MEDIA CONTACT: Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH Legal Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 603-227-6678
CONCORD – The City of Manchester has paid $89,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the ACLU of New Hampshire (“ACLU-NH”) and New Hampshire Legal Assistance (“NHLA”) on behalf of Theresa Petrello challenging Manchester’s anti-panhandling practices. Ms. Petrello is an Army and Navy veteran who has panhandled to make ends meet. On June 3, 2015, the Manchester police department cited her for disorderly conduct after she, without stepping in a roadway, engaged in peaceful panhandling speech directed at motorists from a public place. On September 7, 2017 in a 65-page decision, the New Hampshire District Court struck down the City of Manchester’s anti-panhandling ordinance and police practices because they violated the First Amendment and Ms. Petrello’s civil rights.
“This settlement is a victory for free speech, as well as recognition that cities and towns need to stop criminalizing poverty in violation of the First Amendment,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the Legal Director for the ACLU-NH. “In Manchester, panhandlers were and are peacefully soliciting motorists from public places without stepping in the roadway. They were and are committing no crime. They were engaging in protected speech. Yet, as the Court explained in September, Manchester was unconstitutionally applying New Hampshire’s disorderly conduct statute and using an anti-panhandling ordinance to detain and prosecute these peaceful individuals.”
“Manchester’s policies were targeting panhandlers who were peaceful, not panhandlers who were alleged to have acted aggressively or to have stepped in the roadway,” said Elliott Berry of NHLA. “These individuals were seeking charity. Instead of charity, Manchester charged them and sent them to court. We are thankful that, earlier this year, Manchester voluntarily stopped these practices, and that, this September, the Court ordered the City to do so permanently.”
“I am thankful that this case is now over, and I am looking forward to moving on with my life,” said Theresa Petrello. “I feel that I was treated very unfairly by the Manchester police and its officials. I was treated like a criminal, but I am not. I feel like this targeting was done simply because my peaceful speech annoyed, angered, and made others feel uncomfortable. I hope this settlement, as well as the court decision, will cause local communities to rethink how they treat poor people.”
The settlement agreement can be found here and the district court's September 2017 decision can be found here. This decision is summarized here. The ACLU-NH's Motion for Summary Judgment, which discusses Theresa Petrello, can be found here. For more information on the case, please visit here.