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ACLU-DC Files Complaint Alleging Traumatizing Eviction by U.S. Marshals

by Prince Of Petworth February 21, 2017 at 12:30 pm 34 Comments

eviction
Photo by PoPville flickr user Bossi

From a press release:

“Today, the ACLU of the District of Columbia filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Marshals Service (which conducts evictions in the District) for its abusive conduct during what should have been a routine eviction.

The complaint describes that on the morning of June 19, 2015, multiple U.S. Marshals stormed into Donya Williams’ home in Southeast D.C. with guns drawn, despite no information to indicate anyone in the apartment would pose a threat. Once inside, they went to Ms. Williams’s bedroom. The complaint recounts: “She called out that she was getting dressed and had no clothes on. Nonetheless, two Marshals burst into the bedroom. Ms. Williams was completely naked.”

According to the complaint, when the Marshals insisted Ms. Williams come out of the apartment, she “grabbed whatever clothes she could and tried to put them on as the Marshals pushed her out of the bedroom. Ms. Williams had inadvertently grabbed a pair of pants belonging to her daughter, so when she put them on, they split at the crotch. Ms. Williams had not had time to grab underwear, and so her private parts were unclothed.”

In that state of undress, Ms. Williams was marched with her daughter past an eviction crew of twenty men and out to the building’s parking lot. Marshals taunted Ms. Williams, and eviction crew members and building office workers laughed at her.

The complaint goes on to outline thousands of dollars’ worth of Ms. Williams’ personal property and possessions that were damaged, stolen, or lost during the eviction.

“Under no circumstances should any law enforcement officer burst in on an unclothed person who poses no threat or expose her to public ridicule and humiliation,” said Scott Michelman, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “Losing your home shouldn’t mean losing your dignity.”

“The entire episode was both frightening and humiliating, and it did not need to be that way,” added Ms. Williams. “I begged the marshals to let me get dressed and they refused. Meanwhile, they had guns out for no reason, creating more panic and fear for my daughter.”

The raid-style eviction left Ms. Williams’ twelve-year-old daughter Juanita terrified and in tears.

“I was screaming, panicked, and scared for my life. I don’t understand why they had their guns out and why they would be so cruel,” said Juanita Williams, now fourteen and seeing a therapist to help her deal with the traumatic experience.

Knowing that the eviction was coming, Ms. Williams had already been packing to leave. The complaint notes that the Marshals had no search warrant for the property or arrest warrant for any of the occupants.

The complaint explains that multiple items–including a large screen LED TV and a tablet computer–went missing during the eviction. Additionally, Ms. Williams says that she found that two bags’ worth of her clothes had been covered in bleach and ruined.

Today’s complaint was filed with the General Counsel of the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington, D.C.”

  • FridayGirl

    Jesus Christ. No one — no matter how behind on rent — deserves that kind of treatment. Especially not in the presence of a child.
    .
    And before anyone complains about owning a TV and tablet computer when you’re behind on rent, please know that when you try to get government assistance/etc. to make ends meet, they literally tell you they can’t help you unless you have below a certain amount of funds and to go out and buy stuff like this. We need a change.

    • tom

      Yes it sounds awful. But it is also one side of the story, an allegation, and presumably the US Marshals will have a different version of the story.

      • FridayGirl

        This is true. But clearly the ACLU felt like there may be a case here or I don’t think they would have taken it on in the first place.

        • Josh

          I have to agree with Tom here — these are only allegations at this point and it’s only one side of the story. Additionally, this isn’t a court case (yet). All this is is an “administrative complaint” which requests the USMS conduct an investigation to see to see if there is a basis for the allegations.

        • Tsar of Truxton

          I don’t think the ACLU (or anyone for that matter) is batting 1.000 in its lawsuits. People lie sometimes.

          • FridayGirl

            Well of course. My point was that any legal resource has limited bandwidth and I would think they would attempt to make a well-informed decision about what they chose to spend those resources on. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s 100% true, nor does it mean it would win in court even if it was.

