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ACLU Targets Norristown Over 'Three Strikes' Ordinance

An ordinance aimed at giving the municipality an avenue to deal with landlords whose tenants disturb or threaten the neighborhood is being challenged by the ACLU for a second time.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against Norristown on Wednesday over the municipality's "Three Strikes" ordinance aimed at landlords whose tenants are the source of repeated police calls for "disorderly conduct or other activities that disturb or threaten the neighborhood."

The ACLU charges that the ordinance is unconstitutional and "punishes innocent tenants and their landlords for requesting police assistance."

The case was filed on behalf of a Norristown resident, Lakisha Briggs, a victim of domestic violence who the ACLU says faced eviction for calling police when she was being attacked by her abusive ex-boyfriend.

"I was shocked to find out that reaching out to the police for protection could instead lead to eviction for me and my family," Briggs said, according to a press release issued by the ACLU. "Nobody should have to fear losing their home when they call for help."

According to court documents, after being notified she was in danger of running afoul of the ordinance, Briggs was so terrified that she refused to call police for help when she was brutally attacked and almost killed by her former boyfriend.

According to the ACLU, in June 2012, Briggs' boyfriend at the time attacked her by "biting and tearing her lip, striking her in the head with a glass ashtray, and stabbing her in the neck with the broken glass." Briggs had to be flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The ACLU alleges that officials continued to threaten her landlord with revocation of his rental license (a provision of the original "Three Strikes" ordinance), despite Briggs' being a victim in two of the three incidents cited as leading to the three strikes violation. (One instance involved a fight between Briggs' boyfriend and another man at a party at her home.)

"When a city penalizes a woman for requesting help for domestic violence, the system is broken," Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, wrote in the release. "Laws that stop tenants from calling the police are unconstitutional and can actually put lives at risk." 

The ACLU threatened a lawsuit in 2012 that, according to the Municipal Manager Dave Forrest, alleged the ordinance was unconstitutional because it gave police and municipal officials power over who would be punished under the ordinance and denied landlords due process in court. Norristown Municipal Council revoked the ordinance in November 2012 and reintroduced an amended version in December adding a series of escalating fines instead of rental license forfeiture.  

The ACLU maintains that the amended ordinance is still an undue burden on victims and infringes on tenants civil rights.

The current lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court by the 

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Pepper Hamilton LLP names the Borough of Norristown, former Municipal Administrator David Forrest, Interim Municipal Administrator Robert Glisson, former Norristown Police Chief Russell Bono, Interim Norristown Police Chief Willie Richet and Code Enforcement Manager Joseph Januzelli as defendants in the case.

"We are planning to file a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent Norristown from enforcing the December 2012 ordinance while the case is pending," Sara Rose, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told The Times Herald. "We hope we will have a hearing soon. We hope this will be resolved quickly."

Norristown officials could not be reached and council members have not responded to requests for comment.

You can download a full copy of the ACLU's complaint in our PDF section and read more about Norristown's "Three Strikes" ordinance here on the municipality's website.

This is a developing story. Patch will update as more information becomes available.

