Neighbors opposed neighbors with accusations of racist behavior Wednesday as a housing-discrimination trial entered its second day in U.S. District Court.
Three of Rita Evelt's Amherst neighbors accused her of conducting a one-woman campaign to keep blacks from living on their street, as heated testimony continued in the case before U.S. Magistrate Edmund F. Maxwell.
The lawsuit, which seeks $425,000 in damages, involves accusations that Mrs. Evelt, of Marion Road, made a series of threatening telephone calls to keep Isadora Bluford, a black Buffalo hospital worker, from moving next door to Mrs. Evelt last spring.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Mrs. Bluford and Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a Buffalo fair-housing advocacy group.
Mrs. Bluford said she backed out of a contract to purchase the $57,000 home when she learned that Mrs. Evelt had told a co-worker and two real estate agents that the house might be torched and that the Ku Klux Klan would become involved.
The case has created an uproar on Marion Road, a quiet three-block street that runs off Eggert Road near Niagara Falls Boulevard.
One witness from Marion Road, Arthur Domino, testified that the neighborhood and its residents have been unfairly tarnished by the suit and by Mrs. Evelt's actions.
"Sir, it is nasty when you implicate people for something they had nothing to do with," Domino told Mrs. Evelt's attorney, David G. Jay. "These people on Marion Road had nothing to do with what is going on here. I can vouch for every one of them. They're good people. They aren't violent people."
Mrs. Evelt's defense has been that Domino and other neighbors made threats or racist remarks aimed at Mrs. Bluford.
Mrs. Evelt said that she did make phone calls about Mrs. Bluford but that she never intended them as threats. She said she was trying only to prevent violence by other neighbors against the house.
Mrs. Evelt also denied testimony by one witness, Bruce Tubin, that she had expressed alarm about blacks' moving into the neighborhood and had used a racial slur as description. She said her only aim was to help Mrs. Bluford by averting arson at the house.
"I felt sorry for her (Mrs. Bluford) coming into an Archie Bunker bigot neighborhood," Mrs. Evelt said.
Mrs. Evelt accused Domino of telling her that the house should be "blown up and burned" so the black woman could not move in. She also accused June Seege, another neighbor on Marion Road, with asking her to call a real estate agent to find out whether blacks were planning to buy the house next door to Mrs. Evelt's.
Domino and Mrs. Seege denied making the remarks. Mrs. Seege and Virginia Zielinski, also of Marion Road, testified that Mrs. Evelt seemed to be the only one in the neighborhood concerned about a black person moving in.
Mrs. Zielinski testified that Mrs. Evelt told her that she could not believe that the owners of the home would sell to a black family and that she planned to put up an 8-foot fence facing the black household.
"I said, 'What's the difference?' " Mrs. Zielinski told the jury. "I work with black people. I went to school with them. . . . We have to live with one another and respect one another."
Hard feelings were evident in the courtroom as Maxwell needed to warn to Mrs. Evelt and Mrs. Zielinski repeatedly to confine their remarks to the questions asked by Jay and by Dan D. Kohane, the plaintiffs' attorney.
At another point, the magistrate had to warn a spectator that she would be removed from the courtroom if she did not stop directing sarcastic remarks at Mrs. Evelt.