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Federal Class Action Challenges Antiquated Virginia “Habitual Drunkard” Law That Jails Homeless Individuals

The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless alcoholics.

The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol – an otherwise lawful activity – without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement.

Resources
Full Complaint (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)
Fact Sheet (PDF)

Media Coverage
Charlottesville Group Challenging ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Law (WVIR-TV NBC29, 3/3/16)
Challenging a State Law that Jails Alcoholics (WVTR-Radio IQ, 3/3/16)
LAJC Challenges Habitual Drunkard Statute (CBS19 Newsplex, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit Seeks to End Jail Time for the Homeless (Roanoke Times, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit: Officials Use Statute to Punish Homeless Alcoholics (The Virginia-Pilot, 3/4/16)
Attorneys File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Virginia’s ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Laws (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/16)

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Protecting Childhood: A Blueprint for Developmentally Appropriate School Policing in Virginia

The JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center has released a report identifying the problems of placing law enforcement officers in schools. The report provides a list of detailed recommendations that will improve school safety, increase academic achievement, and help break down the school-to-prison pipeline.

School security personnel are increasingly commonplace in Virginia’s public schools. There are two types. School resource officers (SROs) are certified law enforcement officers who are typically employed by local law enforcement agencies and assigned to provide coverage to public schools. School security officers (SSOs) are individuals employed by school divisions to maintain order and discipline in their assigned schools. To date, little analysis of school policing in the Commonwealth exists. This report aims to change that.

More info here.

Report says Virginia should require school police training and alter laws to reduce arrests (Center for Public Integrity)

Full Report (PDF)

 

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PLAINTIFFS IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT ASK COURT FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Residents of mobile home parks seek protection from threat of homelessness from discriminatory code enforcement while civil rights suit is pending.

Richmond, Virginia, October 9, 2015—Current and former mobile home park residents, plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Richmond, filed a motion yesterday asking the federal court to prohibit the City from condemning or issuing further threats against mobile homes while the case moves forward.  The lawsuit was filed on August 18 alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws because the City has targeted overwhelmingly Latino-occupied mobile home parks for a campaign of aggressive building code enforcement.  The filing, asking the court for a preliminary injunction, argues that mobile home park residents suffer constant anxiety, worrying day-to-day that the City will condemn their homes and leave them suddenly homeless.

Resources

Motion for Preliminary Injunction (PDF)

Memorandum of Law with Exhibits (PDF)

News item from filing of lawsuit

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Charlottesville, VA, September 16, 2015—The settlement agreement between the women prisoners at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) and the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was officially submitted on Tuesday, September 15. The agreement proposes to settle a class action lawsuit concerning the medical care provided at the Fluvanna County prison. Federal District Judge Norman Moon granted preliminary approval of the settlement on Wednesday, September 16.  Notice will be sent to the women prisoners, and Judge Moon must review and approve the settlement agreement, considering any objections by prisoners, before it becomes final.

More details about the settlement, including settlement documents and other materials related to the case, can be found here.

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MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS FILE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT IN FEDERAL COURT AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

City’s code enforcement campaign is discriminatory and aims to shut down a vital source of affordable housing.

A group of 32 current and former mobile home park residents filed a fair housing lawsuit against the City of Richmond in Federal Court after a year of trying to cooperate with the City. The suit alleges that the City’s code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks, which began in early 2014, has violated the civil rights of residents. The lawsuit describes multiple attempts to resolve the safety concerns all of which were rejected by the City.

The group filed the lawsuit with the help of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond and the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. It alleges that the City’s enforcement campaign discriminates by specifically targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino. “Instead of finding ways to help ensure they have safe housing, inspectors are threatening to shut down the only option many of these families can afford,” according to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Phil Storey.

The lawsuit describes ways the City has subjected mobile home residents to harsh enforcement actions. These include intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats to condemn homes or even bring criminal charges if residents don’t allow inspectors inside; and unreasonable repair standards that make compliance unrealistic.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Lawsuit (PDF)

Media Coverage

City Strangles Poor with Red Tape (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/25/15)

Mobile Home Lawsuit Reflects Poorly on City (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/24/15)

Staking a Claim (Richmond Magazine, 8/23/15)

Mobile Home Residents File Lawsuit Against Richmond (Richmond Free Press, 8/20/15)

Latino Families File Federal Discrimination Lawsuit Against City of Richmond (WWBT NBC12 Richmond, 8/18/15)

Mobile Home Residents File Federal Lawsuit Alleging Richmond Is Violating Latinos’ Civil Rights (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/18/15)

 

 

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United States Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Wrongful Deportation

Washington D.C. – After more than two years of litigation, the U.S. government has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Leonel Ruiz on behalf of his minor daughter, E.R. The suit alleged that in 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), unlawfully detained Mr. Ruiz’s then 4-year-old daughter – a U.S. citizen – when she arrived at Dulles Airport in Virginia, deprived her of any contact with her parents, and sent her back to Guatemala rather than allowing her to join her parents, who awaited her arrival in New York.

