American Civil Liberties Union Asks Court To Block Flagstaff Panhandling Arrests

July 25, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is trying to stop the arrests of panhandlers in Flagstaff. The organization has asked a court to block the arrests as a legal battle moves through the system.

ACLU legal director Dan Pachoda said a state law that forbids panhandling is unconstitutional. He said it criminalizes peaceful begging, which he said many courts have found to be protected speech. The ACLU is representing several panhandlers in Flagstaff who Pachoda said were unfairly targeted and entrapped by undercover agents. One is a 77-year-old woman, who has been arrested and jailed three times.

Flagstaff police are not only violating the plaintiffs’ right to free speech, “but ensuring that these people will continue to go hungry,” Pachoda said. “These are people who are broke, basically, and through the generosity of strangers and passersby, occasionally get some small monetary donations or food.”

Flagstaff and its police department are remaining quiet on the case.

As Kim Ott explained, “The City of Flagstaff, unfortunately, does not comment on pending litigation.”

And Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, also named in the suit, could not be reached for comment. In the past, Flagstaff police have praised the panhandling ban. They say the city has seen a decrease in shoplifting and aggravated assaults since the department began enforcing it 2008. 

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