Grandmother arrested for feeding homeless in Bullhead City files lawsuit
BULLHEAD CITY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A Bullhead City grandmother arrested for feeding the homeless is filing a lawsuit with the city as a way to fight back and let people help those in need.
In March, 78-year-old Norma Thornton was arrested for giving food to the homeless. Bullhead City’s law says you can’t give food out to the homeless in public, and now Thornton’s attorneys are filing a lawsuit as part of a more significant push nationwide to let people feed those in need.
“This case is about kindness. Bullhead City has criminalized kindness,” said Thornton’s attorney, Suranjan San, with the Institute for Justice. “The city council passed an ordinance that makes it a crime punishable by four months imprisonment to share food in public parks for charitable purposes,” San said. Thornton says she owned a restaurant for many years before retiring in Arizona. After retiring, she says she used her skills to give back. “For four years, Norma regularly spent her afternoons preparing hot, nutritious, delicious meals from scratch in her home kitchen and gave them out in the park to anyone who asked,” said San.
But in 2021, her new passion became illegal. “At a city council meeting the city attorney made it crystal clear. You may host a pizza party in the park for 50 people or a hundred people. Invite friends, invite strangers. You may do it all day every day, so long as your motivation is something other than to people in need,” said San. At the time of her arrest, Thornton says it was so shocking it became hard to process. “Still I thought it was a kind of joke, someone playing a prank– until I was put in the back of the police car.”
Thornton never admitted guilt in court– believing she did nothing wrong. “I have always believed that when you have plenty, you should share.” Now, her attorney at the institute of justice is filing a federal lawsuit against bullhead city, claiming the law violates the right to serve. “They cannot do that under the constitution,” said San.
Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady says the ordinance only applies to public parks, meaning that churches, clubs, and private properties are free to serve food to the homeless without a permit.
Editors Note: The story has been changed to say that Norma Thornton was arrested in 2022 instead of 2017.
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