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Draper still enforcing unconstitutional panhandling law, federal lawsuit alleges

Published: Monday, June 11 2012 3:48 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Draper police continue to issue citations to panhandlers under a state law that a federal judge deemed unconstitutional earlier this year, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Salt Lake civil rights attorney Brian Barnard filed the complaint in U.S. District Court on behalf of Steve Ray Evans, a Salt Lake County man whom Draper authorities have prosecuted numerous times for begging on the streets. Barnard is seeking a court order barring enforcement of the law.

Evans, who is homeless and unemployed, sometimes asks people for money directly or holds up a sign to passing motorists. He does not receive and is not eligible for Social Security or other other government benefits. He doesn't intend to stop panhandling because it's the only way he can bring in enough money to survive, according to the complaint.

Police officers told Evans as recently as last week that panhandling is illegal in Utah and indicated they will continue to enforce the law, Barnard said.

Evans worries that he will be threatened or cited again for seeking money. "This fear has a real and chilling effect on his rights to free speech and free expression," according to the suit.

Draper officials did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

In 2010, Barnard sued Salt Lake City, the Utah Highway Patrol, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Gov. Gary Herbert over the state's anti-panhandling statute, arguing the law was so over-reaching it criminalized valet parking services in front of restaurants and Girl Scouts selling cookies in view of passing motorists.

Salt Lake City agreed in early 2011 to no longer enforce the law. But the state continued to defend it.

This past March, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart struck down the statute, saying it's so broad that it could prohibit children from selling lemonade in their neighborhoods. He ruled that the actions of four panhandlers, including Evans, cited by Salt Lake police and the UHP were protected under the First Amendment.

Draper was not a defendant in that case. But based on the judge's order stopping the state from enforcing the law, Draper should do the same, Barnard said.

"For some reason, Draper City isn't acknowledging that. It continues to enforce and threaten to enforce the statute," he said. "OK, now what do I do? Do I have to file a lawsuit against every city in the state? I hope not."

In defending the constitutionality of the law, the attorney general's office argued people soliciting money from drivers on busy streets could disrupt traffic and cause injuries.

Stewart pointed out in his ruling that the language of the statute applied to all roads and in doing so extended prohibitions on a wide range of situations he said likely have no impact on safety, including panhandlers requesting donations alongside a gravel road.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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