ST. LOUIS – Following a settlement with the ACLU and ACLU of Missouri, the city of Maplewood, Mo., will change its unconstitutional nuisance law that punishes victims of crimes. The amended ordinance was introduced at Tuesday’s Maplewood city council meeting and will be officially adopted on Sept. 25.
The “three strikes, you’re out” ordinance penalized residents who call the police three or more times regarding domestic violence. It endangered victims of crimes and discouraged them from coming forward, putting them at risk of eviction and banishment from the community. The ACLU and ACLU of Missouri filed the lawsuit in April 2017 on behalf of Rosetta Watson, a domestic violence survivor who was prohibited from living in the city for six months because she called the police for help.
“I thought calling 911 would help stop the abuse, 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.”
The settlement requires the city of Maplewood to:
- Implement significant reforms to the ordinance, including adoption of broad protections for victims of crimes or those who seek emergency assistance
- Prohibit city officials from basing their nuisance decisions on calls to police for help
- Train city officials responsible for nuisance ordinance enforcement on domestic violence
- Share records regarding nuisance enforcement annually with the ACLU of Missouri until 2023
- Pay $137,000 in compensation and attorneys’ fees to Ms. Watson
“Categorizing victims of domestic violence as ‘nuisances’ for calling the police is unconstitutional and morally reprehensible,” said Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These laws endanger crime victims and empower abusers. Our settlement is an important step toward guaranteeing that survivors feel comfortable coming forward and dismantling official policies that perpetuate violence.”
Similar policies are found in jurisdictions around the country, with particularly damaging long-term repercussions for victims of domestic violence and other crimes. Punishing people for reporting crimes results in serious harms to the survivors’ health, safety and economic well-being. Survivors grapple with severe emotional suffering, fear of repeated abuse and the loss of their homes and long-term housing stability.
“We are pleased that the city of Maplewood has changed this unconstitutional law that punished people in need of help,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “No one should be banished from their community because they called law enforcement for assistance.”
The victory in Maplewood follows other successful ACLU challenges to nuisance ordinances in Norristown, Pa. and Surprise, Ariz. on behalf of domestic violence survivors, resulting in repeals of the local laws and monetary compensation for the survivors. The law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner served as co-counsel representing Ms. Watson.
For more information: www.aclu.org/notanuisance
The case page is online here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/rosetta-watson-v-maplewood
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.