WASHINGTON — Heavily armed U.S. marshals, whose normal job is to hunt down dangerous fugitives, are being used to evict tenants in the nation’s capital.
SWAT-vest-wearing marshals sneaked into Donya Williams’ apartment with guns drawn to serve an eviction notice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is alleging in a complaint.
Williams was reportedly naked and in the apartment with her 12-year-old daughter when the marshals entered and pointed guns at everyone, WJLA television reported. The marshals were evicting Williams because she had not paid the rent on her Washington, D.C., apartment.
“It happened all so quick,” 12-year-old Juanita Williams told the TV station.
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Said Donya, “And I’m sitting there just shaking, just trembling and I’m saying, ‘Please just give me a minute to get dressed because I don’t have on anything.’”
The eviction took place in 2015 but the ACLU filed its complaint in February of this year.
“There is not even a plausible safety justification for that,” ACLU attorney Scott Michelman said. “It’s just humiliating and it’s wrong.”
Federal SWAT Team Used for Evictions?
Marshals wearing SWAT vests and sometimes carrying rifles routinely serve eviction notices in the nation’s capital, Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote. She witnessed a separate eviction in D.C. performed by marshals. Although Williams’ eviction involved an apartment, marshals also are used to evict homeowners.
The marshals are in charge of evictions in D.C. because they are in charge of carrying out orders of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. The marshals’ duties include serving eviction notices.
Since the District of Columbia is not in a state, the federal government is responsible for law enforcement and other government services that would normally be provided by the state, county or city.
“This winds up weird for a number of reasons,” Brown wrote. “First, let’s consider the impact on evicted tenants. Being evicted is tough enough without the public embarrassment and intimidation of having it made into a spectacle complete with rifle-wearing U.S. marshals in SWAT vests and a baseball team’s worth of mandated movers. And the potential for escalation of hostilities, violence, and (should anything get out of hand) criminal penalties are always greater when you throw armed federal agents into the mix.
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“Sure, some sort of security during evictions might be necessary, but in most cases it could probably be handled better by building security staff or community police than people primarily trained for things like federal-prisoner transport and apprehending fugitives.”
The law even requires the landlords to provide movers for the eviction.
Williams was refusing to pay her rent because of a dispute with her landlord at the time of the eviction.
“They have my record,” she told Barber. “I have [no criminal record] — not even a bad driving record.”
Williams has since moved to a new apartment but has filed a complaint against the marshals for violating her rights.
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