Rosetta Watson was evicted from her home and expelled from Maplewood, Missouri, for six months because she violated a city ordinance limiting the number of times you can call the police in 180 days, according to the ACLU.
The reason for the repeated calls? Watson was reporting domestic abuse by her ex-boyfriend, who allegedly "kicked open the front door and punched her in the face while she was in bed" during one incident. But Maplewood's so-called "nuisance law" — which restricts residents to two 911 calls over the course of six months — doesn't take into account the nature of the reported emergency.
"I thought calling 911 would help stop the domestic violence, but instead Maplewood punished me," Watson said in an April 7 ACLU press release announcing a lawsuit challenging the ordinance. "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."
Nuisance laws are meant to deter people from contacting law enforcement over less serious matters, such as noise complaints or minor drug offenses, freeing up police and emergency service resources for more pressing concerns. The ACLU told ATTN: that cities in 35 states have passed nuisance ordnances, about a third of which it has challenged thus far.
Watson's story exposes how nuisance laws can backfire. For victims of domestic violence in particular, limiting 911 calls can put vulnerable people at further risk.
Watson learned about the nuisance law the hard way when, in July 2012, the city contacted her landlord to have her evicted and temporarily barred from the city. She then moved to St. Louis, where her ex-boyfriend was able to track her down. He allegedly broke into her home and stabbed her legs; St. Louis police arrested him after Watson visited the hospital, where staff notified law enforcement on her behalf.
"Housing security and access to police assistance are often essential for victims of domestic violence to escape life-threatening violence," Sandra Park, staff attorney at the ACLU, said in a press release. “Laws like this are not only unconstitutional — they silence crime victims, empower abusers to act with impunity, and jeopardize community safety.”