Law officials comment on panhandling rules in Summit County |

Law officials comment on panhandling rules in Summit County

In recent weeks, community members have noticed a small gathering of people trying to raise money near busy roads in Silverthorne, Dillon

Antonio Prda holds a sign for Ecobici Robert Mihai in Silverthorne July 30, 2022.
Eiliana Wright/Summit Daily News

Residents have raised questions and concerns about panhandlers on medians near the Interstate 70 exits in Silverthorne and the Dillon Dam Road in Dillon. Local law enforcement has heard the questions but have said there’s little to be done and encouraged residents to be skeptical to whom they give money.

“Panhandling in our state is now a little more complex of an issue than most people think,” Silverthorne Police Department Chief John Minor said. His department has received questions and complaints about recent panhandlers in medians, he said.

Silverthorne has an ordinance preventing most panhandling, but enforcing it is tricky, Minor said, as numerous lawsuits in other cities, including Grand Junction and Greeley, have determined some ordinances too strict. Grand Junction’s ban on panhandling was struck down in 2015 in federal court because the terms were too broad. Greeley’s ordinance prevented pedestrians from standing on medians for longer than necessary to cross the street and was struck down on First Amendment grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union argued it violated the free speech rights of people who want to stand on medians to engage in expressive conduct, including solicitation of charity.

For those reasons, Minor said Silverthorne has never enforced the ordinance since his tenure began. In addition, he said Silverthorne’s ordinance needs updating.

Silverthorne Ordinance 2-7-12 makes it unlawful for any person to solicit employment, business, contributions or sales of any kind, or collect monies for the same, from the occupant of any vehicle traveling upon any street or highway. The ordinance also prohibits the solicitor from entering the median, entering the traveled portion of a road and blocking a parking space.

Minor pointed out there are other ways to raise money if someone has a legitimate need along with organizations that help an individual in need. As a general rule, Minor said if it looks suspicious, don’t give your hard-earned cash to a stranger.

As a statutory county, Summit County has no ordinances regulating panhandling in unincorporated areas. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said there are no locations in unincorporated Summit County with panhandling.

The topic of panhandling came up at the Dillon Town Council meeting on Aug. 16 and town attorney Nick Cotton said, “The town is very limited in what it can do to regulate panhandling,” Cotton said. It needs to prove there’s a public safety risk, such as a truck’s side view mirror striking someone positioned on a median, he said.

A couple weeks ago, a reporter with Summit Daily News attempted to interview people asking for money near the intersection of Blue River Parkway and Rainbow Drive in Silverthorne. The reporter spoke with Antonio Prda. Prda did not speak English as a first language, and Summit Daily News did not have an interpreter on the scene.

Prda claimed he and others were collecting money for a Romanian church and another church — the latter he was unfamiliar with — on the Front Range that were raising money for children’s surgeries. The sign he held was for someone named Ecobici Roberts Mihai who suffered from neuroblastoma. A Romanian funding page included the same photo, name and same cancer.  

Language barriers prevented Summit Daily News from speaking to others present.

An update posted after Aug. 8 titled “We finish the campaign for Robert,” reads in Romanian: “Given that Robert is in Italy, the treatment is free and Robert’s parents will need funds to cover accommodation and food for his mother who will be with him permanently. In this way, we thank all the donors who have been involved for it up to this moment! Part of the money raised was paid to the Hospital in Turkey where Robert was treated and the rest of the money will be sent month by month to cover the costs of Robert’s hospitalization.”

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