PHOENIX (AP) - A domestic violence victim has alleged in a lawsuit that a police officer from a Phoenix suburb pressured her landlord to evict her for repeatedly calling 911 for protection from her abusive former boyfriend.
Nancy Markham filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of Surprise in which she asks a judge to bar enforcement of a 2010 ordinance that declares it a nuisance for a renter to call police four times or more during a 30-day period. If the nuisance isn’t resolved satisfactorily, property owners could face suspension or revocation of their business licenses.
Markham said the ordinance doesn’t distinguish between abusers and victims in domestic violence situations and that the city’s policies are a barrier for reporting abuse. “I no longer call the police in Surprise because of the law,” Markham said in an interview.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Markham. The group also has opposed similar ordinances across the country. Nearly a year ago, Norristown, Pennsylvania, repealed its ordinance that allowed landlords to evict tenants if they called 911 three times within four months.
“We think in most communities people do not know that these laws are on the books,” said Sandra Park, an ACLU attorney who’s representing Markham.
City spokeswoman Diane Arthur declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the police department takes domestic violence seriously and has a record of helping such victims. She also said the police department encourages people facing emergency situations to call 911.
The lawsuit suit said the purpose of the ordinance was to discourage calls to police and hold property owners accountable for slum conditions and criminal conduct.
Markham, who also is seeking unspecified money damages, alleged the ordinance infringes on her free-speech rights and disregards constitutional due-process and equal-protection guarantees. She said the ordinance also violates an Arizona housing law that says rental agreements can’t limit tenants’ rights to call police in emergencies.
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