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Homeless man sues Sandy over panhandling enforcement

SALT LAKE CITY — A homeless man is suing Sandy over the city's enforcement of panhandling under a statute declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2012.

Steve Ray Evans was cited by Sandy police on April 18 and ordered "to cease his panhandling activities," a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court states. Evans is unemployed and receives no public assistance or government benefits, so he panhandles to obtain basic necessities, according to the lawsuit.

Evans has ceased his solicitation within Sandy because of the threat of being arrested, the lawsuit states.

He seeks declaratory relief regarding the unconstitutionality of the statute because "it impermissibly infringes on his constitutionally protected rights and rights of others under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution," the lawsuit states.

Stewart Gollan, cooperating attorney for the Utah Civil Rights & Liberties Foundation Inc., which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Evans, said Evans was cited, charged and ordered to come to court under the statute, which was enacted in 2011.

"So we filed suit on his behalf saying that statute is unconstitutional. You can’t keep enforcing it. There was an amendment made in the 2014 term at the Legislature changing that language, but that amendment does not take effect until May 13, so it’s not on the books yet," Gollan said.

The cities of Draper and American Fork have settled similar lawsuits with Evans when he challenged the law in separate cases.

“He would certainly describe himself as an activist who is willing to stand up for his First Amendment rights," Gollan said.

"There are a large number of (homeless) people, and I can’t say whether it’s rightly or wrongly, who are scared of bringing legal action against cities and the police because they think there will be some sort of retribution. I’m not suggesting that they’re correct, but they have that fear," he said.

Evans' multiple legal actions are indicative of his frustration with municipalities continuing to cite and charge panhandlers under a statute a federal court declared unconstitutional, Gollan said.

"I think in fact there is some frustration on the part of Mr. Evans that we spent almost two years litigating this the first time, got the court to say it’s unconstitutional, and then he went to other cities and he was continually cited, chased off and threatened with arrest. If anything, it’s government that continues to push the issue instead of Mr. Evans," Gollan said.

Sandy Police Sgt. Jon Arnold said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, the amended statute, passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, prohibits conduct that impedes or blocks traffic on state-controlled roads and prohibits people from aggressively soliciting goods or money 10 feet from an automated teller machine or entrance to a bank. The amended state law goes into effect next week.