Housing discrimination case in Greenville continues after one defendant sentenced to 28 months in federal prison for racial harassment
RALEIGH—Douglas Matthew Gurkins, 34, a Greenville resident, has been sentenced to 28 months in federal prison for using racial slurs against and threatening the lives of a Black American family, consisting of a mother and her four children—a criminal violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. At the sentencing hearing, other Black American tenants who had been victimized by Mr. Gurkins in the same manner shared their stories with the court.
The sentencing is the latest development in a years-long and still ongoing legal effort launched by Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project against Mr. Gurkins and others on behalf of another Black American couple.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which prosecuted the case, announced the sentencing in a press release on November 23, 2020.
In August 2019, Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project and the law firm of Brancart & Brancart filed a federal civil lawsuit against Mr. Gurkins; the owner of the property, who is also Mr. Gurkins’ aunt; the company hired to manage the property; and one of the management company’s employees.
In 2017, Legal Aid’s clients began renting one half of a duplex in Greenville owned by Mr. Gurkins’ aunt. Mr. Gurkins lived in the other half.
The complaint alleges that soon after the couple moved in, Mr. Gurkins launched a campaign of racial harassment against them, repeatedly addressing them by using the “N-word”—sometimes in front of their minor grandchildren—and threatening them with physical violence.
The couple allege they pleaded with Gurkins' aunt and the property manager to do something about him, but no one intervened or even investigated their complaints. Instead, according to the suit, the defendants attempted to evict the couple from the property.
In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Mr. Gurkins' racist behavior and the failure of the others to do anything about it violated the federal Fair Housing Act. The defendants have all denied the allegations. The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2021.
"We are proud that justice is being served in this case on the criminal side," said Kelly Clarke, supervising attorney of our Fair Housing Project.
"No one should have to live in fear because of the color of their skin. The Fair Housing Act entitles all Americans to enjoy their home free of racial harassment. Our clients look forward to having their day in civil court," said Ayanda Meachem, a supervising attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Luis Pinto, staff attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina, also works on this case and is counsel of record; both Meachem and Pinto work in Legal Aid’s Ahoskie office. Legal Aid of North Carolina co-counsels this case with Christopher Brancart of California-based law firm Brancart & Brancart.
Individuals may obtain information about fair housing by contacting the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina at (855) 797-3247.
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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through education, outreach, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement. To learn more, visit www.legalaidnc.org and www.fairhousingnc.org.
The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported in part by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal Government.
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, 919-856-2132, SeanD@legalaidnc.org