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ACLU alleges IMPD officers infringed panhandlers’ free-speech rights

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The ACLU of Indiana has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the city of Indianapolis and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers violated the free speech rights of indigent panhandlers ordered to move from near Circle Center Mall last week.

The suit filed on behalf of four Indianapolis residents seeks class status for people who panhandle in the mile square downtown bound by North, South, East and West streets. “The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impractical,” the suit says. Named plaintiffs are Tina Morris, Melissa Peppers, Brenton Fordham and Fred Correll.

The plaintiffs say they passively requested contributions in compliance with state law and local ordinances but were cited, ticketed or ordered to move by four IMPD officers between  Aug. 12 and Aug. 14, ahead of one of downtown’s busiest weekends.  

According to the suit, IMPD officers ticketed or ordered panhandlers to move even though plaintiffs say they were engaged in lawful activity. At least one plaintiff says an officer said the city was “in the process of passing a law that would prevent persons from engaging in the conduct in which she was engaged.”

The suit was filed Friday. Indianapolis Corporation Counsel Andy Seiwert had no comment Monday. He said the city was aware of the suit but had not been served.

The Indianapolis City-County Council has tabled a proposed ordinance restricting panhandling downtown, and the suit notes the proposal is “widely reported as being dead.”

“The First Amendment protects the rights of all people to ask for contributions, whether they are seeking political donations or asking for assistance for poor people on city sidewalks,” ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a statement. “This case seeks to vindicate a right that is fundamentally important for all.”

 

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