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Donald Sterling's wife hasn't escaped controversy either

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An apartment tenant and managers claimed the wife of embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling denigrated African Americans, Latinos and once posed as a health inspector, according to court records.

Rochelle Sterling denied she is a racist in a statement released to ESPN earlier this week and distanced herself from remarks captured on an audio recording said to be of her husband. The court documents offer a different perspective.

In a 2009 deposition, a tenant at one of the Sterling’s apartment buildings in Los Angeles County said that Rochelle Sterling called him a “black m—f—” during a discussion at the building.

Full coverage: The Donald Sterling controversy

“I asked her again, I asked her, ‘would you reduce the rent?’” Darrell Rhodes said in the deposition. “And she said, ‘who do you think you are, you black m—f—.’

“The way in which she said m—f— was more lower voiced, under her breath. She said black loud enough for me to hear, she said mother loud enough for me to hear. F— part was a little lower. I had to look at her lips to hear her say it. And I did.”

Rhodes, who filed a federal lawsuit against the Sterlings in 2007, alleged he was the target of discriminatory behavior by the Sterlings.

“Inflammatory remarks made directly to Darrell Rhodes by Shelley Sterling on several occasions indicate bias,” Rhodes wrote in a 2006 letter to the Sterlings that was entered into the court record. “We have been singled out in what we believe to be a discriminatory action.”

Rhodes’ lawsuit, along with an action by the Justice Department and other tenants, was part of a $2.765-million settlement in 2009. As part of the agreement, the Sterlings didn’t admit any wrongdoing.

In another deposition from 2009, former on-site manager Maira Oliva described Rochelle Sterling's visiting the apartment building she worked at on South Ardmore Avenue.

Oliva: “She said, ‘Oh, my God. This is so filthy. I can’t remodel my apartments the way that I want because Latinos are so filthy."

Attorney: “Did she say those exact words, ‘Latinos are so filthy’?”

Oliva: “I can’t remodel my building the way I want and that the building was filthy because of the Latinos."

In a 2004 deposition in a separate case, former property supervisor Sumner Davenport said Sterling expressed her dislike for children and “certain ethnic groups” in apartments.

Attorney: Did she say that [Donald Sterling] said he wanted to evict current tenants with children?

Davenport: “Yes. She didn’t want -- if they were playing in the hallway, if they were out hanging in front of the building, they didn’t fit the image.

Davenport sued Donald Sterling for sexual harassment in 2003 and lost at trial.

An August 2003 court order by U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz in another housing discrimination lawsuit detailed Rochelle Sterling apparently posing as a health inspector while visiting a tenant’s apartment. A short video by one of the plaintiffs, Daryl Williams, documented the encounter in April 2003.

“[The] evidence is sufficient to support a finding that Rochelle Sterling did tell Plaintiff Williams she was a health inspector,” the order said. “Sterling’s failure to deny that she made that statement reinforces this conclusion.”

The order noted, however, the absence of evidence that Sterling entered the apartment.

“Sumner Davenport declares that when she worked for Sterling she often accompanied Rochelle Sterling on apartment inspections, that Rochelle Sterling would regularly pose as a government official in order to gain access to tenants’ apartments,” the order said.

The judge called the allegations “troubling,”  but said they didn’t raise sufficient questions to support an injunction.

The Housing Rights Center, which filed the 2003 case, reached a confidential settlement with the Sterlings. 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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