Wrongful Nuisance Abatement Actions in Hyattsville
UPDATE: The ACLU of Maryland is proud announce that Mrs. Brewer will get to see her great grandson and grandson for the holidays. State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks has filed a motion to temporarily suspend the order that kept Mrs. Brewer from coming home to see her. Ms.Up church will be reunited with her family members too.
Check back for updates after the holidays. The orders need to be overturned once and for all.
ACLU of Maryland called on Prince George's County State's Attorney to undo the damage done to two families earlier when prosecutors wrongfully forced two women to sign "nuisance abatement" orders banishing their family members from their own homes and the neighborhood in which they had grown up.
The ACLU urged the prosecutor to dissolve the orders and call off longstanding harassment by police claiming to enforce the orders so the families can be reunited without fear that they will be arrested or that they could lose the homes they own.
Maryland's nuisance abatement statute was intended to help communities work with law enforcement to reclaim properties that are used solely or primarily for drug activity. But, in this case, prosecutors, in conjunction with police, went far beyond their authority, needlessly tearing apart two different families by coercing homeowners into submitting to orders that would never have stood up in court - one, on the basis of less than two grams of marijuana, and the other on the basis of a used pipe - the only drug paraphernalia that police turned up after aggressive raids of the two homes.
Using the statute and the full authority of their police powers, prosecutors, working with the Hyattsville and the Prince George's County Police Departments, took the two unrepresented women and their families behind closed doors and threatened the women that they would lose their homes if they didn't ban their family members from the homes and the whole neighborhood - even for visits. In one case this caused an ill, elderly woman to lose the help and support of her caregiver grandson and great-grandson, and in the other case it not only has kept family members from seeing and supporting each other, but has also actually caused a family member to lose his job and incur significant debt as a result of contracts he is unable to fulfill.
Cleo Brewer, who is in her 80s and very ill with cancer, not only was separated from her grandson and great-grandson, both of whom she raised from childhood, but also lost their help as daily caregivers who helped lift her up and down the stairs, fed her, went shopping for her, and took her to doctor appointments.
Across the street, Dollie Upchurch's brother had been overseeing significant renovations to her home, where he had grown up, and had decades-long landscaping contracts with neighbors in the area. The order banishing him from their home rendered him homeless. He lost his job and could not fulfill his longstanding contracts, resulting in significant debt. In fact, prosecutors refused his request for an exception that would allow him to take care of these contracts rather than incur additional debts.
Both women have experienced a longstanding pattern of harassment that has cut them off from their families, friends and neighbors.
Date filed: 2013-12-18County: Prince George's County
Attorneys: James Arden Barnett, Jr., Esq., Rear Admiral USN (Ret), Keir X. Bancroft, Esq., and Michael A. Splete, Esq. of Venable LLP, as well as Deborah Jeon and Sonia Kumar of the ACLU of Maryland.
Pro Bono Law Firm: Venable LLP