Surprise, Arizona to Pay $40,000 to Battered Woman Threatened With Eviction for Calling 911

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

The city of Surprise will pay $40,000 to a battered woman who was pushed out of her home for calling 911 too many times, according to a settlement agreemen. 

City officials also agreed to repeal the ordinance that nearly got Nancy Markham, a single mother of two, evicted in August of 2014 after her ex-boyfriend, among other things, broke into her house, attempted to strangle her, and stole her car. 

The ordinance, aiming to cut back on crime, labeled someone a "nuisance" if they called the cops more than three times in 30 days and held property owners accountable for resolving the issue.

Markham's landlords, under threat of being held criminally liable for crime that occurred on the property, told her to move out or get kicked out.

Dan Pachoda, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the city in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, argued the provision violated Markham's First Amendment right to seek police assistance.

Pachoda said he was "very pleased" with the settlement and hoped it would "be a lesson" to other cities throughout the state, including Phoenix, that have similar nuisance ordinances. 

"The concept of these ordinances is horrific," he said. "They don't reduce crime. They cause harm to crime victims." 

Surprise maintained that the provisions were "completely legal," City Attorney Robert Wingo told New Times in a written statement.

"The City Council had to decide whether they are so crucial to the health and safety of the community that their preservation is worth the expenditure of city resources during a litigation process," he said. 

Because the Surprise Police Department has "not once issued a citation or taken any formal action against a landlord" under the provision, the city decided its "resources would best be used elsewhere." 

Under the settlement terms, Surprise is barred from adopting any ordinance or policy that "punishes tenants, residents, or landlords for calls for police service" or "punishes them for criminal activity of which they are the victims." 

Moving forward, Wingo said law enforcement officials will use state law to "address any nuisance properties within the community." 

State Representative Celeste Plumlee (D-Tempe) is pushing a bill to block all cities, towns, and boards of supervisors from adopting or enforcing nuisance ordinances that discourage victims of domestic violence, such as Markham, from calling police. But the measure hasn't gained much momentum and it appears unlikely to pass this session. 

While the ACLU called Plumlee's proposal "an improvement," Pachoda criticized it for only protecting victims of domestic violence and not victims of other crimes. 

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.