FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – Today the American Civil Liberties Union for the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service for its abusive, degrading conduct during what should have been a routine eviction. The lawsuit charges violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Federal Tort Claims Act.
On the morning of June 19, 2015, Donya Williams and her 12-year-old daughter, identified as J.W. in court papers, were at home in their apartment in Southeast D.C. when two marshals pounded on the front door. A family friend who was visiting at the time opened the door. The marshals stormed into the apartment shouting and with guns drawn: an entrance more akin to a SWAT-team raid than an eviction. Terrified by the guns, J.W. screamed.
When Williams heard the commotion from her bedroom, she took off her nightgown to get dressed. As she pleaded for time to dress, the marshals burst into the bedroom and found Williams completely naked. She tried to grab whatever items of clothing were in reach as they forced her out of the bedroom. She put on a top but did not have time to put on underwear, and the pants she grabbed were her daughter’s. They ripped in the crotch area when Williams tried to pull them on, exposing her private area. In this state, she and J.W. were marched past an eviction crew of 20 men and out to the building’s parking lot; the assembled crowd taunted and laughed at them as they walked by.
“I have never seen my daughter as frightened as she was that day, and the terror is still with her,” said Williams. “When those marshals charged in, we all thought they could shoot us at any moment.”
In addition to the trauma and humiliation Williams and J.W. suffered, several thousand dollars’ worth of personal property went missing in the course of the eviction, including a flatscreen TV, a tablet computer, and jewelry. A bottle of bleach was emptied into two large bags of clothing, destroying all of them.
“The abusive and humiliating treatment of Ms. Williams and her daughter was unjustified and unconstitutional,” said Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU-DC. “Losing your home is traumatic enough without losing your dignity as well.”
The ACLU-DC filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Marshals Services under the Federal Tort Claims Act in February 2017, seeking compensation for property damage and personal injury to Williams and J.W. After the marshals did not respond to the complaint within six months, Williams and J.W. became authorized to file a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, Williams v. United States, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
See the letter J.W. wrote to the judge following their eviction: https://www.acludc.org/sites/default/files/jw_letter.pdf