Suit Seeks Damages for Violations of Fourth Amendment and D.C. Law; 2013 Office of Police Complaints Report Documented Pattern of Unconstitutional Home Entries

February 28, 2017

WASHINGTON – The ACLU of the District of Columbia today sued the District of Columbia and four of its police officers on behalf of Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the Executive Director and co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective, for entering her home and arresting her without a warrant.

The complaint recounts that Ms. Hunter was arrested at her home in November while she was hosting a gathering in her apartment for activists and advocates from around the nation who would be attending the White House Transgender Community Briefing with her the following day.

According to the complaint, the arrest followed a disagreement between Ms. Hunter and her neighbors about the level of noise coming from her apartment. Four police officers came to the apartment for what they described as an investigation of “a possible assault.” After disagreeing with that characterization, Ms. Hunter retreated back into her apartment, where she was followed by an officer who grabbed her by her arm and neck. The officers told Ms. Hunter she was being arrested for assault, placed her in handcuffs, dragged her out of her apartment, and held her in custody for hours.

Ms. Hunter suffered a pinched nerve in her arm from the tight handcuffs, exacerbated osteo-arthritis in her knee, back pain and the emotional distress and humiliation of the arrest in front of friends and colleagues. The United States Attorney declined to prosecute Ms. Hunter.

The complaint asserts that the warrantless home entry and arrest violated the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as a D.C. law prohibiting most warrantless arrests for alleged misdemeanors.

“I was in total shock that night. There was no reason for the police to respond with such aggression and excess,” said Ms. Hunter. “Trans women of color are being murdered in the street, and after this interaction, I felt as though we aren’t even safe in our own homes. I hope that elevating this humiliating and painful incident helps us work toward a system in which police protect us and enforce the laws - not break them.”

The incident follows a known history of D.C. police entering homes without warrants. In 2013, the Office of Police Complaints issued a report documenting that it had received dozens of complaints of officers’ improper entry into private homes without a warrant. The report found that the complaints raised valid concerns regarding constitutional violations and recommended additional guidance and training for officers.

“Both the United States Constitution and the laws of the District of Columbia make clear that the officers’ actions were unlawful,” said attorney Shana Knizhnik of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “Although MPD responded to the Office of Police Complaints report by revising its General Order on search warrants and by developing new training, it seems that the Department has not yet gotten a handle on the problem.”

The suit was filed in the United States District Court of the District of Columbia on February 28, 2017. For interviews and comment, contact 202-270-8488 or media@acludc.org.

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