On August 20, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) filed a lawsuit in federal court in Concord against the Town of Hudson on behalf of Jeffery Pendleton, a homeless man who resides in the Nashua/Hudson area. The lawsuit seeks to end Hudson’s unconstitutional practice of detaining, harassing, threatening, dispersing, and citing panhandlers in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Mr. Pendleton and other panhandlers have a constitutional right to peacefully panhandle in public places without fear of arrest, prosecution, retaliation, and interference by the police.
This lawsuit follows the receipt of documents from the Town of Hudson pursuant to ACLU-NH Right-to-Know records requests. What these documents uncovered was disturbing. From March 2011 to March 2014, at least 12 Hudson police officers in at least 18 separate incidents (13 of which took place from September 2013 onward) 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 expressive activity. Hudson’s practices are also targeted at the poor and homeless, like Mr. Pendleton. For example, while the Hudson police department has cited Mr. Pendleton for engaging in peaceful solicitation, the police department has decided to allow the Hudson fire department to engage in the same form of solicitation for charity in public places without any repercussions.
On August 27, 2014, the Court issued an agreed-upon injunction banning Hudson’s anti-panhandling practices while the case is being litigated. 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 the lawsuit.