Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie, who were holding a sign
that read "Traveling. Anything helps. God Bless," obeyed police who
ordered them to leave Miner, Missouri, on September 26, according to
the federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on
the couple's behalf.
Officers, who showed them copies of ordinances against vagrancy,
begging and loitering, told the couple they would be arrested if
they did not leave town in five minutes, the lawsuit said.
The city clerk in the town of 980 people in southeast Missouri said
ordinances the officers cited do not exist, the lawsuit said.
"The police are our first line of defense and we entrust them with
the ability to arrest, but in return we need some checks and
balances," Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of
Missouri, said in a news release.
"The ACLU is stepping in because it is especially egregious when
police try to intimidate those who are least likely to have the
resources to defend their rights."
Joe Fuchs, attorney for the city, declined to comment on the lawsuit
on Monday. The two police officers allegedly involved in the
incident were not identified in the lawsuit.
Gillespie, from Missouri, are asking the court for unspecified
damages and an injunction to prevent the city from attempting to
enforce "policies and customs" that are unconstitutional.
[to top of second column]
It is unclear where the officers got the ordinances they showed the
couple, Missouri ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1970s that laws against vagrancy — or having no visible means of support — were unconstitutional,
Free speech protections allowed the couple to hold the sign and they
were not standing on the street corner to an extent that could be
considered unlawful loitering, he said.
(Editing by Brendan O'Brien and Mohammad Zargham)
[© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2013 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.