Homeless man sues Sandy over anti-panhandling ordinance

SALT LAKE CITY — A man who says he is homeless has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Sandy, challenging an ordinance that he alleges infringes on panhandling.

Steve Evans is challenging the ordinance passed by the Sandy City Council last year that prohibits standing on an unpaved median or a median 36-inches or less in size. He has previously been cited by police for violating the ordinance while panhandling.

“Although framed as an effort to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of Sandy City, the ordinance prohibits significant amount of peaceful, non-threatening, and non-aggressive speech from taking place on long-used traditional public fora, and hence is overly broad,” the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, states.

Evans was among a group of people who previously sued Utah over anti-panhandling laws, which have been found to be unconstitutional. Courts have ruled that panhandling is constitutionally-protected free speech.

In the lawsuit, Evans had been cited even after the ruling striking down anti-panhandling laws. His attorney argued that even though it was crafted in the name of public safety, the ordinance specifically targeted panhandling.

“The brief references to safety as the purpose were overshadowed by references to feeling guilty when driving past panhandlers, moral indignation at panhandlers for making too much money, moral indignation panhandlers do not pay taxes on the money they make, moral indignation at panhandlers for using money for ‘lessor purposes,’ a ‘tainted’ desire to help panhandlers, moral indignation at panhandlers asking for money when they (allegedly) do not need it, and being scared when driving past panhandlers,” Angela Elmore of the Utah Legal Clinic wrote in the complaint.

A spokeswoman for Sandy City said they had not yet seen the lawsuit and did not immediately have a comment.

The Utah State Legislature passed a law this year that prohibited the exchange of money or property along heavily trafficked thoroughfares while in traffic. The law has so far not faced any legal challenges, because it affects motorists and pedestrians. Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said his bill allows people to give to panhandlers — they just have to pull over out of traffic.

Read the lawsuit here: