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Under Misguided ‘Evict First, Ask Questions Later’ Policy, Delaware Police Mistakenly Evict Blind Man During a Snowstorm, Rendering Him Homeless

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Published on: September 19, 2021

WILMINGTON, Del. — Delaware officials are attempting to evade a lawsuit challenging the state’s “evict first, ask questions later” policy after police mistakenly evicted a blind man and his family during a snowstorm and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the family stranded and forced to seek lodging at a homeless shelter.

In filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of William Murphy and his two teenaged daughters, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the state’s “evict first, ask questions later” policy, which empowered police, acting on incorrect information, to force the Murphy family out of their home, despite state and federal moratoria on evictions and despite the family having a valid lease, being current in their rent and never having received any notice that they might be in danger of losing their home. The lawsuit in Murphy v. Delaware alleges that Delaware violated the American with Disabilities Act and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Affiliate attorneys Thomas and Stephen Neuberger and Sanjay K. Bhatnagar are assisting The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit.

“As this case makes clear, justice in America makes less sense with each passing day,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “With every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts, largely lacking in vision and scope, rendering narrow rulings focused on the letter of the law. This is true at all levels of the judiciary, where the courts have become fixated on upholding government order and siding with government agents rather than with safeguarding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

William Murphy, a blind, 52-year old African-American widower, is the sole caregiver for his two daughters, aged 17 and 11. After losing his job in Maryland, Murphy moved to Wilmington, Del., in order to find work. He found a 775-square foot rowhouse to rent for $700 per month and was to receive rental assistance from the local social services department. However, the landlord allegedly raised the rent to $750, required that a family member co-sign the lease, and expressed reluctance to rent the property to Murphy because he was blind and supporting two children. Murphy and his daughters eventually moved into the home on November 17, 2020. In early February 2021, the landlord allegedly shut off the water and electricity to the home in violation of state law.

On the morning of February 10, during a bitterly cold snowstorm, police arrived at the Murphy home, ordered them to vacate the premises, and gave the family 30 minutes to collect their belongings and leave. Despite showing proof of a signed lease in good standing, Murphy was ordered to leave the home and left to challenge the wrongful eviction in court. A judge subsequently found the eviction to be improper. The Rutherford Institute filed a federal civil rights complaint filed in Delaware district court in March 2021, demanding that the State of Delaware cease enforcing its “evict first, ask questions later” policy and institute reforms to ensure that future eviction procedures respect the due process rights of those involved.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.

Case History

March 24, 2021 • Rutherford Institute Sues Delaware Over Police Enforcement of ‘Evict First, Ask Questions Later’ Policy, Demands Reforms and Due Process

The complaint in William Murphy v. State of Delaware, Justices of the Peace 

The response to the motion to dismiss

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead

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