November 23, 2005.
An Anacortes man has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the Anacortes Housing Authority, charging the agency with violating his family’s civil rights by trying to evict him for keeping two seven-foot snakes and smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes on the premises.
In his case filed this month in U.S. District Court, Michael Adam Assenberg seeks $5 million in damages, court costs and an order stopping the Anacortes Housing Authority from evicting him from his apartment on 22nd Street. Assenberg says his reptiles — a seven-foot female gopher snake named Nikki, and a 6-1/2-foot-long redtail boa named Savannah — are “service animals’’ that offer him comfort for severe physical and emotional disabilities stemming from an assault in 1985. Assenberg receives marijuana from the state to help ease pain from his injuries.
According to the lawsuit, the agency’s actions violate Assenberg and fiancee Carla Kearney’s rights under Washington State law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Theresa McCallum, the executive director of the Anacortes Housing Authority, declined to comment on the suit. In its court answer to the complaint, the Anacortes Housing Authority denies violating the civil rights of Assenberg and Kearney, asks for a dismissal of the suit and requests an order acknowledging the Housing Authority’s right to terminate Assenberg as a tenant.
In the meantime, the Anacortes Housing Authority won’t accept his rent payments, said the 45-year-old Assenberg.
“It’s been very stressful for myself, my soon-to-be wife and our kids ... We’re taking it one day at a time,’’ he said.
Assenberg said he’s no longer content simply to retain his residency. “There’s too much harassment done that I want a cash settlement,’’ he said.
Assenberg’s disabilities stem from an attack in January 1985. While working as a security guard for a mining compnay in Corona, Calif., an assailant struck Assenberg over the head with a baseball bat. He fell about 15 feet and landed on his back on boulders, breaking nine bones from his neck to his tailbone.
Six months ago, Assenberg moved to Anacortes from Tacoma to live with his fiance, Kearney, who he met on the Internet. He pays $187 a month for the apartment, a HUD-subsidized unit managed by the Anacortes Housing Authority. On Aug. 17, he received a letter from the Anacortes Housing Authority telling him to find new homes for the snakes — not allowed in the units — or vacate within 30 days.
“I was very upset over it,’’ Assenberg said. “I’ve had one of these snakes for over 20 years, the other for six years.’’
Assenberg asked for a letter from his primary care physician, Dr. Allen Horesh, who wrote Assenberg “has a depressive condition and the forced loss of these snakes would be devastating for him. He derives much comfort and mental benefit from his snakes, and I consider them to be his `therapy pets.’’’
In a Sept. 13 letter that acknowleged receiving the note from the doctor, the Anacortes Housing Authority stated “you will be allowed to keep the snakes for their medical benefits.’’ But the agency set rules to assure the safety of the other residents and staff.
“You must declare the type of containment cage you use to control the snakes. You must also guarentee that the snakes will not be loose in your apartment in any instance when it may be necessary for the staff to enter your apartment for any reason. You must also understand that the snakes are to remain inside your unit.’’
But in a letter sent a week later, the Anacortes Housing Authority stated Assenberg did not “demonstrate the need for or the basis for using your pets as service animals.’’ The agency also denied Assenberg’s request to use or possess marijuana on the premises; he receives pot from the state.
“The Anacortes Housing Authority public housing property is a federal program, and is a crime free - drug free property,’’ the letter states. “This includes the use or possession of an illegal or controlled substance. Marijuana, under federal law, is considered illegal. You may not use or possess marijuana on AHA property.’’
Assenberg said he believes the pot charge was added because, “If they can’t get me for the snakes, they’ll get me for this.’’
End of article.
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