Friday, August 28, 2015

ACLU of Arizona Sues City of Surprise Over an Ordinance That's Pretty Terrible to Domestic Violence Victims

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 9:00 AM

The City of Surprise has this ordinance in place that allows a landlord to evict tenants who place calls to the police more than four times in 30 days, and there are no exceptions if the tenant is the victim of said crime. Well, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona have decided to challenge that rule on behalf of a domestic violence survivor.

Nancy Markham was a victim of "repeated domestic violence" who "needed to contact and rely on the Surprise police for protection and assistance at her rental home. In response, Defendants sought Ms. Markham’s eviction," the lawsuit, filed Thursday, says. Markham is a single mother of two children.

Between March and September of last year, Markham’s ex-boyfriend choked her, punched her, and threatened her with weapons. A Surprise police officer then enforced the nuisance ordinance by notifying her landlord about the police calls and encouraged her eviction, the ACLU argues. "In September 2014, the property manager of Markham’s apartment notified her that she would be evicted for having violated the law, even though the police never mentioned the law to Markham during any of her calls," the press release says. 

The groups argue the so-called "nuisance ordinance," passed by the Surprise City Council in 2010, violates the First Amendment right to free speech, ignores the Fair Housing Act's prohibition on gender discrimination, as well as an Arizona housing law that states there shouldn't be a limit on how many times a tenant can call the cops, among other allegations, according to a press release from the ACLU of Arizona. 

When the law passed, the ACLU says several groups warned the Surprise City Council that the rule would make domestic violence victims more vulnerable, but the city passed the law anyway. According to the lawsuit, the city was trying to deter residents from repeatedly calling the police, and force property owners to ensure their places were safe to begin with. The ordinance says that if a "nuisance" isn't resolved, the city can revoke the property owner's license, and the property owner could face civil or criminal penalties. 

“Rather than protect public safety, these laws put domestic violence survivors in danger,” said Nancy Markham in a statement. “When you are dealing with constant abuse as I was, you may need police protection on multiple occasions. The Surprise ordinance punished me for seeking much-needed emergency assistance.”

Domestic violence victims aren't alone, though. A recent analysis by the ACLU and Social Science Research Council found that two cities in upstate New York, often, pressured similar consequences against people who reported other crimes, such as theft, assault and rape, or even sought medical attention, including those with mental health disabilities. 

"Federal, state, and local governments have worked for decades to reform laws and policies to end victim-blaming and ensure that law enforcement treats domestic violence cases with the care they deserve. Local nuisance ordinances undermine these efforts and turn back the clock 30 years," said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, in a blog post. "They punish crime victims for seeking security for themselves, their families, and their communities. Worse, they empower abusers, who use the prospect of homelessness under these laws to harass and attack their victims with impunity."

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