The Obama administration is suing a Southern California city for allegedly using zoning laws and discriminatory enforcement measures to keep out group homes for people with disabilities.

In a complaint filed late last week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Justice Department accused the city of San Jacinto, Calif. of violating the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Federal officials said the city used its zoning code to prohibit or restrict group homes from locating within the jurisdiction and targeted housing for people with disabilities within the city with aggressive enforcement measures.

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New zoning rules in San Jacinto affecting the operation of group homes took effect in October 2008. About a month later, the city conducted an early morning sweep of 19 residences to assess whether they were group homes, according to the lawsuit.

During the action, armed sheriff’s deputies and fire officials interrogated residents with disabilities individually, asking about their conditions, their treatment and what types of government benefits they received, among other issues, the complaint said.

Four of the homes investigated were determined not to be group homes. Some of the other residences have since closed and the ones remaining in operation have repeatedly been visited by city officials and cited for violations, according to the Justice Department, which said that some of the targeted residences were home to as few as three people with disabilities.

“Under the law, people with disabilities, including mental disabilities, must be given the opportunity to live in our community, free from discriminatory efforts to exclude them. This suit seeks to ensure that this opportunity is fully and fairly provided,” said AndrĂ© Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

The Justice Department action comes after operators of group homes in San Jacinto filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Obama administration is asking the court to stop San Jacinto officials from enforcing its zoning code in a discriminatory way. The lawsuit also asks the court to assess a civil penalty against the city and award compensatory damages to those affected.