New panhandling rule delayed after legal challenge by ACLU
Originally scheduled to take effect this past Sunday, the Grand Junction Police Department is not enforcing an ordinance aimed at curbing panhandling in the face of challenges to its constitutionality by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In an internal department e-mail sent on Friday, Police Chief John Camper told officers enforcement of the disputed ordinance is delayed indefinitely.
“Although we understand that only a portion of the ordinance has been enjoined, we have yet to receive an actual court order,” Camper wrote Friday. “Until we have a definitive ruling from the court, and an opportunity to assess the status of the ordinance further, our City Attorney has advised that we not enforce it.”
The chief clarified Tuesday, “We’re not enforcing any of it.”
The stance goes beyond a temporary restraining order issued on Friday by U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer, which enjoined Grand Junction from enforcing only the section of the ordinance addressing “aggressive panhandling” on city streets that are also state or federal highways such as North Avenue, or off-ramps to Interstate 70.
Brimmer ruled from the bench in Denver Friday that the six plaintiffs in the case had a “reasonable fear” their First Amendment rights would be violated if Grand Junction were allowed to enforce the ordinance. Brimmer also issued a written order late Friday, which said the plaintiffs had “established a likelihood of success on the merits” that the ordinance is unconstitutional.
“When a law is likely unconstitutional, the government’s interest in enforcing the law does not outweigh that of individuals in securing the protection of their constitutional rights,” Brimmer wrote in the order, reciting findings in a 2012 case decided by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the issue, while lawyers hired by Grand Junction to litigate the issue haven’t filed any formal response to the ACLU challenge.
U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello will hear future motions on the lawsuit.
ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein on Friday signaled his intent to pursue a permanent injunction.
Passed Feb. 19 with a unanimous vote of the Grand Junction City Council, the ordinance limits the times of day, locations and manner in which panhandling is allowed, while banning solicitors from asking for money from motorists on public roadways and prohibiting people from stepping into the road to accept donations.
ACLU argues the ordinance is too broadly written and could also apply to non-aggressive requests, such as a person sitting with a sign seeking a donation.