CLEVELAND – Cleveland police and a persistent panhandler have been engaged in a war of wills for years at a homely west side intersection, a conflict that appears to subside only when the man is in jail.
Records reviewed by The Associated Press show 60-year-old David Spaulding has been cited more than 250 times for panhandling since 2013, with nearly all the citations written by police at an intersection in a neighborhood best known for where Ariel Castro once held three young women captive for years.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued the city in federal court this week on behalf of a homeless man, John Mancini, and an advocacy group that claims the city's panhandling laws are unconstitutional because they make pleas of poverty a crime. Cleveland police issued more than 5,800 panhandling citations between 2007 and August of 2015, according to the lawsuit.
An examination of more than 100 court cases for Spaulding show that since January 2015, he's been cited twice on 10 different days and four times on Oct. 3, 2016, at the intersection. About 2 miles from downtown Cleveland, the spot is flanked by an off-brand gas station and appears to be prime real estate for cadging money from motorists stopped at a busy traffic light.
Spaulding couldn't be reached for comment. He's been in Cuyahoga County Jail after his arrest for drug possession — and panhandling — at the intersection Jan. 16. A police report said Spaulding was holding a sign asking for money and had a pipe with crack cocaine in his pocket when he was arrested.
His public defender declined to comment Friday. A city of Cleveland spokesman and police officials also declined to comment.
An ACLU attorney hopes Cleveland will to follow the example of Akron, which repealed its panhandling laws last year a week after the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit.
"I think these laws are, in addition to being unconstitutional, are ineffective," Joe Mead said. "They don't solve the root issue, which is poverty."
Panhandling is as much a part of cityscapes as tall buildings and hot dog carts. Business leaders and police brass spoke approvingly of Cleveland's proposed ordinance outlawing "aggressive panhandling" before the City Council approved it in 2005. Panhandling itself isn't prohibited in Cleveland, but the laws restrict where people can ask for money. Panhandling, for example, is prohibited 10 feet from building entrances and parking lots and 20 feet from outdoor restaurants and bus stops.
Ted Farkas, 47, was panhandling this week in downtown Cleveland. He said he's been homeless and living beneath a bridge in Cleveland the last five months and that police have been more aggressive at ticketing panhandlers lately.
"The police are strict. They're all over the place now," Farkas said. "We sometimes have someone act as a lookout while the other guy begs."
Most of Spaulding's citations have been for an ordinance approved in 2002 that prohibits people from standing on the streets or highways and soliciting donations. Along with those tickets, Spaulding also has been cited for littering, having an open alcohol containers and disorderly conduct at West 25th and Wade. Court records indicate Spaulding has spent more than 60 days in jail during the last two years.
The review of court records also has shown that judges always have waived any fines or court costs for Spaulding normally imposed for such violations, which over the years would have totaled tens of thousands of dollars.
"It's a huge waste of police and court resources," Mead said.