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Panhandler who won free speech case arrested anyway, for panhandling

Brian D. Hawkins
Creative Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is urging local governments to review their laws regarding panhandling in light of a federal ruling handed down last week.

A federal judge ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places is unconstitutional.

But ACLU staff attorney Miriam Aukerman says one of her clients in that case, James Speet, was arrested for panhandling in Kentwood anyway.

“The law was struck down on Friday afternoon and Kentwood officers could not have known about it on Saturday morning when Mr. Speet was arrested. At the same time there’s no way that Mr. Speet could know, having found out of Friday that the law was struck down, that when he went out and exercised his rights that he would be arrested,” Aukerman said.

Kentwood Police confirmed Speets arrest for disorderly conduct/panhandling under a city ordinance. They declined an interview, citing the pending charges in the case.

“It’s really unfortunate the way things played out,” Aukerman said.

Aukerman says the ACLU is working with Kentwood Police to try to get the charges against Speet dismissed.

ACLU sued the City of Grand Rapids for enforcing the state ban on panhandling nearly 400 times between Jan. 1, 2008 and May 24, 2011.

Speet receives food stamps. He holds up signs seeking "work or help."

Sims receives food stamps and $260 per month. He pleaded guilty to panhandling after asking for spare change.

Grand Rapids could appeal the ruling.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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