ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis suburb will revise a law that allowed for eviction of residents who made repeated emergency calls after a lawsuit alleged that the ordinance punished victims of domestic violence.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2017 against Maplewood, Missouri. The city will change its nuisance ordinance so that crime victims no longer face the threat of fines or eviction.
Maplewood also will pay $137,000 in compensation and attorneys’ fees to Rosetta Watson, who was evicted after repeated calls to police about an abusive boyfriend.
Sandra Park, an attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, called policies such as Maplewood’s “unconstitutional and morally reprehensible.”
“These laws endanger crime victims and empower abusers,” Park said in a statement.
Maplewood City Manager Marty Corcoran did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press on Wednesday. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the city was confident it would win the suit but settled to avoid legal costs.
“It puts this lawsuit behind us and still gives us tools to make our city safe, clean,” Corcoran said.
The amended ordinance was introduced at a City Council meeting Tuesday. The ACLU said it could be adopted as early as Sept. 25.
All residents of Maplewood are required to obtain an occupancy permit. The ordinance adopted in 2006 gives city officials the power to revoke the permit if a nuisance is not abated. Among the nuisances listed: More than two incidents of domestic violence resulting in calls to police within a 180-day period, even if the tenant is the victim.
Watson rented a home in Maplewood in 2010. The lawsuit said police were called to her home four times from September 2011 to February 2012 on reports that she was attacked by her then-boyfriend. After the fourth call, the city had her evicted.
“I thought calling 911 would help stop the abuse, but instead Maplewood punished me,” Watson said in a statement. “I lost my home, my community, and my faith in police to provide protection.”
A separate lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council also challenged the nuisance ordinance, accusing Maplewood of using it in a “discriminatory fashion.” The lawsuit said the majority of enforcement actions were taken against blacks, who make up about 17 percent of Maplewood’s 8,000 residents.
The ACLU said it successfully challenged similar laws in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and Surprise, Arizona, but several other jurisdictions still have them.
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