August 17, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS -- Today the ACLU of Indiana a filed class action lawsuit against the City of Indianapolis for unconstitutionally prohibiting homeless individuals from standing and gathering on certain public sidewalks downtown, while exempting those who are not homeless. The ACLU argues that the city's policy and actions, by selectively targeting homeless people, violate their clients' constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
On August 4, 2017 the city posted notice that homeless people remove themselves and their things from downtown underpasses within four days. Since that time, homeless persons have been prohibited even from standing or sitting, while the City allows people who are not homeless to remain without interference. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Maurice Young, a homeless man and advocate in Indianapolis, and other homeless individuals who have been banned from standing or sitting on public sidewalks by the city's selectively-enforced declaration of emergency.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly invalidated attempts to prohibit persons from gathering for innocent purposes," said Ken Falk, Legal Director of the ACLU of Indiana. "The right to do so does not depend on a person's housing status. The Constitution guarantees everyone equal protection under the law."
Mr. Young, who works with the homeless and often meets with them in these areas, sat down on one of the wide sidewalks under a downtown overpass and was told to leave by an officer with the IMPD, who said that homeless individuals could not sit or stand under an overpass. The ACLU of Indiana's suit argues that the policy and actions of the City of Indianapolis violate the Constitution.
"Homeless people such as Mr. Young deserve respect for their humanity and the full protection of the Constitution," said Jane Henegar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Indiana. "The City of Indianapolis is trying to make an end-run around the Constitution with a permanent state of emergency, but the rule of law still applies."
The lawsuit alleges that the city's definition of "emergency" is unconstitutionally vague, as is the city's prohibition on standing, sitting, or otherwise congregating on the sidewalks that are under the railroad bridges immediately north of South Street on Pennsylvania Street, Meridian Street, Illinois Street, and Capitol Avenue. The lawsuit further alleges that the city's selective enforcement only to homeless persons violates equal protection. The ACLU of Indiana is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.
"All homeless people have rights and those rights must be protected," said Maurice Young, plaintiff and a longtime homeless advocate in Indianapolis.
The case, Maurice Young v. City of Indianapolis, Case No. 1:17-cv-02818-TWP-MJD, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, on August 17, 2017.