In latest victory for the rights of Sarasota’s homeless individuals, ACLU of Florida represented 2 homeless men targeted by solicitation ordinance.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2013
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363 - 2737 firstname.lastname@example.org
SARASOTA - Today, as the result of a legal challenge brought on behalf of two homeless men by the Sarasota Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, the City of Sarasota agreed to the entry of a judicial order stopping Sarasota police from “interfering with the exercise of First Amendment Rights” in dealing with the homeless. In a consent decree issued today, the City agrees to abide by an updated 60-day injunction stopping the City of Sarasota, its City Manager and Police Chief from relying on a repealed solicitation ordinance to target homeless citizens on city sidewalks and streets.
“The Court’s ruling vindicates the right of all citizens to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment, particularly those who are the least able to seek protection,” said Michael Barfield, Chair of the Legal Panel of the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU of Florida. “We will continue to monitor the City’s response to the crisis of the mistreatment of people who are homeless and urge the City to stop taking actions inconsistent with the Constitution and the Court’s ruling.”
The consent decree is the most recent victory for the rights of homeless individuals in Sarasota since the ACLU of Florida and its Sarasota Chapter began challenging efforts by the city of Sarasota that target the homeless through the criminal justice system. It comes as the result of a challenge brought by the organization on behalf of two homeless men; Jon Hill, who had been arrested under the ordinance, and Seann Manning, who had been threatened with arrest.
Jon Hill was arrested January 17th by Sarasota police even though the Police Chief had issued an order directing officers not to arrest citizens for soliciting on public sidewalks and streets. After his arrest, another judge granted an emergency writ of habeas corpus and Mr. Hill was released after spending five days in custody. On advice of the City Attorney, the City repealed the solicitation ordinance earlier this month.
Seann Manning had been threatened with arrest for merely displaying a sign seeking employment that said “Homeless. Any work is a blessing.” The court ruling determined this conduct by the police “chilled” the exercise of First Amendment rights. Before today’s consent decree, the City had argued that an injunction was unnecessary, but the Court noted that the “whim, self-restraint, or even a well-reasoned judgment of a government official cannot serve as the lone safeguard for First Amendment rights."
Circuit Judge Frederick DeFuria observed that public streets and sidewalks “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public” for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. The Court also stated that “the display of signs along a public roadway is protected activity under the First Amendment.”
“Use of the police power and the criminal justice system to inhibit First Amendment rights is unconstitutional,” stated Andrea Flynn Mogensen, attorney for Mr. Hill and Mr. Manning. “The City should use other resources to address the needs of homeless citizens and poverty in Sarasota.”
The victory the two plaintiffs is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU of Florida to address a recent spike of arrests and citations of homeless individuals in the city. On November 13th the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU of Florida sent a letter to Sarasota City Manager Thomas Barwin calling on Barwin to address the ongoing problems with police interactions with homeless. The letter had been sent in response to the November 11th arrest of Darren Kersey, a homeless man who was jailed by Sarasota Police for charging a cell phone at a public picnic shelter in Gillespie Park. Kersey was told by the arresting sergeant that "theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy."
A copy of the consent decree is available here:
A copy of the judicial order is available here:
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