  • neighbor

    This begs the question: “If you know Federal Marshals are going to evict you, why not leave beforehand?”
    .
    It’s not like this comes as a surprise. Evictions take months of court hearings and non-payment of rent and notification is provided weeks ahead of time.

    • Angry Parakeet

      If you know Federal Marshals are going to evict you, why not wear clothes?

      • jenster8dc

        Because you don’t know when they’re coming. It’s not like they call to tell you they’re on the way. Don’t be obtuse.

        • GBinCH

          The court actually assigns a date and a time. People have to be given fair warning of the eviction date so that they know when they have to move out by. So they may not say they’re going to be there at 8am or 8:05am, but an individuals knows the date and target time.

          • Anon Spock

            Yea, that was my first question, did they come at the scheduled time? If so, then that’s on her not being ready. If they busted on early, that’s another issue entirely.

          • addingmytwocents

            I don’t think that’s true for DC. After a court order is entered evicting someone, the Marshals then can evict. But an exact eviction date is not known. This is a huge problem in winter, as they can’t evict when temps are below freezing. That can be good for people who have nowhere to go, but also invites a false reliance (e.g. I probably won’t get evicted anytime soon”). A while back, DC started giving notice to individuals that they would be evicted the day before (previously, they had published a list, which invited eviction scavengers to come to properties and take things). But even then, an exact time for the eviction is not known. I’m sure this woman didn’t think “the marshals will come at the exact moment I am changing.” And even if she had — it is unreasonable to require her to assume that they would escort her out from her apartment immediately, rather than give her the 3 minutes needed to get dressed.

          • neighbor

            There is definitely a fixed date and it is fixed weeks ahead of time. Perhaps not a time, but you could assume that as of 7am that day you are subject to eviction.

          • Tsar of Truxton

            Neighbor, you are spewing a whole lot of alternative facts on here. The evictions for the following day are posted COB the day before, not weeks in advance as you suggest. Once a writ is issued, it can take months for it to be executed, so unless that person goes to the court house every day, they would not know the date unless the landlord gave them a head’s up.

            https://www.usmarshals.gov/district/dc-sc/general/evictions.htm

          • neighbor

            Tzar: I’m not sure where your “alternative facts” come from. If you read the article it clearly states the tenant knew the Marshals were coming that day.

    • FridayGirl

      If you’re poor enough to not be able to afford your rent, it’s very likely that you’re not able to afford to *move* anything out. Moving is incredibly expensive, and it’s really hard to find people who will help for free.

      • navyard

        Yes, I’ve noticed this with some of my neighbors who move (not actually evicted in most cases). They throw things out because if it’s not an absolute necessity in the next month, it’s easier and cheaper for them not to move it. Then they (presumably) buy the same type of thing again later.

        Also, to the question of “If she knew they were coming, why didn’t she leave beforehand”, it’s quite certain she didn’t have any other place to go, or she probably would have.

        People who are already in situations like this usually don’t have the best skills at planning ahead.

      • ParkViewneighbor

        That is true but i am not quite sure this should be considered given the decades (hyperbolic) it takes to evict someone in DC. There are 2 sides to a story and while this side is certainly sad, we dont really know for how long this process has been going on, nor the willingness of both parties to accomodate the other

        • FridayGirl

          I wasn’t saying it should be considered. I was simply answering neighbor’s question. He asked why she didn’t leave sooner and the likely answer is that she couldn’t afford to.

          • ParkViewneighbor

            Or she thought that she could drag the process in courts for a few more months…. since it’s all conjecture, everything goes

      • neighbor

        Nonetheless, you will clearly be worse off if you wait naked in your house until the marshals come, vs. if you actually do something to prepare. But maybe if this person had the wherewithal to consider that, she wouldn’t be in a position to be evicted in the first place.

