Following several years of mounting successful challenges to facially unconstitutional anti-panhandling ordinances enacted by multiple political subdivisions,, we launched a letter-writing campaign in August 2018 advising the remaining Ohio entities with similar ordinances of their unconstitutionality. In response, more than a dozen of these entities repealed their unconstitutional laws. One of these was Summit County.
As a result, for several months in late 2018, panhandlers were able to seek donations in Summit County locations including the central shopping district of Bath Township. In Bath, panhandlers typically asked for help at stop signs near the exits to the shopping plaza, which are safe locations.
In response to this, in December 2018 Summit County passed a new, narrower anti-panhandling law prohibiting receiving and distributing money or other items between pedestrians and cars, as was occurring in the Bath shopping center.
Immediately after Summit County enacted the law, Bath Township began aggressively enforcing it, including deploying a police patrol car to sit at every entrance panhandlers were using in this shopping area.
Leon Wilson panhandles in the Bath shopping center for income to support himself, his children, and their mother. On December 19, while Mr. Wilson, was panhandling in Bath, a police officer told him that under the new ordinance, his speech was now illegal. The officer threatened to arrest him, used his police cruiser to physically block Mr. Wilson’s access to the motorists that he was soliciting, and told him to “leave and never return to Bath Township.” Since then, Mr. Wilson attempted to panhandle in Bath several more times, and faced similar police harassment. He is now afraid to go to Bath Township.
Summit County’s anti-panhandling ordinance violates the First Amendment freedom of speech, both facially and as applied to Mr. Wilson.
On January 22, 2019, Mr. Wilson filed a complaint pro se in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in the Eastern Division at Akron (No. 5:19-cv-156). At that time, Mr. Wilson sued the wrong Defendants—the City of Akron and its officials, rather than Summit County. We entered the case on Mr. Wilson’s behalf and filed a Second Amended Complaint on March 28. We dismissed Akron and its police chief and replaced them with defendants Summit County, Bath Township, and Bath Police Chief Vino Sinopoli.
The parties were able to reach a settlement and dismissed the case on December 12. The settlement included a repeal of the unconstitutional panhandling law and monetary compensation to our client.