ACLU: Slidell's panhandling ordinance unconstitutional

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wwltv.com

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 10:16 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 20 at 10:21 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- It is against the law to panhandle in Slidell. People are getting arrested for doing just that, with one recent incident recently caught on camera.

Now citizens are challenging the city's panhandling ordinance, saying its unconstitutional.

"I need you to step back over there or I'm going to arrest you," says an officer to the man videotaping a recent arrest.

"For what?" said the man.

"Interfering," responded the police officer.

The conversation is caught on cell phone video near the Walmart on Natchez Drive in Slidell. The video clip's owner says it shows his friend being questioned by a Slidell police officer before being carted off to jail. Concerned about his safety, he asked Eyewitness News to keep his identity hidden.

"She's not a drunk, She's not a drug user. She's never been arrested for that. The only thing she's been arrested for is holding a sign for panhandling," said the Northshore man who claims he has contacted Slidell's mayor, police chief and other local officials, telling them that arresting panhandlers is against the law.

"They just said this is Slidell, Louisiana. We make our own laws here. We don't have to follow what the United States Supreme Court rules," said the concerned citizen.

He said his friend was arrested for panhandling on Friday, and according to police records, others have been charged with panhandling in the past.

"Over the past six or eight months there have been arrests of roughly half a dozen people for panhandling in the city of Slidell," said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman.

The ACLU sent a letter to Slidell's city attorney on Tuesday saying panhandling arrests are illegal, need to stop and that the city should repeal its current panhandling ordinance.

"We have a lot of concerns whether people are being prosecuted and being persuaded to plead guilty to something that in fact is their legal right to do," said Esman.

On Tuesday night as one woman said she was stranded at Gauze Boulevard and I-10, asking for help to get to New Orleans, one Slidell resident says the law is the law, unless you can prove otherwise.

"You'd first have to do with that law and ordinance within the city itself. If they have and can prove that there is a supreme ordinance overriding that then of course they take that to the next measure," Slidell resident James Potkoski.

Slidell's Police Chief Randy Smith issued this statement on Tuesday in response to the ACLU's open letter to City Attorney Bryan Haggerty:

"We are aware of the concerns of the ACLU and have forwarded their concerns to our city attorney.

"Let it be known that the citizens of Slidell, and the local business community, consistently contact the Slidell Police Department about issues involving begging, aggressive begging and soliciting without a permit.

"We will continue to respond and investigate these complaints, and if necessary, arrest these individuals under the Louisiana Revised Statue 14:107, Vagrancy, until our city attorney has had the opportunity to review the ACLU's concerns involving the City of Slidell's ordinances."

 

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