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70-year-old could lose her home over $12K fines she owes to city for 911 calls

A local ordinance allows the city to fine residents if the cops repeatedly show up at their house to deal with a "nuisance" or criminal complaint.

70-year-old could lose her home over $12K fines she owes to city for 911 calls
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/releon8211

When Gloria Parker used part of her retirement savings to purchase a home in South Euclid, Ohio, about a decade ago, she found comfort in the thought that she'd be safe in her old age. However, now, the 70-year-old is left worrying how long she'll have a roof over her head because she can't afford to pay off the more than $12,000 in fines she owes the city. According to VICE, a local ordinance allows the city to fine residents if the cops repeatedly show up at their house to deal with a "nuisance" or criminal complaint — something that's happened numerous times at Parker's house.


The fine racked up against Parker under the law as her son, who has schizophrenia, triggered repeated visits from the police. As per a lawsuit Parker filed against South Euclid alleging the violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and her constitutional rights, on one particular occasion, she was fined after her son called 911 and "made bizarre and threatening complaints against his mother and family members." Another time, she was charged a fine after her son — who doesn't even live with her — called the police to say he was suicidal.


"I feel that no one is there to help me," Parker said. "I just feel like they don't care. It bothers me because I might be homeless. And I don't know what to do. I worked all my life. What am I to do? Where am I to go?" Under South Euclid's broad anti-nuisance policy, the local police chief can declare a home a problem and threaten fines if two or more incidents happen at or near one address within a year. If the cops are called to the home again after that, the property owner could be punished with a series of escalating fines, irrespective of whether they were at fault.


In Parker's case, each fine under the law was assessed as a lien against her home meant to be collected with her property taxes. As she cannot afford to pay off the fine, Parker faces the threat of tax foreclosure. "We pay taxes to have police protection, and I don't see why we would have to pay and be fined for that," said Parker, who is Black. She also has reason to believe the nuisance ordinance isn't being used against White residents in the same manner. Her lawsuit accuses South Euclid of maintaining "a pattern and practice of applying its criminal nuisance ordinance selectively against people with disabilities and their families, and people of color."


"There's an older, White guy that lives across the street, a little further down," Parker said. "Anybody that's non-White, he'll cuss them out. The lady that's next door to him, she's called the police on him several times. They haven't done anything to him." Nuisance laws, which exist in a range of controversial forms in cities across the country, have been criticized for enforcing segregation by essentially driving people of color out of their homes. For example, an analysis of nuisance citations from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2009 in Milwaukee, found that properties "located in more integrated Black neighborhoods had the highest likelihood of being deemed nuisances." Furthermore, nearly a third of all citations were generated by reports of domestic violence, ultimately resulting in landlords evicting abused women.


"When they are punishing calls for service—which is often the way they are implemented—you are chilling people reporting crime and sending the message that the city does not see calls for service as something they need to respond to," said Sandra Park, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Women’s Rights Project. "There's never been any evidence that this type of ordinance decreases crime." 


"He's my child, and for him to not be able to come see me because I'm afraid that if I call the police...," Parker said of her son. "I'm just scared now that everything falls back on me." In fact, she shared, there have been occasions where she'd just leave her house and sleep in a parking lot to avoid calling the cops over her son. Other times, police have dropped her son off at her house without her permission. "It’s really scary when you get 70 and you think you're going to be out on the street," Parker said. "It's scary. It's just scary. I'm scared."

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