On March 4, 2015, the Town of Hudson formally agreed to pay $37,500, be subject to a permanent consent order, and conduct further police training on the terms of the permanent consent order to settle a lawsuit filed by Jeff Pendleton, a poor and homeless ACLU client. In the lawsuit, the ACLU presented evidence that the Town of Hudson was engaging in an unconstitutional practice of detaining, harassing, threatening, dispersing, and citing peaceful panhandlers in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
As explained in the lawsuit, from March 2011 to March 2014, at least 12 Hudson police officers in at least 18 separate incidents instructed panhandlers that panhandling was illegal or that a permit was required to panhandle. These panhandlers were then told to be “on their way,” and at least two panhandlers – including Mr. Pendleton – were cited and directed to go to court. However, there is no state or town law that makes panhandling in public places illegal or requires a permit for this form of peaceful expressive activity. And if there was, it would violate the First Amendment.
As alleged in the lawsuit, Hudson’s practices were also targeted at the poor and homeless, like Mr. Pendleton. For example, while the Hudson police department cited Mr. Pendleton for engaging in peaceful solicitation, the police department decided to allow the Hudson fire department to engage in the same form of solicitation for charity in public places without any repercussions.
“This case is a successful example of our battle to enforce citizens’ First Amendment rights,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director for the ACLU of New Hampshire. “This includes the right of all citizens, whether it be a poor person panhandling or a firefighter soliciting for charity, to peacefully engage their fellow citizens in public places. It is important that police remember that they cannot prosecute citizens for simply holding a sign in a public place or peacefully asking one’s fellow man for a donation. While some dislike peaceful panhandling speech, how we value the First Amendment is put to the real test when the speaker is someone we dislike or disagree with.”
“This is a fair agreement for all sides involved.” Bissonnette continued. “Mr. Pendleton is compensated for his damages, a permanent consent order will be issued, and the Hudson police department will undertake further training.” The Town denies wrongdoing in the settlement agreement.