This woman was arrested for feeding homeless people. But she says she won’t stop

Norma Thornton was arrested after giving food to people in a park. She plans to sue the city in response

Norma Thornton says she learned from a young age that it was important to help others when you can.

“If you have plenty, you share. If you can make one person’s life better for only a minute each day, you have accomplished a miracle. And that’s the way my grandma taught me,” Thornton, 78, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

But that lesson didn’t prepare her for what happened on March 8 at the Community Park in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Thornton was giving out home-cooked meals to whoever needed them, just like she had done many times. Then she saw a police car pull up. 

She says it wasn’t that unusual to see a police car in the park. She didn’t even think it was odd when a police officer approached her.

The shock came when he told her she was under arrest for violating the city’s Food Sharing Event ordinance against handing out food in the park to strangers.

“At first I just thought it was kind of a prank,” said Thornton.

Thornton pays for some of the ingredients out of her own pocket, and donations help her with the rest. (Institute for Justice)

The officer, who Thornton said was very polite, put her in the back of the police car and took her to the police station.

She was fingerprinted, charged with a misdemeanor and given an order to appear in court at a later date, then brought back to her vehicle in the park.

“That was, I guess you’d say devastating,” said Thornton. “To be charged like a criminal … it’s still when I think about it, it’s pretty upsetting.”

Thornton pleaded not guilty. The city eventually dropped the charges, which carried a maximum fine of $750 US and four months’ imprisonment, according to the lawsuit.

She plans to sue Bullhead City and is accusing them of violating her human rights, with the help of a nonprofit law firm called the Institute for Justice. She wants the ordinance declared unconstitutional.

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