This Missouri City Banishes Domestic Violence Survivors for Calling the Police

In 2012, the city of Maplewood, Missouri ordered Rosetta Watson to vacate her home. But the city wasn’t done punishing Watson yet and also barred her from living anywhere in the city for six months. Her offense? She called the police four times seeking protection from her abusive ex-boyfriend.

Under Maplewood’s local ordinance, more than two calls to police regarding domestic violence within 180 days qualifies as a “nuisance,” as do commission of acts prohibited by federal, state, or local laws at a property. The ordinance does not exempt situations where residents need to call police for help or where they are crime victims. Once Maplewood decides that a nuisance took place, it can revoke the residents’ occupancy permits — which are required to live in Maplewood — and deny new ones for six months, exiling the residents from the city.

Maplewood officials concluded that Ms. Watson should be removed from her home and banished from the city because she made calls for help with domestic violence, even though it was clear from the city’s own records that her ex-boyfriend had physically assaulted her. She was forced to move to St. Louis, where he again attacked her. This time, he broke in and stabbed her in the legs.

Because of her experience in Maplewood, she feared calling the police and instead took herself to the hospital. When the hospital contacted police, she was relieved to learn that law enforcement would not punish her. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. Yet, she suffered the consequences of the nuisance ordinance for years, losing her Section 8 voucher in the process and moving from place to place, unable to secure stable housing.

The ACLU and ACLU of Missouri filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Ms. Watson against Maplewood, asserting that its ordinance violates fundamental constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to petition the government for assistance and the rights to travel, equal protection, and due process. We also argue that the ordinance is preempted by the federal Violence Against Women Act. The case follows other suits brought by the ACLU challenging nuisance ordinances in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and Surprise, Arizona, on behalf of domestic violence survivors, resulting in repeals of the local laws and monetary compensation.

When the hospital contacted police, she was relieved to learn that law enforcement would not punish her.

Local nuisance and crime-free ordinances that penalize calls for police service or criminal activity at a rental property often harm domestic violence victims the most, according to researchers, because their abusers may repeatedly target them at their homes. Harvard sociologist and author of “Evicted” Matthew Desmond and his colleague Nicol Valdez found that calls about domestic violence were the third most common reason for a nuisance citation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An ACLU and Social Science Research Council study of Binghamton and Fulton, New York determined that domestic violence made up the single largest category of criminal activity triggering enforcement of each city’s law. The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council similarly concluded that Maplewood discriminated in enforcing its law against domestic violence victims, non-white residents, and people with disabilities. And Professor Gretchen Arnold of St. Louis University documented the serious harms to survivors’ health, safety, and economic well-being because of nuisance laws.

Nuisance and crime-free ordinances are popular across the country, but they are deeply unfair, dangerous policies. They punish people for crimes occurring at their homes, often resulting in homelessness and the silencing of residents who need to call 911.

Maplewood’s ordinance is particularly draconian. First, it blames the victims, specifically targeting calls relating to domestic violence. In effect, it requires biased policing of domestic violence by punishing survivors for seeking help, in violation of the Constitution, guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, and basic morality. On top of that, it exiles survivors from their entire community for exercising their constitutional right to contact their government.

Penalizing people for police calls or crimes in their homes weakens law enforcement, as Norristown, Pennsylvania, realized after it agreed to repeal its ordinance in response to our lawsuit. Its municipal administrator said last year that as a result of the repeal, Norristown now worked more closely with residents to address the underlying domestic violence and other problems that led to police calls, resulting in a drop in crime. Its current police chief also has explained to law enforcement groups across the country that these ordinances undermine effective policing and community relationships. Recognizing the serious consequences of these ordinances, states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota enacted laws preventing cities from punishing residents for seeking police or emergency assistance. More states should do the same.

Every city with a nuisance or crime-free ordinance should examine why they have it and how it is being enforced. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, cities bear a heavy burden under the Fair Housing Act in defending local laws that cut off emergency services or threaten people’s housing. Rather than expending scarce municipal resources on enforcing unjust laws, cities like Maplewood should repeal their ordinances and focus on solutions that actually address crime, including domestic violence, in their communities.

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Former maplewoo...

This saddens me that maplewood has acted this way... saddens is an understatement. Infuriates me is a better description! I lived between TWO drug dealin, violence filled houses for 4 years in maplewood! I called the police on them countless times during that time. Sometimes 2-3 times a week. Cause of chronically offenses such as active violent attacks, guns, drugs, or lagitamet threats of violence towards me or even others at their house! NEVER ONCE was this act put into order!!! And I asked WHY several times with the response always being "well, it's complicated & it takes a lot of specific proof to get it I inacted". Of course I can't imagine what more proof they need than gunfire arrests, drug arrests and more?! This poor woman! If anyone in this case knows who I can contact to provide testimony to prove this law is selectively applied... IM MORE THAN HAPPY TO DO SO! I ended up leaving my home due to my safety being the most important thing.... & it should have been my neighbors who had to leave... & they are still there!

Donald.Prettyma...

In 2011 I was hospitalized at franklin square 2sB while their some one implanted a a stent that is the size of a needle an d can control your entire CNS. The police call it a electric colar. Some one is using this stent to torcher and terrorize me and the law wont do anything about it. They are putting these things in people and not telling them then they start taking contol of their lives.Becarerful poeple this is real

Kathy

No, that is not real. That is a paranoid thought. Tell it to your doctor. You don't have to live this way. Demand that the doctor acknowledge what you are saying and treat you for it. Don't be ignored.

OshunAnonymous

Call once get rid of the problem. Dont keep taking him back. Thats a nuisance!!

Anonymous

Victim blamer

Anonymous

Oshun, you apparently don't understand responsibility. The man who attacked her is wholly responsible for his actions. The rules that are affecting the subject of this story only serve to further victimize individuals that are already victims. Furthermore these rules create a tremendous burden on individuals that are already likely to be under financial and social strain. How does rendering a person homeless for 6 months in prove the underlying cause - it doesn't - all it dose is tell people not to speak up when they are violated. If you support those tyes of laws you are a sick, useless person that has no place in modern society. Children, women and other minorities will not be pushed back into silence.

Anonymous

Oshun, you apparently don't understand responsibility. The man who attacked her is wholly responsible for his actions. The rules that are affecting the subject of this story only serve to further victimize individuals that are already victims. Furthermore these rules create a tremendous burden on individuals that are already likely to be under financial and social strain. How does rendering a person homeless for 6 months in prove the underlying cause - it doesn't - all it dose is tell people not to speak up when they are violated. If you support those tyes of laws you are a sick, useless person that has no place in modern society. Children, women and other minorities will not be pushed back into silence.

Anonymous

You should research more.

The fourth call, the one that got her kicked out--she came home to find him in her home, and she wanted him out.
He was her ex-boyfriend; she hadn't taken him back. She called the cops for help getting him away from her, because he wouldn't go when she told him to.

After Maplewood rescinded her permit to live there, she became homeless, and once she got a place to stay in a different city, he BROKE IN and stabbed her. That's when she drove herself to the hospital rather than call the police or an ambulance.

What the hell is she supposed to do?

J

It's a shame that good people have to rely on the ACLU to protect them. Law makers are enforcers are out of control. I'm fed up with the government harming good people.

Rlb Uk

Are you shitting me!. So sorry.

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