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gerhard sweetman April 26, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Fed Court E Pa 117404 Renter apartments searched/invaded/inspected yearly by code enforcements. 4th admendment dead. Govt, police, media coverups. ISSUE; fee$$$, power,extort,crime,servaliance,epidemics, trade freedom for safety, perfect descrimation tool, & Murphys law. Your home/bedroom is next ref Hitler!!!
Oldb1kanobe April 26, 2013 at 04:01 AM
If a Liquor control board can revoke, licences of establishment that are deemed a nuisance to the public, the a local municipality should be able to revoke licenses of rental property that is deemed nuisance. The additional quesiton is their violation of the voucher program in itself. Norristown take back your community.
tt April 26, 2013 at 04:03 AM
Two years back,I called 911,for domestic violence. He was arrested. i never had to call the police again because i would never take him back.If he came to my home,he would be arrested again. I think the police department is tired of dealing with domestic situations,when the victim keeps putting themself in the situation over and over again. If he is stalking her than thats a whole different scenario.
The optimist April 26, 2013 at 01:57 PM
Read deeper into the Lakisha Briggs complaint.... They were all domestic violence incidencts where she refused to press charges when police arrived. Only after she moved out of the rental property did she request a protection from abuse order. She was putting herself and her neighbors in danger by not requesting a pfa on the first offense. The landlord acted properly and responsibly. God forbid a landlord follow the letter of the law. i agree with tt
gerhard sweetman April 26, 2013 at 02:14 PM
Morgage & renter licences for homes? Whats next? Are U stupid, crazy, big bro govt?
Lee Nelson April 26, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Why are we blaming the victim? And isn't it the job of Police to protect people instead of being"bothered?"
Smh April 26, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Lazy Norristown cops not trying to do anything. Lol, what did you expect.
gerhard sweetman April 27, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Tattoo men who abuse women to warn & see or chop off hand/finger
Simon Buckingham Is Not The Truth April 27, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Again, this is standard procedure in cases involving domestic abuse. Women who are abused deciding to not press charges on the abuser is, rather unfortunately, quite normal for women in an abusive situation.
MISSY GREEN April 27, 2013 at 10:05 PM
THE OPTIMIST, NUMBER ONE KNOW WHAT YOUR READING. SHE DID GET A PFA AND NOT AFTER SHE MOVED. READ IT AGAIN. NUMBER TWO THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LANDLORD. THIS IS TO PROTECT THE LANDLORD AS WELL. I GUESS YOU DIDN'T READ THAT DEEP! IF YOU NOTICED IT SAID SHE MOVED OUT FEBRUARY OF 2013. THIS ALL HAPPENED IN 2012. IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE FULL DETAILS WHICH YOU DON'T THIS I KNOW FOR A FACT MAYBE YOU NEED TO WORD YOUR OPINION MORE CAREFULLY. AGAIN MAYBE YOU ARE THE ONE THAT NEEDS TO READ DEEPER. PAY ATTENTION TO DATES NEXT TIME. THE OPTIMIST.
MISSY GREEN April 27, 2013 at 10:13 PM
TT, YOU ARE A VERY SMART WOMAN. HOWEVER, NOT ALL THE TIME IS IT THAT EASY ESPECIALLY IF A PERSON IS JUST SHOWING UP OR THE POLICE PUT YOU IN A POSITION WHERE THERE REALLY ISN'T ANYTHING YOU CAN DO. SO YOU JUST HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT. SEE THAT'S WHAT I'M GETTING FROM READING THE COMPLAINT. BUT GOD BLESS YOU THAT YOUR SITUATION DIDN'T GET THAT FAR. AND I PRAY THAT YOU NEVER HAVE TO FACE THAT SITUATION AGAIN. IT IS SAID THAT ABOUT 75% OF WOMEN THAT ARE OR WERE IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WILL BE IN ANOTHER IN SOME POINT IN THEIR LIFE.
Matt Faust April 28, 2013 at 07:49 PM
The ACLU is again legally bluffing. This is a classic case of individual versus community rights. The overriding concern is the SAFETY of the Norristown community NOT that the individual tenant is losing the lease on the house because the police had to come out three times.That Section 8 landlord has a responsibility to the community which they are permitted to rent the home in and that landlord must meet those community standards. Mrs. Briggs should have immediately sought all legal means to protect herself from a predator instead of just hoping that an incident would just go away. She should be aware of the three strikes rule as a renter of Section 8 housing in the community she lives.
Amy Kercher April 28, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Everyone's goal should be to protect their families. Anyone with domestic problems need to be strong and protect themselves. But I live with problem houses . Every summer these houses/apartments which are over crowded . needs the police to be called to get the noise levels down, especially late at night. Adults and children are out on the porch or sidewalk after 11p.m. when most people need to sleep. Many times groups of men are drinking, getting loud with their music, then are driving away drunk. Norristown has allowed overcrowding, too many rentals ,and not enforcing the rules on the books. Landlords of problem properties need to help weed out problem renters.
Simon Buckingham Is Not The Truth April 29, 2013 at 12:17 AM
If they're section 8 landlords, what reason do they have to weed out problem renters? They get a check regardless. Out of curiosity, if where you live in Norristown is so horrible, why haven't you relocated?
John Q. Public April 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Simon, I agree. Rent to no one, and Norristown will benefit. Section8 landlords cannot turn away poor, single-moms, or risk lawsuits, so the moral choice is not to rent, but only sell properties. Norristown wins, and the landlords will become pure, like you.
gerhard sweetman April 29, 2013 at 07:18 PM
We are problem, regulate, zone out & prevent low cost housing. We get crime plus!
Datsme! April 30, 2013 at 11:24 AM
@simon..its cost to relocate and maybe they can't afford to relocate.

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