Written by Diane K. Balogh
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO — October 14, 2014, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. entered a consent judgment in the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s challenge to the City of Miner’s unconstitutional ordinances banning loitering, vagrancy and begging. The ACLU filed the lawsuit last December on behalf of a homeless couple who was threatened with arrest by Miner police officers for nothing more than peaceably standing on public property and holding a sign that read “Traveling. Anything helps. God bless.”
In late September of 2013, Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie, who are Missouri residents, were approached by a police officer and told they must leave town. They respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws. The officer left and returned with highlighted copies of three purported ordinances against vagrancy, begging and loitering. He was later joined by another policeman who told the couple they would be arrested for violating the ordinances if they didn’t leave town in five minutes, so they complied and haven’t returned.
“Without the ACLU’s help, nothing in Miner would have changed,” said Orchard. “Our lawyers deserve all the credit.”
“This suit is a textbook case on how to react when your rights are being violated,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The couple respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws, requested copies of the ordinances they were violating, obeyed the officer’s demands to leave town, and then filed a complaint with the ACLU.” The ACLU learned that Miner does not have the ordinances the police cited.
“Bullying is never good, but it is especially bad when done by our government and directed at those who might lack the resources to defend their rights,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “Being homeless or poor doesn’t strip you of your constitutional rights and it is the role of the ACLU to step in and be a voice for those who may feel powerless to challenge the government.”
The consent judgment, the complaint and a photo of the couple can be found on the legal dockets section of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.
The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.