According to the complaint, during the twenty hours E.R. was detained in CBP custody with her grandfather, she was given nothing to eat other than a cookie and soda and nowhere to nap other than the cold floor. She was finally able to return home to the United States nearly three weeks later, but only after her father hired a local attorney to fly to Guatemala to retrieve her.

“With ever-increasing numbers of U.S.-born children of mixed-status families, this will continue to be a problem unless CBP formally trains its officers on how to better handle issues around returning U.S. citizen children,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Project, which also provided pro bono representation to E.R. “CBP’s role is to facilitate lawful entries into the United States, not to throw up barriers and roadblocks.”

Full Release (American Immigration Council)

Media Coverage

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Simon-Sandoval-Moshenberg-NVA-200x300

The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that attorney Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg has been named director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program (IAP). Since its creation in 1998, IAP’s attorneys and community organizers have educated Virginia immigrants about their rights and helped them protect their families’ well-being.

Since joining the Immigrant Advocacy Program as an attorney in 2011, Sandoval-Moshenberg has specialized in consumer, housing, and employment litigation in federal and state court. He has spearheaded many high-impact cases, including our successful effort to gain in-state tuition eligibility for thousands of Virginia recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He also has taken on “zombie” debt collectors, and he helped establish our program to assist unaccompanied minor refugees.

See press release for more details and quotes.

Resources
Press Release (PDF)

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MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS FILE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Families say the City’s code enforcement campaign is discriminatory, aims to shut down source of affordable housing.

A group of more than thirty current and former mobile home park residents filed a fair housing complaint against the City of Richmond on Friday after a year of trying to cooperate with the City. It was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the City’s code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks. “We all want a safe home and we want to comply with the code,” says Gerardo Martinez, a resident of Mobile Towne on Old Midlothian Turnpike. “But we feel like the City is targeting mobile home parks because we are communities of poor, mostly Latino families.”

The group submitted the complaint to HUD with the help of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond and the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. It alleges that the City’s enforcement campaign discriminates by specifically targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino. “Instead of finding ways to help ensure they have safe housing, inspectors are threatening to shut down the only option many of these families can afford,” according to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Phil Storey.

The complaint describes ways the City has subjected mobile home residents to harsh enforcement actions. These include intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats to condemn homes or even bring criminal charges if residents don’t allow inspectors inside; and unreasonable repair standards that make compliance unrealistic.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Official Complaint (PDF)

Media Coverage

City Faces Discrimination Complaint (Style Weekly, 4/27/15)

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Today, the investigative journalism organization Center for Public Integrity released an investigative report analyzing U.S. Department of Education data that shows Virginia leads all states in referring students to law enforcement. At almost 16 referrals per 1,000 children, the rate is three times the national rate.

The Center for Public Integrity’s report highlights a harmful trend taking place in school districts across America—an over-reliance on law enforcement and harsh discipline policies that too often criminalize students for minor offenses. We are deeply troubled by the data showing Virginia refers students to police and courts at the highest rate of any state in the nation. Yet we know first-hand that current policies fall short of preventing arrests and criminal complaints in schools for behavior that should be handled with a trip to the principal’s office rather than the courthouse.

This report underscores the urgent need for a statewide memorandum of understanding that clearly spells out the roles of police and resource officers in schools. We also must ensure the adequate training of school resource officers to work collaboratively with educators to address student behavior. The report also highlights the need for better tracking and detailed data collection at the state level. Knowing the extent of school-based arrests and police involvement with students at school will help identify areas for improvement and need, and where other disciplinary interventions might help.

We know that Virginia is a state that cares deeply about providing all children with safe and supportive learning environments, and new policies already have begun shaping changes in how schools manage student discipline. We strongly urge state leaders to continue examining and implementing reforms that will keep children in school and on a track toward success.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Media Coverage

Center for Public Integrity: Virginia tops nation in sending students to cops, courts

 

The Virginian Pilot: Study: Va tops U.S. in police handled student incidents

Business Insider: Study finds Virginia leads nation in referring students to police

Loudoun Times: Va. ranked top for school-based arrests

WVTF Public Radio: VA Tops U.S. in Referring Students to Law Enforcement

NBC12: Report: VA schools rank #1 nationallly for student referrals to law enforcement

Newsplex: Report: Virginia Refers the Most Students to Police for Misbehavior

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Report: Va leads US in student law enforcement referrals

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The Legal Aid Justice Center was part of a coalition of 40 groups from across the state representing parents, children, students, advocates for people with disabilities, child abuse prevention advocates and legal advocates applauds the Virginia General Assembly for passing legislation that will limit the harmful use of seclusion and physical restraint in schools to emergency situations. The Coalition for the Improvement of School Safety advocated in support of H.B. 1443 and S.B. 782, which passed with overwhelming support from both houses and is expected to land on the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe soon.

“We are proud to have joined with our partners to support this legislation, which will provide meaningful protections to Virginia students and give school staff the tools they need to prevent and address challenging behaviors,” said Angela A. Ciolfi, legal director of the JustChildren Program at Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center. “Physical restraint and seclusion should never be a default form of school discipline.”

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Media Coverage

 

The Roanoke Times, “Stories of trauma in Virginia prompt crackdown on seclusion rooms”