‘I thought it was a joke’: Grandmother arrested for feeding homeless files lawsuit against city

Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 1:37 PM CDT
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BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. (KTVK/KPHO/Gray News) – An Arizona grandmother who was arrested for feeding homeless people is now filing a lawsuit against the city.

In March, 78-year-old Norma Thornton was arrested for giving food to the homeless in Bullhead City, Arizona. The city’s law says you can’t give food to the homeless in public.

Now, Thornton’s attorneys are filing a lawsuit as part of a more significant push nationwide to let people feed those in need.

Suranjan San with the Institute for Justice has filed a federal lawsuit against Bullhead City, claiming the law violates the right to serve.

“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.”

Thornton said she owned a restaurant for many years before retiring in Arizona. After retiring, she said she used her cooking 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,” San said.

But in 2021, Thornton’s 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 help people in need,” San said.

At the time of her arrest, Thornton said it was so shocking that it was 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 said.

Thornton never admitted guilt in court, saying she did nothing wrong.

“I have always believed that when you have plenty, you should share,” she said.

Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady said the law only applies to public parks, meaning that churches, clubs and private properties are free to serve food to the homeless without a permit.