        • ParkViewneighbor

          Being low in funds and not able to pay rent can happen to anyone, regardless of your financial and regulatory savviness. However, I agree. DC takes ages to actually protect landlords so it is not like the eviction was a surprise…

        • FridayGirl

          neighbor – with all due respect, I hope you are one day in the position to realize that one can be compassionate to other humans and still hold opposing views. You may think you’re stating the obvious, but as someone who grew up with a disabled single-mother who did her absolute best I can tell you that the world is not as black and white as you’d like to make it.

  • ET

    I know that the Marshalls have likely faced some severely pissed off people many of who would may have gotten mouthy and been perceived as threatening by the Marshalls in the past, but seriously? Sometimes people – in this case the Marshalls – can make things harder on themselves down the road.

  • wonder about

    It comes as a surprise that DC actually evicts people. Nevertheless, it still won’t convince me to become a landlord in DC–the risk is simply too great to justify the ownership, even if the cap rate in DC is higher than Virginia.

  • mcd

    I thought US Marshals were supposed to focus on highly dangerous, top tier fugitives. Why wouldn’t MPD handle an eviction? But agree with the above comments- this is ridiculous.

    • anon

      It’s because we aren’t a state, so the US marshals take over responsibility that would normally belong to a sheriff’s department. Another example is why the marshals transport prisoners to the courts.

      • GBinCH

        This is actually not correct. In most states, the Marshals enforce evictions and handle prisoner transports. The Marshal Service was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and is attached to the Judicial Branch. They are the appropriate body of law enforcement to handle enforcement of court orders such as an eviction.

        • ATX

          Right, but in most other places in this country, state courts handle the vast majority of the kinds of cases that result in either an eviction or the need for prisoner transport. Federal Marshals do not enforce state court orders. The lack of state status and the resulting legal oddities are the reason why you see them more involved here.

        • dcd

          “They are the appropriate body of law enforcement to handle enforcement of court orders such as an eviction.”
          .
          I’m not sure this is true. A federal law enforcement agency is most certainly not the appropriate law enforcement body to handle a routine state matter such as an eviction. Sheriffs handle evictions in most states with which I’m familiar.

    • neighbor

      People really don’t like being forcibly removed from their homes (even when they haven’t paid rent in over a year). Having marshals involved is required for forcible evictions, which only happen after months of court dates. It’s a requirement because it avoids the volatile situation of having some other paid security force evict people and it is probably safer for everyone involved.

  • MadMax

    FWIW almost all of this story (aside from the allegations of people forcing her to be undressed and laughing at her) is standard eviction procedure. You can argue the merits of how they are told to go about it, but it doesn’t sound like they did very much out of the ordinary. When they have to forcibly enter a property I’ve never seen them go in without their guns drawn, it’s a safety precaution not intended as a threat.

  • Anon

    From court records, it appears Ms. Williams has been evicted for failure to pay from several different apartments/landlords since 2010, as well as a few civil and small claims court cases for other nonpayment. She routinely fails to appear for court dates which stretches the process out even more.

    None of this justifies the alleged actions from the Marshalls (if true), but the pattern of her behavior does seem to make it much more likely that she was dragging out the process and that she is very familiar with what happens during an eviction.

  • leodale56

    US Marshalls do evictions as they are the courts “police” unlike other jurisdictions that Sheriff’s are the court police. Yes, Those to be evicted are advised of the eviction date, and for non payment or any “evictions” there are prior court notices, and notices of court results, thereby individuals do know they’re going to be evicted AND likely revert to “I hope” state that the eviction don’t/won’t occur today; However, it will occur and DC evictions are long and drawn out, as I know from having done property management and having accompanied US Marshalls as well, who typically draw their guns as a precautionary measure for their’s and others safety. Law enforcement entering into a residence with no knowledge (true knowledge, NOT someone’s “guess”) of who, or how they might react, is a “best practice.

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