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Panhandler takes Sandy City to court over ordinance

SALT LAKE CITY -- A panhandler took Sandy City to federal court over an ordinance he says infringes on his free speech rights and targets the homeless.

A federal judge has set arguments next month on a request for an injunction blocking Sandy from enforcing it. During a court appearance Tuesday, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Bruce Jenkins set an expedited schedule in Steve Evans' lawsuit against Sandy City.

Steve Evans, a panhandler who is suing Sandy City, leaves court with his attorney, Angela Elmore. (Image by Evan Huddle, FOX 13 News)

"The injunction tracks the case," he said, ordering a round of legal filings by the end of the month.

Evans, who is homeless, filed a lawsuit against the suburban community, arguing its ordinance infringes on his First Amendment right to free speech and cracks down on the homeless and panhandlers.

"It's my constitutional right," he told FOX 13 as he left the federal courthouse on Monday.

Sandy City spokeswoman Nicole Martin said they were confident the ordinance would withstand a legal challenge. She said it was crafted with the interests of public safety in mind and did not target anyone specifically.

It prohibits someone from standing in a median less than 36-inches wide. It also prohibits someone from standing in an unpaved median.

"Just because it may appear to be neutral doesn't mean that it's neutral or that it's been applied neutrally," said Evans' attorney, Angela Elmore.

Evans claims the ordinance targets panhandlers and the homeless. He has repeatedly been cited for violating it. In one videotaped encounter with police obtained by FOX 13 under a public records request, Evans is reminded about the ordinance.

Dash cam of an encounter Sandy police had with Steve Evans, who was cited for violating an anti-panhandling ordinance. FOX 13 obtained the video under a public records request.

"Do you have a problem moving? What's wrong with these other areas?" an officer asks Evans on the dash cam video.

"Well, these are different situations..." Evans responds.

"We're asking you to move to a different, safer area," the officer later says.

The courts have previously ruled that panhandling is constitutionally-protected free speech. Evans has filed other lawsuits against communities that have attempted to enforce ordinances that seemingly target panhandling.

Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature passed a law that prohibited people from giving or receiving money or goods in high-traffic areas. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, insisted it was content neutral and still allowed people to give, if they pulled over out of traffic.

Elmore said Evans has already been cited for violating the new law.