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Victim of Domestic Violence Sues City After Eviction for Calling Police for Help

By George Khoury, Esq. on April 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A law in the Missourian town of Maplewood penalizes people for calling the police, even if there is a legitimate need for police assistance. As a result of this law, a mother of two, who is also the victim of domestic abuse, was evicted from her home. In other words, as crazy as it sounds: a woman was evicted from her home for calling the police about domestic violence incidents.

Rosetta Watson, who's now 58 years old, was facing repeated domestic violence in her Maplewood home. Even though she was the victim, she was still evicted due to being a "nuisance." After being evicted, Ms. Watson faced stretches of homelessness due to being unable to find stable housing. While the damage has been done, the ACLU has taken on her case, and has filed a lawsuit not only to get rid of this nonsensical law, but to also recover damages on Ms. Watson's behalf.

A Squeaky Wheel Gets ... Evicted?

The Maplewood ordinance is characterized as a "nuisance law." The ordinance permits the town to essentially kick people out of their homes and deny them the right to live in the town for a period of time if the individual qualifies as a nuisance, under the ordinance. However, the law has a liberal definition of what constitutes a nuisance, which includes making more than one call to the police for a disturbance-type incident within a six-month time period.

As the ACLU's lawsuit points out, because the law does not carve out an exception for victims of domestic violence, it is essentially a governmental act of victim blaming and shaming. Additionally, the lawsuit points out that the nuisance law violates numerous constitutional and statutory protections, including the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA provides that individuals living in federally subsidized housing, like Ms. Watson, cannot be evicted for seeking assistance with domestic violence.

In addition to the specific provisions of the VAWA that the law appears to clearly violate, the ACLU has alleged violations of Ms. Watson's First and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming a denial of the right to petition the government, a denial of equal protection, a denial of due process, and also a denial of the right to travel freely. Claims have also been alleged under Missouri's own constitutional protections of the same federal constitutional rights.

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