Unconstitutional Ordinance in Maplewood, Missouri, Puts Victims of Crimes at Risk for Violence, Homelessness

April 7, 2017

ST. LOUIS — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit today against the city of Maplewood, Missouri, challenging as unconstitutional its nuisance law that forced a domestic violence survivor to move from her home and leave the city for six months because she called the police for help.

More than two calls to the police regarding domestic violence from the same address within a 180-day period is considered a nuisance under Maplewood’s policy, and violators can be forced from their homes and banished from the city for six months, even if they are victims of a crime and called the police for help.

Between September 2011 and February 2012, Rosetta Watson called the police several times after physical abuse by her former boyfriend at her Maplewood home. In one incident, he kicked open the front door and punched her in the face while she was in bed.

Because of Maplewood’s law, Watson was forced to leave the home she had rented for two years. She moved to St. Louis, where in July 2012, her former boyfriend broke in to her new home and stabbed her in the legs.

“I thought calling 911 would help stop the domestic violence, but instead Maplewood punished me,” said Watson, the plaintiff in the suit. “I lost my home, my community, and my faith in police to provide protection. I want to make sure that other women in Maplewood do not suffer the way I did.”

After losing her Maplewood home because she called the police for assistance, Watson decided not to call law enforcement after she was stabbed in St. Louis. She took herself to the hospital, where she was treated. The hospital contacted the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, who arrested her former boyfriend. He pled guilty to domestic assault.

“The city of Maplewood violated Ms. Watson’s fundamental constitutional rights by enacting and enforcing a law that punishes crime victims merely because they ask for help,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Banishment from one’s home should never be the result of calling law enforcement for assistance.”

The lawsuit follows two other cases filed by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project challenging nuisance ordinances in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and Surprise, Arizona, on behalf of domestic violence survivors, which resulted in repeal of the local laws and monetary compensation.

“Housing security and access to police assistance are often essential for victims of domestic violence to escape life-threatening violence,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Laws like this are not only unconstitutional — they silence crime victims, empower abusers to act with impunity, and jeopardize community safety.”

The complaint can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/watson-v-city-maplewood-missouri-complaint

Background on the ACLU’s “I Am Not A Nuisance” campaign can be found here: www.aclu.org/notanuisance

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