ACLU sues Mo. city, says 'nuisance laws' punish domestic violence victims

ACLU sues Mo. city, says 'nuisance laws' punish domestic violence victims
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against a Missouri city Friday, claiming its “nuisance law” punishes domestic violence survivors who call law enforcement for help.

Under Maplewood, Mo., municipal code, more than two domestic violence calls to the police in a 180-day period is considered a nuisance, and violators may evicted, including alleged victims.

“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 ACLU claims a woman named Rosetta Watson made several calls to the police between September 2011 and February 2012 after her former boyfriend physically abused her, and because of the nuisance law, she was forced to leave her home.

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She moved to St. Louis, where her ex-boyfriend broke into her new home in July 2012 and stabbed her. She reportedly did not call the police.

“I thought calling 911 would help stop the domestic violence, but instead Maplewood punished me,” Watson said. “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.”  

Watson’s lawsuit is the second in three weeks to be filed against Maplewood for its indiscriminate nuisance policy.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council sued the city March 14 for unfairly forcing African Americans, women, and disabled residents out of their homes under nuisance laws, including survivors of domestic violence.

Watson’s lawsuit is also the latest in a series of ACLU court cases against local nuisance laws.

Previously, the ACLU reached a settlement in June 2016 whereby Surprise, Ariz., agreed to repeal its nuisance law that pressured landlords to evict tenants who made four calls to the police in a 30-day period for crimes that occurred there.

“While proponents of nuisance ordinances argue they are necessary to deter crime, in practice they undermine public safety and punish innocent people - especially vulnerable people who have fewer resources,” the ACLU says.

The Maplewood Police Department was not immediately available for comment.