A small suburb of St. Louis where 95 percent of residents are black has allegedly found a new source of revenue by increasing municipal citations by 495 percent since 2010, a lawsuit claimed this week.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Institute for Justice’s office filed a lawsuit seeking class action status this week against the city of Pagedale.
The lawsuits accuses Pagedale of “an unprecedented governmental intrusion into the homes of its residents” for issuing tickets for things like barbecuing in the front yard, drinking beer too close to the grill and even saggy pants.
In some cases, residents said that Pagedale officials threatened to demolish their homes, even though the city admitted that the homes were only a nuisance and presented no public safety threat.
Valarie Whitner and Vincent Blount told the paper that they were forced to take out a payday to pay $1,810 in fines.
After a Justice Department investigation found that Ferguson, Missouri was raising revenue by fining residents, the state passed a law limiting how much of a city’s funding can come from traffic violations.
But Pagedale has been able to skirt that law by issuing municipal citations instead of traffic tickets. In 2013, 17 percent of the city’s revenue came from fines and fees, The New York Times noted.
“This case demonstrates that property rights are fundamentally civil rights,” Institute for Justice lawyer William told The Associate Press. “Pagedale treats its residents like walking, talking ATMs, making withdrawals by issuing tickets for ridiculous things that no city has a right to dictate.”
Pagedale city attorney Sam Alton insisted that the fines were for the good of community.
“Both the lawsuit, and any perception that these people are being treated unfairly, is unfortunate,” Alton said. “The city is doing everything it can within the boundaries of the law to make sure that properties within the city are code compliant and do not present any type of danger or risk to the residents of the city.”
“The city is simply attempting to get these individuals to bring their property up to code like everyone else,” he added. “If they just work with the city, and just do something minimally every month, those fines will be abated.”