The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages of $1 and a court order overturning Bullhead City’s ordinance restricting “food-sharing” in public spaces.
An Arizona woman has filed a lawsuit against Bullhead City, alleging that she was arrested earlier this year for feeding homeless people.
According to USA Today, police arrested 78-year-old Norma Thornton in March. Thornton was charged with violated local city ordinances, which restrict the sharing of food for “charitable purposes” at or around a public park.
Thornton’s lawsuit notes that the woman had been serving food at the park since 2018—three years before the Arizona city passed its most restrictive rendition of the law.
Diana Simpson, an attorney for Thornton, told USA Today that Americans should have a right to engage in charitable activities.
“Norma, and the rest of Americans, really, have a right to engage in charitable acts,” Simpson said. “And that includes the right to sharing food.”
USA Today reports that Thornton’s legal team—led by the pro bono law firm Institute for Justice—argues that Bullhead City’s ordinance amounts to an “effective ban” on food-sharing and violates Thornton’s 14th Amendment rights.
The lawsuit notes that local laws require that prospective charitable hosts obtain a one-time, paid permit—a permit that Thornton’s attorneys say the woman cannot afford.
In court filings, the Institute for Justice included body-camera footage from Thornton’s arresting officers, who declined to place the 78-year-old woman in handcuffs.
“I’m not going to do that because I don’t think you’re a hardened criminal; I don’t think you’re out to hurt me,” the officer said.
One of the officers—audible off-camera—could be heard voicing concern over the arrest, and how it might be perceived if was publicized.
“I think this is a P.R. nightmare, but okay,” the officer said.
“It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught in my life. It only punishes one segment of society.” Thornton told USA Today on Wednesday. “And that’s wrong … I’m not trying to change the world … just maybe make a few people happy.”
Simpson said that Bullhead City’s ordinance is intended to keep homeless people out of public parks.
However, Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter had earlier said that the Arizona town simply hopes to avoid litter and other public nuisances.
“It doesn’t mean we’re without compassion for people who need food,” Cotter said in an April meeting. “Feed people in your church parking lot. Or your private residence or wherever you deem it most appropriate. But to litter and congregate in the park is against city law.”
The lawsuit is seeking $1 in damages and seeks to have the Bullhead City ordinance overturned.