The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit late last month against four D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers and the D.C. government on behalf of Lourdes Ashley Hunter, a local transgender rights activist who was arrested on a misdemeanor charge without a warrant last November.
Hunter, co-founder and executive director of the TransWomen of Color Collective, was hosting a dinner for her friends and fellow trans activists last November. Hunter’s neighbor allegedly called the police to complain about noise and claimed Hunter had assaulted her.
ACLU attorney Shana Knizhnik said the ACLU is suing the MPD both for the warrantless arrest, which violates a D.C. statute, and for a violation of Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals and their homes from unreasonable searches and seizures.
“There are two claims that we’re making. First, that the warrantless arrest of Ms. Hunter was a violation of D.C. law,” Knizhnik said. “Second, we’re claiming that the entry by MPD officers into Ms. Hunter’s home to arrest her — again, entry without a warrant, arrest without a warrant — was in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
According to Hunter, police then proceeded to enter Hunter’s apartment without a warrant and arrest her on a misdemeanor charge.
“I refused to go with them, and they dragged me out of my apartment,” Hunter said. “The police violated my Fourth Amendment rights. The MPD has a history of entering homes without a warrant and it is against the law for them to enter my home for a misdemeanor charge without a warrant.”
Hunter said she contacted the ACLU for assistance in suing the MPD. Knizhnik said she felt that pursuing the case was not only in Hunter’s best interest, but also in the interest of the D.C. community as a whole.
“Ms. Hunter reached out to us and we saw some video from that night and spoke with her and did research about the issue and found that this was a violation by the police,” Knizhnik said.
According to Michael Tobin, the executive director of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, the District has laws different from other metropolitan areas regarding when an officer can and cannot arrest an individual for a misdemeanor.
“Under D.C. law, which is a little bit peculiar from other jurisdictions, the police officers in Washington, D.C., are required to actually observe that type of event in order to make an arrest, unless there is an exigent reason at the time, such as to quell violence or to prevent violence from continuing to occur,” Tobin said.
The D.C. Office of Police Complaints has received numerous complaints of warrantless entry into private homes over the past several years. Prior to 2013, dozens of reports of warrantless home entry were filed with the office. Of these, 12 were ruled legitimate.
Tobin said a report was filed in 2013 by the Office of Police Complaints that described the incidents and made recommendations to the MPD on how to improve on this issue.
“In that policy recommendation we had found that there were a series of instances that we recognized to be developing into a pattern in which MPD officers were conducting arrests without the proper warrant,” Tobin said.
Tobin said the pattern the office noticed led to a desire to rectify the situation.
“When we see a pattern developing then, if we’re able to identify that, we try to help the police department improve its policies, procedures and training by making these policy recommendations,” Tobin said. “That’s what we did in this case. We made the recommendation that they improve their procedures.”
Since the 2013 report was filed, there have been 57 more incidents of warrantless entry into private homes and warrantless arrest.
Tobin said a second policy report was filed last year to address this same issue.
“We found some cases in which proper police work was not being done to identify the actual house and the proper living place of the subject of the warrant, so we issued a second policy recommendation with respect to doing more diligent work and identifying where somebody lives before the arrest warrant or search warrant is issued,” Tobin said.
According to Tobin, there are currently four open cases against the MPD for warrantless entry into private homes.
Hunter, who attended the White House gala for transgender activists the night after her arrest, said her arrest has caused her significant trauma, and she hopes that her case will influence future MPD policy.
“My hope is that MPD will implement monitoring of its officers, in particular when it comes to entering the homes of citizens without a warrant because that is illegal,” Hunter said. “I also hope to be compensated for the trauma I experienced from being arrested the night before attending a huge gala at the White House.”
The MPD Public Information Officer Hugh Carew said the MPD cannot comment on pending litigation but said the department is looking to strengthen its ties to underserved groups.
“MPD remains committed to assisting and building relationships with historically underserved groups including the LGBT community,” Carew wrote in an email to The Hoya.
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