DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado announced that it will present evidence tomorrow, May 7 in Fort Collins Municipal Court in support of its motion to dismiss the prosecution of Adam Wiemold, a homeless man who is charged with illegal “camping” by Fort Collins police for sleeping in his vehicle at a designated rest area where truck drivers regularly rest in their vehicles with impunity.
“I was sleeping in my vehicle because, even with a full-time job, I just didn’t make enough money to pay my bills and pay rent,” Wiemold said. “It shouldn’t be a crime to be homeless or to simply sleep. But, in Fort Collins, it is.”
Fort Collins has been criticized for its vigorous enforcement of its citywide anti-camping ordinance, which forbids sleeping in public spaces, including inside a person’s own legally-parked vehicle. The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition has documented an almost 500% increase in citations under the ordinance, with 413 prosecutions initiated in 2017.
Critics of such camping ordinances scored a recent victory when a federal circuit court of appeals ruled in an Idaho case that it violates the Constitution to prosecute persons for sleeping outside when they have no other choice, such as when indoor shelters are full. The influential ruling has already prompted some cities to amend their anti-camping ordinances to make exceptions when shelters are full, but Fort Collins makes no exception. ACLU of Colorado attorneys will rely on that decision in Wiemold’s case — the first Colorado case to invoke that widely-watched court ruling.
“On the night Mr. Wiemold was charged with sleeping in his vehicle, the shelters were full,” said ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Our client had no choice but to sleep outside. He is not being prosecuted for a crime; he is being prosecuted for being poor. In Fort Collins, apparently, poor is a four-letter word.”
ACLU lawyers will also argue that the case against Mr. Wiemold must be thrown out on grounds of unconstitutional selective prosecution. Police communications and additional evidence will show that the police operation that snared Mr. Wiemold was deliberately targeted at homeless persons, while interstate truckers engaged in the same conduct at the same rest area were left undisturbed.
“Sleeping in one’s car is not a luxury,” said Adam Frank, who will argue for Mr. Wiemold as an ACLU cooperating attorney. “It’s a last resort. To selectively punish some people for simply trying to sleep and survive is the very definition of cruel and unusual.”
Attorneys for both sides will present evidence at the Municipal Court, Fort Collins, Colorado on May 7 at 1 p.m.