Pennsylvania City Agrees to Repeal Law that Jeopardizes Safety of Domestic Violence Survivors

September 8, 2014 12:00 am

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Norristown Will Pay $495,000 to Settle Case on Behalf of Woman Threatened with Eviction for Calling Police

September 8, 2014

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NORRISTOWN, Pa. – The city of Norristown voted to repeal a municipal ordinance that punishes innocent tenants and their landlords for requesting police assistance as part of a settlement announced today. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance last year on behalf of a domestic violence victim, Lakisha Briggs, who faced eviction from her home after requesting police protection from an abusive ex-boyfriend. Norristown will also pay $495,000 to Briggs and her lawyers.

The ordinance encouraged landlords to evict tenants when the police are called to a property three times in four months for "disorderly behavior," including for incidents of domestic violence. Briggs was threatened with eviction under this policy after the police responded to her home and arrested her abusive ex-boyfriend for physically assaulting her. Briggs feared losing her home and did not call the police for future incidents, including one in which her ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick. When neighbors called the police after her ex-boyfriend stabbed her in the neck with broken glass and she was airlifted to the hospital in June 2012, the city threatened her with forcible removal from her home under the ordinance.

"While what happened to me was shocking and frightening, I am relieved that no other family will have to choose between their safety and their home," said Briggs.

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also filed a Fair Housing Act complaint against Norristown’s ordinance after the ACLU’s lawsuit and urged repeal of the ordinance. HUD’s complaint is outstanding pending its settlement negotiations with the municipality.

"The ordinance puts lives at risk by blaming domestic violence victims for the crimes occurring in their homes," said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. "Norristown’s repeal of the ordinance is an important step in ensuring that all residents have equal access to police services without risking homelessness."

Briggs has since found alternate housing and secured an order of protection against her ex-boyfriend.

"Today’s actions ensure that law enforcement can be trusted to protect families," said Sara Rose, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The people of Norristown deserve no less."

In addition to repealing the ordinance, Norristown agreed that it will not adopt a similar law in the future.

"We at Pepper are pleased that Ms. Briggs has reached a settlement with Norristown and that the 'three-strikes' ordinance has been repealed," said T. Stephen Jenkins, one of the attorneys representing Briggs.

Briggs is represented by Park and Lenora Lapidus of the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, Rose of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Jenkins, Duncan Grant, Alexander Harris, and Joseph Sullivan of the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

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