ACLU Sues City of Miner on Behalf of Homeless Couple Forced Out of Town with Fake Laws

Brandy_Orchard_Edward_Gillespie.jpg
Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie | Courtesy ACLU

Early this fall, Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie were on the road again. The couple, who are homeless, make their way around the state by hitchhiking and found themselves at an intersection near the outskirts of the tiny town of Miner (population 979). There, they took out a simple sign.

"Traveling. Anything helps. God Bless."

While hitchhikers and panhandlers are not a uncommon sight in many cities, the Miner police department apparently took exception. What happened next lead to a lawsuit filed on the couple's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

See also: Court Rules Arnold's Red-Light Camera Ordinance Unconstitutional

According to the lawsuit, filed earlier this week, a Miner police officer approached the couple and told them they were breaking city law. When Orchard and Gillespie asked which law specifically, the officer left and came back with copies of three highlighted laws, saying "VAGRANCY," "BEGGING ETC." and "LOITERING" were all illegal in Miner. After a second officer joined the scene, the couple allege they were told they'd be arrested if they didn't leave town in five minutes. Orchard and Gillespie obliged.

Realizing something didn't feel right, the couple contacted the ACLU.

"Anybody can contact us," says Diane Balogh, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Missouri. "They're Missouri residents who felt their constitutional rights were violated."

Attorneys for the group contacted the city of Miner asking for copies of the ordinances that had been used to run the couple out of town. According to the suit, their request got a surprising response.

"On October 17, 2013, Danielle Patrick, in her capacity as City Clerk for City of
Miner, responded in writing: 'At this time the City of Miner does not have any
policies or ordinances relating to begging, loitering, or vagrancy,'" the filing states.

"There are two violations -- the most egregious is the police were trying to enforce laws that aren't on their books and then the other is a free speech right," says Balogh. "Just because they're homeless doesn't mean they lose their free speech right. All they were doing was holding up a sign."

The lawsuit is asking for an injunction preventing the Miner police from enforcing these (apparently nonexistent?) laws and asks for damages for the couple.

Daily RFT reached out to Miner city clerk Patrick for clarification on the existence of these laws, but she would not comment.

Read the full lawsuit below:

ACLU Miner Lawsuit Homeless Couple

Follow Jessica Lussenhop on Twitter at @Lussenpop. E-mail the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.


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7 comments
JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

Police routinely make up laws to avoid potential troubling situations. If the citizens decides to follow the advice and move along, the situation is averted. No harm, no foul.
 

The lawsuit should be tossed. The couple moved along. Their rights were not violated. They were not "forced" to stop. They were given a suggestion to stop. Had they been arrested, detained, or physically denied their right to pander in public, then a lawsuit comes into play. But two citizens following the advice of a police officer, even if the officer is wrong, well, this is not news or a cause for a lawsuit.

It is a cause for the city to educate their police force, but nothing more.

Joshua Rodgers
Joshua Rodgers

That headline is so wrong! what the hell kind of a publicist let you talk like that? f*** you and your thoughts Riverfront Times

Trista DiGiuseppi
Trista DiGiuseppi

Article typo: It's spelled "led" not "lead". The latter is a naturally occurring metal found in small amounts in the Earth's crust.

Liz Kaucher
Liz Kaucher

I bet I could solve all of your problems in 3 words too.

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