August 12, 2009

Group Launches "Families Untied" Video With Plaintiffs From Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (410) 889-8555; media@aclu-md.org
(212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org 
 
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Protecting the rights of families to make decisions about their own homes, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Maryland filed a lawsuit today challenging a policy that unlawfully bans certain individuals from being on or near public housing in Annapolis, Maryland, even when they are invited guests of tenants. Under the policy, Annapolis public housing residents who allow banned friends and family members into their homes are subject to eviction. The lawsuit was filed against the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) and the Annapolis Police Department on behalf of residents of Annapolis public housing as well as family and friends of those residents who have been prevented from visiting and participating in raising and caring for their children, parents, grandchildren and other relatives.
 
The ACLU asserts that many of the over 500 people on HACA's banned list do not pose any danger to the community. In fact, many individuals were banned from HACA public housing based on incidents for which they were never convicted or even charged with a crime. HACA has also refused to remove individuals from the list even when the individuals can show they were innocent or vindicated in court.
 
"What could be more cruel or wrongheaded than baselessly prohibiting a three-year-old boy from visiting with his father in his own home – even when his dad was never prosecuted or convicted of any crime?" said Deborah A. Jeon, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "HACA's policy deprives tenants of their fundamental rights to control their own homes, and punishes the people on the banned list just for trying to be involved in the lives of their families and friends. The agency would do much better to implement programs that would help reinforce family stability, but instead, HACA has chosen an irrational policy that tears families apart."
 
The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, charges that the banning policy violates the rights of public housing residents and their families and friends to free association, privacy and quiet enjoyment in their own homes.
 
Under the policy, anyone HACA unilaterally designates as "detrimental to the overall quality of life for public housing residents" can be banned from HACA property for three years to life. HACA does not clearly define the criteria for getting on or off the banned list. HACA has charged residents visited by people on the banned list with lease violations and, in some cases, entered into eviction proceedings.
 
One of the residents the ACLU is representing, Esther Sharps, is a 71-year-old grandmother who has been isolated from her family because eight of her 12 grandsons and three of her sons have been on the banned list. Sharps has been warned that if those sons or grandsons visit her she will be charged with a lease violation that would put her in danger of eviction. On Mother's Day, Sharps and her family had to gather at a relative's house, because so many members of her family could not come to her home because of the banning policy. Sharps is in poor health and depends on one grandson to take her to the doctor, the grocery store and on other necessary errands, but he is on the banned list, and she has to make her way off HACA property to meet him.
 
Two young parents in the suit have been prevented from sharing parenting responsibilities – a problem faced by many of the affected families who live in HACA properties.
 
Delray Fowlkes used to see his three-year-old son every day, but now he is unable to visit him and his mother where they live in HACA public housing. Fowlkes would like to fully share in his son's care, but he cannot because he was placed on the HACA banned list because of an arrest five years ago – an arrest for which charges were ultimately dropped. The only other arrests Fowlkes has had are for trespassing on HACA property. HACA pays the Annapolis Police Department tens of thousands of dollars every year to enforce the policy by arresting people on the banned list for trespassing, and if a banned person comes onto or "near" HACA property, that person is arrested. Despite numerous appeals to HACA, Fowlkes has not been able to get removed from the banned list.
 
"All I want is to be a part of my son's life," said Fowlkes. "I've done everything I can think of to get off the banned list with no success. I really hope this lawsuit will help me and other parents in the same situation to be with our families."
 
Dalanda Moses, an 18-year-old mother, was forced to move from HACA public housing so that her boyfriend could participate in caring for their baby. From the very beginning, her boyfriend wanted to be involved with his child's life and would pick Moses up from school to take her to doctors' appointments. However, after a single juvenile arrest, he could not come to Moses' home because he was placed on the banned list. After their daughter was born, Moses would take her to the home of her boyfriend's grandmother so that they could co-parent. The burden of this constant journey became too great, and Moses had to move in order for her boyfriend to help her parent, though she would have preferred to remain in HACA housing with her mother.

"HACA's banning policy doesn't promote public safety, it prevents parents from raising their children," said Ariela Migdal, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Separating people from their families doesn't make public housing safer, it just aggravates social problems."

The attorneys on the case, Sharps v. Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, are Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland, Migdal, Lenora Lapidus and Emily Martin from the ACLU Women's Rights Project, and Sten Jensen, Meredith Moss, Lauren Maggio and Richard Rinkema from the Washington, DC office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, a law firm engaged in representing the plaintiffs pro bono.

A copy of the complaint as well as a video with ACLU clients in the case can be found online at: www.aclu.org/housingban

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