GRANITE CITY — Jessica Barron and Kenny Wylie say they had no idea that their 18-year-old house guest, a friend of their son, had burglarized a nearby tavern this past May until police told them.
Then an officer handed them an eviction notice.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Barron, a mother of three. “I’m at fault for what he did even though I had no knowledge of it?”
Granite City’s Crime Free Housing ordinance, enacted in 2006, allows the city to evict residents who commit felonies. Granite City has kicked other residents out of their homes.
And so have other towns. The Granite City mayor said the ordinance was based on one in Schaumburg, Ill., near Chicago. And Maplewood, in St. Louis County, rescinded an ordinance last year that allowed the city to evict residents after two peace-disturbance or domestic-violence calls to an address within 180 days. The city settled with the ACLU and a woman who said she was evicted after being a victim of domestic violence.
Barron and Wylie, who grew up in Granite City and have lived in their home on Maple Street for two years, have no intention of leaving.
On Thursday, they and their landlord filed suit against the city, arguing the crime-free housing ordinance is unconstitutional and violates the family’s right to due process and equal protection under the law. They are represented by the Virginia-based civil-liberties law firm the Institute for Justice.
Their attorney, Sam Gedge, said the Granite City law punishes them for someone else’s crime.
”It’s not just unconstitutional,” Gedge said. “It’s entirely senseless for the city to kick out this family with children.”
Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer declined to comment on the lawsuit. But he called the crime-free ordinance a tool, and said it’s been “pretty successful” for 13 years.
And Lt. Mike Parkinson, a Granite City crime-free housing officer, said neighbors frequently complain in an online neighborhood watch discussion group about Wylie’s and Barron’s home. “This is a clear-cut case of an instance where a violation occurred,” Parkinson said. “We have a duty to protect the citizens around them.”
Barron said she met her son’s friend, Jason Lynch, about a year ago.
Barron said she maintains an “open door” policy at their house, allowing her children’s friends to come over almost anytime, eat food from her refrigerator and spend the night.
Lynch told Barron he was homeless, that his mother had died and his father was in prison.
”As a parent, your heart sinks,” Barron said. “I told him (my house) is a safe zone. He’d spend a few nights in a row and then we wouldn’t see him.”
Later, Barron learned that Lynch’s mother was not dead and that Lynch could be a “troublemaker.”
Then, on May 22, the police came to her house looking for Lynch. They said he had burglarized Ernie & Andy’s tavern, and asked Barron if he was at her home, Barron recalled. Initially, she didn’t realize Lynch was there. When she did, she sent her son after the officers to tell them Lynch was hiding in the crawl space attached to the basement.
“I handed him over to you,” she said of police. “You would have never known about the crawl space (otherwise).”
On June 18, police told landlord Bill Campbell he had to evict the family. A month later, Campbell got the official letter, saying Lynch had resided at the family’s residence, his burglary violated the city ordinance, and if Campbell didn’t evict the family, he could lose his license to lease properties.
Campbell, who leases about 15 properties in Granite City, called the ordinance a “strong-arm policy.”
“I’m not going to be bullied anymore,” Campbell said. “I’m loyal to the people putting bread on my table, and Jessica and Kenny are doing that.”
Campbell and Wylie said police have responded to their home on more than one occasion, once because the couple were shouting at each other. But none of this was mentioned in the eviction letter.
The lawsuit argues that the cost of moving is too great for the family: They are supported by Wylie’s income as a forklift operator. Barron is on probation for a drug charge, and isn’t working.
“I’m disappointed,” Wylie said. “I grew up here. I was born and raised here. I don’t want to take my family away from here.”