In April 2016, the ACLU of New Mexico filed a case against the City of Albuquerque and several Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers on behalf of Jeff Seymour, a 58-year-old unemployed and homeless long haul trucker, alleging harassment and false arrest. In order to make ends meet as he searched for employment, Jeff spends a couple hours a day standing at intersections holding a sign reading, "Homeless, hungry, please help," until he recieves enough donations to buy food for the day. However, not long after he began panhandling,  APD officers began harassing him and citing him for petty misdemeanors, including "wrongful use of public property" and "criminal trespass." Jeff, correctly believing he had a right to stand in public with a sign, refused to leave when ordered by police officers. Over the course of a year, his refusal to vacate his free speech right to hold a sign in public has gained him four arrests and 20+ citations--all of which have been dismised by a court. He has spent more than a month in jail due to his inability to pay the $100 bond set for his release. Furthermore, the constant appearances in court and the stints in jail have made it impossible for him to obtain employment, which would end his need to panhandle.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU of New Mexico claims that the City of Albuquerque is violating Jeff's right to solicit donations by panhandling, which is protected under the Free Speech Clause of the New Mexico State Constitution. The complaint also alleges that the arrests were unconstitutional, conducted without probable cause or any other legal justification. Furthermore, theACLU of New MExico asserts that these are not the actions of just a few rogue police officers, but instead represent an unconsitutional policy, custom and practice of harassing panhandlers put in place by the City.

Attorney(s)

George Bach, Nicholas Sitterly

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Garcia, Ives & Nowara; Sitterly Law Firm

Date filed

April 27, 2016

Court

Second Judicial District Court

Status

Filed

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