no action at all by the NBA.

But a tape apparently made by Donald Sterling’s much younger girlfriend that contained some racist remarks sparked an uproar, and the NBA suddenly roused itself to righteously ban him from the league for life.

Before that action was announced, a TMZ cameraman accosted the Sterlings outside a steakhouse on Sunday night and asked if he is a racist.

“No, of course not!” Rochelle Sterling replied.

She subsequently took a slightly different position regarding her husband’s taped comments about blacks as well as her apparent relationship with him, telling TMZ, “Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband. My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices. We will not let one man’s small-mindedness poison the spirit of the fans and accomplishments of the team in the city we love. We are doing everything in our power to stand by and support our Clippers team.”

She told ESPN, “I do not condone those statements that you heard. I do not believe in them. I am not a racist. I never have been, never will be. The team is the most important thing to my family.”

For the families in the Sterling apartment buildings, the most important thing no doubt would have been to live without having the landlord harass them and seek to drive them from their homes because of their race.

That was denied them.

And if Rochelle Sterling had anything to do with it, she should not be allowed to attend a game, much less to own the team.