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 Wednesday, Feb. 13, to a judicial order stopping Sarasota police from “interfering with the exercise of First Amendment Rights” in dealing with the homeless, according to a press release from the ACLU.
By prohibiting panhandlers from holding signs that solicit money from passing motorists, Circuit Court Judge Rick DeFuria said the ordinance violated federal free speech protections.
In a consent decree issued Wednesday, 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by an updated 60-day injunction stopping the City of Sarasota, its City Manager and Police Chief from relying on a repealed solicitation ordinance to target homeless citizens on city sidewalks and streets.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. “We will continue to monitor the City’s response to the crisis of the mistreatment of people who are homeless.”
The consent decree comes as the result of an ACLU legal challenge on behalf of two homeless men; Jon Hill, who had been arrested under the ordinance, and Seann Manning, who had been threatened with arrest.
On Jan. 7, the City Commission suspended enforcement of the city’s sign-holding law, also known as ordinance 23-1, after the city attorney told them the law was unconstitutional. Friday, Feb. 1, a judge ordered a temporary injunction forbidding police officers from telling homeless people holding signs to move elsewhere.
The injunction came after the Sarasota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit to prevent the police department from enacting ordinance 23-1.