A Missouri Town Will Finally Stop Banishing Residents for Reporting Domestic Violence

In cities across America, calling 911 can get you evicted. This week, a city less than 10 miles outside of St. Louis agreed to stop enforcing this inhumane policy as part of an extensive settlement. 

Last year, we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Rosetta Watson, a domestic violence survivor who was kicked out of her home and city because she called the police. Under a local ordinance in Maplewood, Missouri, anyone making more than two calls to the police for domestic violence was designated a “nuisance,” with no exception for victims. Ms. Watson called the police four times, when her ex-boyfriend kicked in her front door, punched her, and strangled her. Based on those calls, Maplewood revoked her occupancy permit, and she was banished from living in Maplewood for six months. For years afterwards, she struggled with fear of her abuser, distrust of law enforcement, and the inability to keep a stable home. 

On Tuesday, the Maplewood City Council approved an agreement settling the lawsuit, which includes a major overhaul of the law and compensation for Ms. Watson. Under the settlement, Maplewood will no longer enforce the ordinance against victims of crime or penalize residents based on calls for police or emergency services. The city also will train its officials on how to support victims of crime and provide records annually to the ACLU about how it is enforcing the ordinance overall.  

“I thought calling 911 would help stop the abuse, but instead Maplewood punished me,” Ms. Watson said after signing the agreement. “I lost my home, my community, and my faith in police to provide protection. I brought the case to make sure that other women in Maplewood do not suffer the way I did.”

The case against Maplewood is just the latest in our fight against nuisance ordinances. The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council found 69 similar ordinances in the St. Louis region, and we estimate there are thousands across the country. For example, the ACLU published a report with the New York Civil Liberties Union last month, showing how different cities in New York often enforced these kinds of ordinances in communities of color and where poor people live, imposed harsh penalties for low-level offenses, and harmed domestic violence survivors and those in need of emergency aid.  

How can communities avoid these consequences? First, they can repeal these ordinances, as Norristown, Pennsylvania, and Surprise, Arizona, did after they were sued by the ACLU on behalf of domestic violence survivors. Second, states can adopt legislation that protects residents from ordinances that penalize them for calling 911 or based on criminal activity when they are the victims, as numerous states have done — including Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, and most recently California. Only then can survivors like Ms. Watson live free from violence and retaliation for seeking security. 

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Anonymous

Almost justice. Anyone who participated in kicking her out needs to lose their homes and be shunned

Anonymous

Almost justice. Anyone who participated in kicking her out needs to lose their homes and be shunned

Average Citizen Jo

As a domestic shooting survivor, I thank you, Ms. Watson, for bringing this case against Maplewood. I had no idea how easily victims of domestic violence were discriminated against until I barely survived a shooting by my ex-husband, who had been a police reservist. His fellow police officers did not photograph my other injuries, which proved that I was beaten before I was shot and the story was never released to the press in order to protect the shooter. Had I died, he would have received a significant amount of life insurance as he was my beneficiary. They dismissed the case as an accidental shooting, based solely on the shooter's story. Spokane, WA's PD, the city to which I was life flighted, forced Kennewick PD to reopen the case. He was offered a plea bargain of a misdemeanor and 30 days in jail, of which he served one, then was granted work release. Women are not offered the same protection under the law in America.

Anonymous

I knew the US had many bad laws, but this takes the cake and eats it too! I thought victims of crime were SUPPOSED to call the police?
I also thought that 'nuisance calls to 911' meant those calls drunks make because McDonald's is out of their favorite dipping sauce, or fake reports or maybe, to stretch it a little, calls to report crimes where there's no urgency?

Richard

"Maplewood City Council" you are very sick people. You are in need of help for your twisted thinking. I hope you seek help and step down for your positions. You should be a shame for what you are doing. Again, you are sick.

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