[Hpn] Roanoke's new panhandling law brings first arrest;Roanoke, Virginia;11/27/01

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Tue, 27 Nov 2001 16:07:56 -0500


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Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Roanoke Times <http://www.roanoke.com/roatimes/index.html>
[Roanoke <http://www.ci.roanoke.va.us>, Virginia]
Local News section
Roanoke's new panhandling law brings first arrest
<http://www.roanoke.com/roatimes/news/story121971.html>

The maximum penalty used to be a $500 fine, now it's 6 months in jail
Roanoke's new panhandling law brings first arrest

Roanoke's new panhandling law brings first arrest

The man was in a public right of way, not far from where firefighters stood 
when they raised money for Sept. 11 relief efforts by holding their boots 
out to passing motorists.

By KIMBERLY O'BRIEN <kimo@roanoke.com>
THE ROANOKE TIMES


Roanoke police have charged a 56-year-old homeless man under the city's 
revised panhandling law.

The arrest is the first since City Council amended a solicitation ordinance 
that allows for convicted panhandlers to get up to six months in jail, 
police said Monday. Previously, the maximum penalty was a $500 fine.

The ordinance was changed in an attempt by the city to stymie vagrancy in 
the City Market area downtown, but the arrest Saturday of Robert James 
Richards was in the median of the off-ramp from U.S. 220 to Franklin Road, 
police said.

Richards was holding a sign reading, "Need work, homeless, God bless," when 
he was spotted by Officer Gary Maffucci, according to police spokeswoman 
Shelly Alley. Maffucci had warned Richards "many" times before about 
standing in the median and had charged him five days earlier - Nov. 19 - 
with panhandling under the old ordinance, Alley said.

Richards, who gave police his address as the Rescue Mission on Fourth Street 
Southeast, was taken to the Roanoke City Jail, charged with solicitation and 
held on $350 bail. He was no longer in custody Monday.

Council approved the ordinance change unanimously Nov. 5 after some debate. 
Several council members said the city needs more programs to help homeless 
people, who often suffer from mental illnesses, or drug or alcohol 
addictions.

Council also discussed a possible double standard with its law. City code 
has long made it illegal for people to ask for money in a public right of 
way, although the city attorney said the law is rarely enforced.

Saturday, Richards was in a public right of way, not far from where Roanoke 
Valley firefighters stood when they raised money for Sept. 11 relief efforts 
by holding their boots out to passing motorists.

Joy Sylvester-Johnson, executive director of the Rescue Mission, has said 
she supports the new panhandling ordinance as long as it applies only to 
those who commit crimes or infringe upon the rights of others.

Someone standing in the median asking for work is a traffic hazard, she said 
Monday, and there are other, legitimate ways to get work - as well as other 
ways to help people in crisis besides handing them a few bucks through a car 
window.

"I trust our police officers to follow the law," she said.

The recent charges against Richards aren't the only ones.

Richards has at least four convictions going back to 1997 that relate to 
panhandling, according to Roanoke General District Court records. In all 
four, he received fines or was ordered to pay court costs, but he was never 
given jail time. The largest fine, of $100, was based on an August charge of 
begging on a city highway.

Hearings on the latest two charges are scheduled for next month.

Staff writer TAD DICKENS <tadd@roanoke.com> contributed to this report.

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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA



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