Arizona woman sues city after arrest for feeding homeless

Norma Thornton spent nearly 20 years running a restaurant in Alaska before retiring to Arizona with her husband in 2017. With more time on his hands, he began cooking hot meals and serving them to the homeless population around Bullhead City.

Over time, her charitable activities attracted the attention of other areas: the police.

Thornton was arrested in March for violating a city ordinance passed last year that prohibits sharing prepared meals in public parks. Now she is suing Bullhead City, alleging that the city’s law violated her 14th Amendment right to engage in charitable acts.

Grandma, 78, told CBS Moneywatch that she should be allowed to share meals with those less fortunate, no matter where.

“This case is about kindness,” Sen told CBS affiliate KPHO. “Bullhead City has criminalized kindness.”

Norma Thornton, 78, feeds a group of homeless people in Bullhead City, Arizona. She told CBS Moneywatch that she wanted to be kinder to the less fortunate in the area.

Justice Institute

Lawsuit: $1 per infringement

One of his lawyers, Suranjan Sen of the Institute for Justice, claims Bullhead’s ban unfairly targeted Thornton, who has been feeding the homeless since 2018.

In court documents filed Wednesday, the lawsuit alleges that the ban prohibits serving food to the homeless in a park, but allows anyone to have a birthday party and feed dozens of people.

“In other words, a person may be giving food to their friends but not the exact kind of food they are trying to help,” her suit claims.

Thornton’s lawyers want a federal judge to strike Bullhead’s law and force the city to pay his client $1 for every instance where his constitutional rights were violated.

The suit is “misleading”

When asked for comment, Bullhead City officials pointed to a Facebook post Wednesday that claimed Thornton’s lawsuit was “misleading and lacks a number of important details.” The Food Sharing Events Ordinance is “valid” and does not apply to private groups or family gatherings, the city said.

According to the city, Thornton broke the law because she was serving food at Bullhead City Community Park, a public park.

“Individuals are free to serve food to any homeless person at their place of residence, church or private property,” Bullhead Mayor Tom Brady said in the post. “Our ordinance only applies to public parks.”

The ban on sharing food in public parks is part of a larger effort to decongest Bullhead’s homeless population camps, the lawsuit alleges, citing minutes from a February 2021 city council meeting.

There is a video made by the Institute for Justice about a Bullhead City woman feeding the homeless in City Parks…

Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 by Bullhead City, Arizona, Gov.

Anyone can share food with the homeless in a public park, as long as it is “sealed foods readily available from retail stores and available for consumption directly from packages,” the city said. But if one wants to serve ready-made hot food, he must first obtain a permit and a food handler’s license, according to the city’s statement.

After police arrested Thornton, she protested and city prosecutors dropped the charges, according to the suit. Thornton said he did not pay the fine or serve a prison sentence. She told CBS Moneywatch that she has gone back to feeding the homeless since her arrest.

“So Many Stories”

Thornton said she cooks spaghetti, shepherd’s pie, fried chicken and pork chops for the homeless, spending about six hours a day preparing meals at home. Thornton’s lawyers said she spends about $20 on meals per meal. According to the lawsuit, she feeds about 30 people a day.

Thornton told CBS Moneywatch that she spends about half of her monthly Social Security check on meals, which she prepares about four times a week. Her lawyers noted that she was motivated to feed the homeless partly because Bullhead only has three food pantries, which do not fully meet the needs of the homeless community.

“While these provide a very important service to the community, they do not completely solve the hunger challenges of the region,” the complaint reads. “They are limited geographically, and they have limited amounts of food and limited operating hours.”

Thornton said feeding the homeless has become such an integral part of their lives that people have actually become family members. Thornton said that over the years he has heard stories of how each “family member” became homeless and learned that each of them fell on hard times for different reasons.

“Some of them were once quite wealthy,” she said. “There have been deaths in families that have created a situation where they find themselves out in the open. There are so many stories, there’s no one story that fits.”

Retired restaurateur Norma Thornton feeds homeless people in Bullhead City, Arizona. She is suing the city government for arresting him for sharing a meal in a public park.

Justice Institute

In August, Thornton moved his food homeless operation to an alley behind a local jet ski store—with the owner’s blessing—due to city law.

A back alley isn’t the ideal place to feed the homeless, Thornton said, but she continues to provide food there anyway because “the look on people’s faces when they get a nice, hot meal — the gratitude they show.” Huh.”

“I remember the first hug I got,” she said. “It brings tears to your eyes.”

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