The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday against the city on behalf of 11 county residents, challenging the legality of the Annapolis Housing Authority's policy of banning people from its properties.
The lawsuit filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court alleges the banning list, which the ACLU said contains more than 500 names, infringes on the rights of public-housing residents to freely associate with their families and friends, even when those people have not been convicted of any crimes.
It further charges that the policy is tearing apart families - keeping men from raising their children and helping their grandmothers.
City officials yesterday distanced themselves from the banning list. Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said she had no opinion of the list - only that it was "allowable" - and compared the city Police Department's involvement in its enforcement to any other run-of-the-mill trespassing case.
"Annapolis police do not create the list banning individuals from the property," she said. "They respond to a property owner's call for the arrest of a trespasser."
Rhonda Wardlaw, spokesman for the city of Annapolis, stressed that the list was developed by the housing authority - not city hall - and referred additional questions to Eric Brown, the authority's executive director.
Brown, whose agency is funded by the federal government but overseen by a seven-member volunteer board appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, said yesterday afternoon that he did not know about the lawsuit and would not comment until he and the authority's attorney had a chance to review it.
In the past, however, Brown and other city leaders have praised the banning list and argued that the roughly 3,000 "law-abiding citizens" living in public housing want to see it in place.
"We think it's a solid policy and we're seeing excellent results," city police Chief Michael Pristoop said in January, after the ACLU first threatened its lawsuit. He credited a threefold increase in trespassing arrests during the first six months of his tenure with helping drive down violent crime in the city.
"I feel comfortable with it. I think it's fair," added Brown, noting that county judges regularly find people guilty of trespassing when they come onto housing authority property in violation of the banning list.
The lawsuit names the city of Annapolis and the Annapolis Housing Authority, as well as Pristoop, Brown, and Anita Jones, the authority's director of community safety.
It seeks the end - or at least a modification - of the banning policy so residents may invite their children over without fear of their own eviction or their loved one's arrest. It also seeks monetary damages, to be determined by a jury.
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