September 10, 2018
Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders filed a debtors’ prison claim against the City of Normandy on behalf of Angela Davis, Quinton Thomas, Roelif Carter, Meredith Walker, and many other St. Louis residents who were victims of Normandy’s abusive policing and debtors’ prison practices. Asserting Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, the plaintiffs were routinely profiled by police, issued traffic citations for minor offenses, denied legal counsel, charged excessive court fines and fees, and illegally jailed for their inability to pay debts.
In 2016, ArchCity Defenders filed a debtors’ prison class action against 13 towns, asserting that they were using St. Ann as a hub to jail thousands who couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Last year, a judge ruled that the claims could proceed against St. Ann, but that ArchCity’s clients would have to file separate suits against the other towns. This suit against Normandy represents the first new complaint filed against those municipalities.
“Thousands upon thousands of people have been harmed by the unlawful and predatory practices of St. Louis area police, courts, and jails. This lawsuit against Normandy represents the latest in a series of cases targeting this unconstitutional practice,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders.
Stemming from a pattern of racial profiling and revenue-based policing, Normandy generated over $6 million in revenue from its municipal court between 2012 and 2016. This extortionary scheme has forced people like the plaintiffs to be apart from their families, miss work, and lose employment, vehicles and housing.
“After serving my country in the Air Force, I worked at Ford, one of the biggest motor companies in the world, and retired from it. As a husband and father, I proudly provided for my family. After having a brain aneurysm, I couldn’t work and was on disability,” said Roelif Carter, client of ArchCity Defenders. “As a black man driving, I was a target, but with less income it got worse. Even though I’d pay the courts as much as I could from my fixed income, I was still getting locked up. This whole system in St. Louis is inhumane, and it needs to change.”
ArchCity Defenders has challenged debtors’ prison practices in twenty municipalities throughout the region since 2014. There are currently class action cases pending against St. Ann, Ferguson, Florissant, and Maplewood; and an individual claim in Arnold, Missouri. In 2016, ArchCity Defenders, SLU Law Legal Clinics, and Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps settled a landmark $4.75M debtors’ prison case against the City of Jennings.
A copy of the Normandy complaint can be found here.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders