The City of Reno, after three hours in Reno Municipal Court waiting for trial, decided at the last minute to drop its charges against five homeless advocates. The group pleaded not guilty and today were expected to present their defense against the city and Reno Police Department (RPD).
The mayor, city manager and police chief were subpoenaed and were going to be called as witnesses.
The advocates said that while they were grateful for the outcome, the ordeal was a waste of time and resources.
“The voice of the people won today against the chilling of our First Amendment rights,” said one of the defendants, Lily Baran, who now works with ACLU.
Another defendant, Mary Gilbert, said the problems with the region’s unsheltered people remain.
“Understand that it is a win for us as individuals and for free speech, but the reality is everything is still happening. People are still getting swept,” she said. “It feels so discouraging.”
The cases were dismissed without prejudice. The group agreed not to pursue additional civil litigation.
The defendants’ attorney, Ken Stover, said the group spent a good deal of time helping the homeless. He said it wasn’t until after days of camping at City Plaza, in protest of the city’s homeless sweeps, and the subsequent citations, were they able to get a meeting with city officials.
“After they were cited, they got that audience,” he told Judge Christopher Hazlett-Stevens. “Sadly, there’s still many things that didn’t get done by that meeting … because the city passed that [responsibility] to the county.
“The Cares Campus is full. I’m proud to stand by these individuals. These individuals did nothing criminal. The citation issued is not worthy of litigation,” Stover added.
The advocates said they would continue to protest any sweep activity, especially if the Nevada Cares Campus is full.
The ACLU backed the advocates in their defense, citing what it said was discriminatory treatment by RPD.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.