The City of Xenia, Ohio made headlines two years ago when they decided to prosecute a local journalist for protesting against the city’s unconstitutional anti-panhandling ordinance. In early 2015, journalist Virgil Vaduva asked the Xenia City Council to remove the anti-panhandling legislation from their code as it is unconstitutional and it violates the First Amendment rights of citizens, but after refusing to do so, he decided to protest the city’s panhandling ordinance by panhandling in front of the city hall and the police station in Xenia. He raised about $42 which was donated to a local charity.
He was subsequently ticketed and went all the way through a jury trial leading to his conviction, and a 30 day suspended jail sentence and community service.
By dictating the nature of speech in a public space, the City of Xenia has directly violated the first amendment of the United States Constitution. Of course, they deny this. They are now in full damage control mode. Less than twenty-four hours after I challenged their ordinance, they created a website where they are trying to address poverty in town by explaining why panhandling should be illegal. Their bureaucrats are desperately trying to control the narrative by saying that they only banned “aggressive panhandling” and not all panhandling. Of course they never explained why their police still ticketed me for very peaceful panhandling if the ordinance only bans aggressive action.
During the various hearings before the trial, one of the judges involved even stated, “there will be no mentioning of the Constitution here (in this court room).” The statement drew harsh response from citizens across the country, including Alex Jones’ InfoWars website which discussed some of the details of the case.
But despite the lengthy and expensive legal engagement, Vaduva however won the case after an appeals court ruled that his rights to a fair trial were violated and eventually all charges against him were dropped.
Now, two years after the ordeal took place, a $1.6 million federal lawsuit has been filed against the City of Xenia, its agents and the two police officers involved in enforcing what is clearly an unconstitutional law.
The federal suit, filed in the Southern District of Ohio, names the City of Xenia and several individuals, including all the city council members who conspired to violate constitutional rights and the police officers involved in enforcing the law. The suit demands relief for over $1.6 million under title 42 U.S. Code § 1983 for conspiring to use the color of law in order to deprive citizens of their civil rights.
Vaduva claims that he intends to see this lawsuit through to a jury trial, regardless of how much it will cost, all in order to prevent future constitutional violations in the City of Xenia. Furthermore, he claims that the neighboring cities of Beavercreek and Fairborn have identical anti-panhandling laws on the books, and they will be also targeted for constitutional violations in potential upcoming lawsuits. His hope is that his actions will motivate other activists and citizens in the area to engage in direct action to challenge constitutional violations and abuses of power by local politicians.