Rosetta Watson and other victims of domestic violence have it tough enough, but living in Maplewood, Missouri makes it even tougher. When Watson’s ex-boyfriend, Robert Hennings broke into her home and stabbed her, she was afraid to call the police. The reason she feared calling the police is because the last time she needed police protection from her abusive ex-boyfriend, she was evicted and forced to leave town for six months. For the offense of seeking protection from her abusive ex, Rosetta Watson was ordered to vacate her home in Maplewood, Missouri and barred from living anywhere nearby. Rosetta received assistance from the ACLU, who filed a complaint on her behalf.
According to the ACLU, between September 2011 and February 2012, Watson made several calls to the police.
“I thought calling 911 would help stop the domestic violence, but instead Maplewood punished me,” Watson said. “I lost my home, my community, and my faith in police to provide protection. I want to make sure that other women in Maplewood do not suffer the way I did.”
The ACLU Complaint paints a frightening depiction of Hennings’ repeated attacks on Watson. On Sept. 24, 2011, she called the police after she said Hennings struck her in the face with a closed fist. He was arrested for assault in the third degree, and police took photos of her lip. On Nov. 8, 2011, she called the police again and he admitted that he shoved her. The police arrested Hennings for assault in the third degree again. On Jan. 7, 2012, Watson told the police she was afraid of him and wanted him to leave her home. Once police arrived, he left. On Feb. 22, 2012, she told the police that Hennings hit her and choked her. Hennings was again arrested for domestic assault in the third degree.
Under Maplewood’s local ordinance, more than two calls to police regarding domestic violence within 180 days qualifies as a “nuisance,” as do commission of acts prohibited by federal, state, or local laws at a property. The ordinance does not exempt situations where residents need to call police for help or where they are crime victims. Once Maplewood decides that a nuisance took place, it can revoke the residents’ occupancy permits — which are required to live in Maplewood — and deny new ones for six months, exiling the residents from the city.
Maplewood officials removed the victim from her home and banished from the city because, even according to city’s own records, she made calls for help with domestic violence. Watson lived in Section 8 housing and based on her nuisance violation, she lost her voucher. She couldn’t afford to pay for housing without the voucher and ended up living on the streets for a period of time before landing in St. Louis.
In Watson’s filing and two others, the ACLU lawsuit claims that nuisance ordinances violate the First Amendment right to petition the government for assistance, as well as the rights to travel, equal protection, and due process. The other lawsuits, one in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and one in Surprise, Arizona, were filed on behalf of domestic violence victims and resulted in the repeal of the local laws.
ROSETTA WATSON V. MAPLEWOOD – COMPLAINT: