Man claims panhandling is constitutional right, files suit against city

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — He spent more than 40 days in jail over the past couple years for panhandling. Now, a homeless man is suing the city of Albuquerque.

He believes he has every right to beg for money in public places. Plus, he says the city’s restrictions on panhandling are unconstitutional. He argues, if people are allowed to work the sidewalks and medians to advertise for car washes or collect signatures, he’s allowed to panhandle.

Jeffrey Seymour claims he has a right to panhandle. Seymour would not do an on-camera interview, but his lawsuit against the city, the Albuquerque Police Department and one of its officers, says a lot.

Read the lawsuit >>

The suit argues Seymour’s constitutional rights were violated when APD cited or charged him for panhandling. It happened 11 times last year and five times the year before that.

Seymour claims the city and APD “unlawfully arrested and imprisoned” him under the “Safety in Public Places Ordinance.” It bans panhandling in certain places and in the streets.

“It depends on how you handle yourself,” said one panhandler, who didn’t want to be named.

The woman said she sees both sides of the argument.

“We should be allowed to be out here holding our signs, as long as you’re not being aggressive,” she said.

According to his suit, Seymour fits the bill. It argues he “engages in ‘passive’ panhandling” — only approaching people when they show an interest in donating. Yet, this woman says, many panhandlers make their own rules.

“I’ve seen people yelling into other people’s windows, jumping out into traffic,” she said.

She says there’s a right place and a wrong place to panhandle, too.

Yet, Jeffrey Seymour’s lawsuit claims the city’s “Safety in Public Places Ordinance” on its face, violates his free speech rights. Now, he wants a ruling from a federal court saying exactly that.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the city on Thursday. City Attorney Jessica Hernandez sent us this statement:

The City has always strived to balance freedom of speech interests with the need to protect pedestrian and traffic safety.  The Safety in Public Places Ordinance has been in place since 2004 following close negotiations between the City and the ACLU on how to balance those interests in the ordinance.

Seymour spent 46 days total in jail for those 16 arrests and citations because he could never afford bond. He was found “not guilty” in two of those cases. The other 14 were dismissed.

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