SANDY — A homeless man who sued Sandy three years ago over the city's enforcement of panhandling under a law declared unconstitutional has filed another federal lawsuit challenging a new city ordinance.
Although framed as an effort to improve public safety, the law the Sandy City Council passed last year prohibits peaceful, nonthreatening and nonaggressive speech from taking place on long-used, traditional public forums, according the complaint in U.S. District Court.
The ordinance makes it illegal to sit or stand in or on any unpaved median, or any median of less than 36 inches for any period of time.
Utah Legal Clinic attorney Angela Elmore said the law eliminates all speech on every median in the city and targets panhandlers.
"Notably, the ordinance would seem to criminalize someone simply crossing the street if the person would have to pass over a 36-inch median to get to the other side," she wrote in the lawsuit.
The legal clinic is suing Sandy on Steve Ray Evans' behalf.
Sandy police have cited Evans four times for violating the law. He is fighting the citations in court. Evans, 58, is unemployed and receives no public assistance or government benefits, so he must solicit donations for basic needs, the lawsuit says.
References to safety concerns as council members considered the ordinance were overshadowed by references to "moral indignation at panhandlers for making too much money, moral indignation panhandlers do not pay taxes on the money they make (and) … moral indignation at panhandlers asking for money when they (allegedly) do not need it," according to the lawsuit.
Sandy City Councilman Chris McCandless said the law was passed to keep both motorists and panhandlers safe.
"I'm worried about people on the street regardless of their reason for being there," McCandless said.
"As a city councilman, I have to worry about anybody who's in Sandy at any time, and in this instance, I think they are in harm's way standing on those thin islands regardless of their situation," he said.
The lawsuit argues that the ordinance violates Evans' freedom of speech and expression, right against cruel and unusual punishment, equal protection rights, and the rights of commerce. It seeks compensation for Evans and an injunction preventing Sandy from enforcing the law.
Sandy and the Utah Legal Clinic settled the 2014 lawsuit shortly after it was filed.
Also in 2014, the Utah Legislature passed a law that prohibits conduct that impedes or blocks traffic on state-controlled roads and prohibits people from aggressively soliciting goods or money 10 feet from an ATM or entrance to a bank.
This year, state lawmakers banned exchanging money or property between moving cars and people along an interstate, freeway, state highway, state route or paved road with a speed limit at or above 35 mph. Legislators said the law was written in a way to avoid infringing on free speech rights and legal panhandling.