One week before Christmas, Larry Partée could be homeless.
On Dec. 6, the Durham Housing Authority evicted Partée, president of the Preiss-Steele Residents' Association, from the housing complex after District Court Judge David LaBarre ruled that he had sold $16 worth of pirated DVDs on DHA property for profit. The sale violated terms of Partée's lease, which states DHA residents can't engage in criminal activity that "impairs the physical and social environment" of the properties.
"I don't know where I'm going to go," Partée said, his voice trembling, in the courthouse hallway minutes after LaBarre's decision. "I'm shocked."
Unless the DHA grants Partée a stay during his appeal, he has until Dec. 16 to leave his home of four years, a third-floor, two-bedroom apartment at the affordable housing community for low-income elderly and handicapped people. Because he has been evicted for violating his lease, Partée, who is 58 and has AIDS, can't apply to other Durham public housing properties; his Section 8 voucher was revoked in August in connection with the incident.
Last week's civil trial was the third hearing about Partée's case. In September, Magistrate David Pickett ruled against the DHA, stating there was no evidence Partée sold pirated DVDs for profit or posed a danger to the safety of other residents. (See www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A37139.)
The DHA appealed the decision.
Last summer, Partée, who last spring was elected president of the residents' association, posted flyers in Preiss-Steele elevators announcing that movies "were available," although nowhere did they state DVDs were for sale. Partée had screened DVDs, which had no original labels and appear to be pirated copies, once in the library and another time in the multi-purpose room while residents played dominoes. Both showings were free. "A lot of residents don't have money or can't get out to see movies," he testified. "A lot of people wanted to know where to get the movies to see them."
Preiss-Steele property manager Tammy Atkins testified that after she saw the flyers, she called Durham Police to investigate. Partée surrendered his DVDs to Officer James Massimo, who later arrested him on felony charges of "possessing with the intent to sell or distribute more than 100 unauthorized visual recordings which did not contain the true name and address of the original manufacturer."
Massimo told the court he didn't see any duplicating equipment or blank discs in Partée's apartment that suggested he was pirating DVDs.
Since the September magistrate's hearing, Atkins found a Preiss-Steele resident, Emma Manuel, who testified that she bought three DVDs from Partée. "He said he was trying to help the association," Manuel said.
However, Partée testified that Manuel had asked him to buy for her several DVDs at a shop on Avondale Drive, where he often bought his discs.
"I purchased them for her because mine had been confiscated," Partée said. "I didn't make any money off them."
Manuel partially reimbursed Partée, and he gave her an undated receipt for the amount she had paid—$10—and $6 she still owed him.
That receipt likely cost Partée his home.
Partée's attorney, Dan Read, told Judge LaBarre that the DHA's actions are retribution for Partée's persistent criticism of conditions at Preiss-Steele, including filthy common bathrooms, unlocked security doors and broken air-conditioning in halls and other public areas.
Read also disputed DHA's contention that by showing films or selling Manuel movies, he impaired the physical and social environment at Preiss-Steele. "If anything, it helped the physical and social environment," Read said. "This is harassment for his being an outspoken advocate of tenants' rights."
The DHA contended Partée was distributing pornographic movies because of a title listed on the flyer, Gang Bang Darling 2. But Judge LaBarre ruled that without a foundation for that line of questioning, the DHA couldn't ask Partée about the film.
LaBarre later asked Partée if he had seen the Gang Bang Darling 2; Partée replied that he hadn't. "For all you know it may be a Walt Disney movie," LaBarre said.
Partée nodded yes. "I've never shown pornographic movies," he added.
Partée's woes aren't over. In September, Durham Assistant District Attorney Doretta Walker filed criminal charges against Partée for copyright violations; a grand jury indicted him. His criminal trial is tentatively scheduled for next month. If convicted, Partée, who lives on $900 a month in Social Security disability benefits, could face up to 15 months in jail and pay $150,000 in fines.