On March 4, 2015, the City of Nashua formally agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a civil claim made by a poor and homeless ACLU client. In this case, our client spent 33 days in jail simply for walking in a park. Yes, you heard that right.
In May 2014, our client was hauled off to jail for walking along a public foot path in the park adjacent to the Nashua public library. It was a Sunday evening over Memorial Day weekend, and the library was closed. He was arrested for criminal trespass in violation of a verbal “no trespass” order he received a month earlier. This order banned him from the library and the adjacent park, including its walkways, green space, and benches. His bail was $100 but he did not have the money so he had to spend the next 33 days in jail. After his release, the ACLU-NH secured the dismissal of the criminal charge.
Unfortunately, this practice was not limited to our client. Between July 28, 2012 and July 28, 2014, the Nashua Police Department issued at least 30 such verbal no-trespass orders governing both the library and the adjacent library park space. Multiple people were arrested and jailed as a result of this practice.
Parks are protected places under the First Amendment. They are places for the public—the poor and affluent alike—to congregate and enjoy. Our client had every right to be in the walkway in that park. Moreover, the verbal “no trespass” order violated his due process rights because it denied him the opportunity to challenge the order.
Using law enforcement to target the poor dehumanizes these members of our community and ostracizes them from the services they need most to get out of poverty. New Hampshire can’t shut its eyes to poverty or sweep it out of sight. The ACLU-NH will continue to fight for the constitutional rights of the poor and homeless.