WESTBROOK — Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Westbrook couple accusing the Westbrook Police Department of violating their constitutional rights by wrongfully using a no-trespassing order to evict the couple from their apartment earlier this month.
The ACLU of Maine said using no-trespassing orders to short-circuit the process used for evictions is part of a larger problem of authorities in other cities and towns in Maine misusing no-trespassing orders to keep children from visiting their parents in public housing and to keep homeless people from parks and squares.
“Everyone deserves the protection of the law,” Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “When the police don’t follow the law, it leaves people with nowhere to turn.”
The Westbrook lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland last week, accuses the police of improperly issuing a criminal trespass notice against Anne Blake and Kevin McBride to help evict them on July 9 from their second-floor apartment at 277 Main St. in Westbrook.
“We’ve noted this is a problem in some towns and some housing authorities,” said Katherine McGovern, a staff attorney with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides free legal aid to the poor. “We’ve noted that this is a problem with housing authorities across the country.”
The landlords of the property in this case, Marc and Amie LeClerc, had obtained a court eviction judgment against Blake in June but had not filed an eviction complaint against McBride, according to the lawsuit.
Police officers and the landlords intercepted Blake as she returned to the apartment building on July 9 to take care of her grandchildren, who live with her daughter in a different apartment on the first floor of building, Blake said.
“They told me I was criminally trespassing,” Blake said.
Police then called McBride, who was at work at McDonald’s, to tell him he needed to come to the apartment to help Blake with the eviction, Blake said.
McBride said that when he arrived at the apartment, a female police officer modified the criminal trespass order against Blake by using a pen to cross off Blake’s name and write his name in its place before handing him the order.
“I said to her I had not been served with an eviction notice. She said, “You have now,’ ” McBride said.
The police gave Blake and McBride half an hour to remove their possessions from their apartment. The couple is now homeless.
The lawsuit accuses police of violating Blake and McBride’s constitutional rights in several ways by using no-trespassing orders.
The order denied McBride his right, under the 14th Amendment, to appeal being banned from his own home, according to the lawsuit.
The orders also deny Blake and McBride their rights, under the 1st and 14th amendments, to freely associate with their children and grandchildren at the building and denies them access to their property there, the lawsuit alleges.
“Maine law requires that tenants be given fair warning of an impending eviction, an opportunity to contest the grounds of eviction, and a chance to move their belongings out of their apartment,” McGovern said. “Our client Kevin McBride got none of these things. Instead, he and his partner were insulted by the police for being poor and were told that they had a half-hour to retrieve their belongings.”
Their landlord, Amie LeClerc, said in a text message that she would “rather not comment on this matter.”
Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said he had received a copy of the lawsuit Tuesday morning and would be forwarding it to the city’s legal department.
Blake and McBride had lived in the second-floor apartment for about a year, having moved there to be closer to their grandchildren and Blake’s daughter, who still live on the first floor.
McBride, 53, works two jobs, nearly 40 hours a week at McDonald’s and seasonally as a cook at Hadlock Stadium in Portland during Sea Dogs games.
He can make between $1,200 and $1,600 a month, but with a monthly rent of $1,000 without utilities, they struggled to keep up.
“We understood the eviction, but we did not understand the … trespassing,” McBride said, adding that the landlords rejected their offer to settle back rent and move out of the apartment by the end of July.
Blake and McBride moved first on short notice with their dog to the Motel 6 on the Westbrook-Portland line. After spending all their own money, pawning possessions and borrowing, they moved out of the hotel and have been camping in a nearby wooded area for the last week.
“We knew we had to give up our dog, which had been our family dog for five years,” McBride said.
The couple, who have been together for years, are now trying to find a new apartment. McBride, an Army veteran, is hoping assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs will help.
“Now we’re living in the woods, and it’s scary out there, I’m telling you,” said Blake, 59. “It’s bad out there.”
Blake said part of the reason they wanted to file a lawsuit was to prevent something like this from happening to someone else.
“I know this hasn’t happened to just me. Once these landlords are aware that they can’t walk over poor, low-income people, they will think before they act that way. We as tenants still have rights,” McBride said. “I feel if I don’t speak up, I don’t feel people would have a chance to get help.”
Their attorney, McGovern, said she is seeking in the lawsuit to have Blake and McBride compensated for motel costs, legal fees, losses and other unspecified damages.
“We think it’s important that the police can’t deprive a tenant of their rights of due process by making it a crime to go back to their own home,” McGovern said.
The city of Westbrook has 30 days to acknowledge being served with the lawsuit and 21 days after that to respond.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at: