WESTBROOK, Maine — A Westbrook couple is taking the city to federal court after they say police used criminal trespass orders to illegally bypass eviction procedures and keep them away from an apartment building where family members still live.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and Pine Tree Legal Assistance filed a civil complaint against the city of Westbrook last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Anne Blake and Kevin McBride, a longtime couple that began living together in a 277 Main St. apartment in July 2012.
According to Katherine McGovern, an attorney with Pine Tree Legal, Westbrook police served McBride with a criminal trespass order earlier this month and told him he had 30 minutes to remove his belongings from the apartment, despite the fact that McBride had never previously been named in any eviction proceedings.
McGovern said Blake was similarly served with a criminal trespass order after she’d been evicted by name for nonpayment of rent. But the attorney said her organization is still challenging the move because she said it illegally blocked Blake’s ability to visit her daughter and grandchildren, who still live in the apartment building and for whom Blake had provided child care help.
“[McBride] has the right to be served a notice, to go to court, to defend himself in court, and he didn’t get any of that process,” McGovern told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday afternoon. “We believe that Anne was aggrieved as well, because she should have the right of association, the right to visit. The criminal trespass order makes it a crime for her to go to that building.”
Westbrook city and police department administrators did not immediately respond to voice messages seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
According to the complaint, McBride is now living at a nearby motel “but he is running out of money” and “when his money runs out, he will be homeless.” Blake, the complaint stated, is now homeless as a result of the eviction.
McBride worked at a nearby fast-food restaurant and Blake earned money caring for her grandchildren through a state welfare program, according to the complaint. The legal document adds that “at no time relevant to this complaint did either [McBride or Blake] engage in criminal activity.”
The complaint alleges that police crossed off “one year” and wrote “no expiration” for the timetable of the criminal trespass orders handed to Blake and McBride, and one allegedly told Blake “he was tired of people like her not having to pay for anything.”
“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,” said McGovern in a statement issued Tuesday. “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.”
McGovern said McBride and Blake were “tenants at will,” meaning they never signed a lease agreement, but rather operated according to a less formal agreement. According to the complaint, neither McBride nor the inclusive phrase “all other occupants” was used in the eviction paperwork processed against Blake, meaning he still has yet to receive a legal eviction notice or an opportunity to contest it.
“Everyone deserves the protection of the law,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine, in a statement. “When the police don’t follow the law, it leaves people with nowhere else to turn.”