The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against Norristown on behalf of a woman tossed from her rental home after police were called there multiple times for domestic violence.
At issue is a borough ordinance that enacted penalties against landlords of properties where police were called three times within a four month period. The penalty caused the landlords to remove those tenants living there, according to the suit.
Lakisha Briggs, who filed the suit yesterday in Philadelphia, claims the ordinance violated her constitutional rights of free speech, unreasonable search and seizure, and due process. Briggs, 33, seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
The suit says Briggs’ eviction was the result of police being called to the property to protect her from her boyfriend during several incidents in early 2012. Briggs was renting a house on Wayne Ave. at the time with her three-year-old daughter.
Because of the ordinance, Briggs became so fearful of calling police that she did nothing when the boyfriend attacked her with a brick. Nor did she call when he allegedly broke an ashtray against her head and stabbed her with a glass shard from it, rendering her unconscious. Others, however, did call the police. Those calls counted toward the three strikes under the borough’s "disorderly behavior ordinance," the suit maintains.
The ACLU claims the ordinance “stripped domestic violence victims” of police protection because it “silenced them” from calling police, thus encouraging their abusers. Briggs has since moved to another rental home in the borough.
The suit also names several current and former Norristown officials. The ordinance has since been repealed, but a newer ordinance has been adopted with similar provisions. The ACLU suit also seeks to halt enforcement of the newer ordinance.
Robert Glisson, Norristown's interim municipal administrator, said in a statement that officials have not received the complaint, and so can't comment on its specifics. The statement said that the, "new provisions of the Municipality’s Rental License Ordinance reflect the Municipality’s attempt to require landlords to assist in attempting to reduce incidences of disorderly behavior caused by tenants in the Municipality, which adversely affect the law-abiding citizens of Norristown."
The statement further says that the current ordinance, "contains all of the constitutional due process provisions required to protect the residents of Norristown, explicitly stating that no property shall be condemned for any reason under Norristown’s property maintenance code based on occurrences of disorderly behavior, and stating that no tenant shall be evicted or forced to vacate a rental dwelling for violation of the ordinance provision."
The statement said that the ordinance provision singled out in the lawsuit, "does not, in any way, discriminate against any persons, nor does it punish victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is abhorrent to society, and the Norristown Police Department remains constantly vigilant for those crimes. Until the lawsuit is served and reviewed by legal counsel, Norristown cannot respond to specific allegations."
Contact staff writer Frank Kummer at 215-854-2443