Judge rules Fort Collins violated man’s constitutional rights when it prosecuted him for sleeping in his car

ACLU of Colorado hopes ruling paves the way for more protections for unhoused people

The Larimer County Justice Center, with offices of Colorado's 8th Judicial District, is located at 201 Laporte Ave. in Fort Collins. (Google Maps)

A Colorado district judge ruled on Thursday that the city of Fort Collins violated the U.S. Constitution when it prosecuted a man for sleeping in his vehicle when he was not able to stay in a homeless shelter.

Adam Wiemold, a Fort Collins resident, was charged in September 2018 for violating the city’s “camping on public property” ordinance for sleeping in his vehicle overnight at a designated rest stop. 

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Larimer County District Court Judge Julie Kunce Field said in her ruling that the original decision to prosecute Wiemold was “erroneous” and that the court will reverse the decision of the Fort Collins Municipal Court and dismiss the charges.

Larimer County District Court Judge Julie Kunce Field. (coloradojudicialperformance.gov)

“It’s great to know that I won’t have to have this on my record based on what I was going through in my life at that time,” Wiemold said in a written statement. “I’m happy that this case could potentially help other people who are experiencing homelessness.”

Wiemold, who works full time as a supervisor of the Catholic Charities homeless shelter in Fort Collins, had been homeless for two years at the time of the incident while he was paying back his credit card debt. He was unable to stay at either of the city’s homeless shelters — he worked at one of them and it was against company policy, and the other had overlapping populations with the one he worked at, according to the court ruling. On the night he received his summons, both shelters were at capacity.

“What this important ruling means is that when shelters are full, cities cannot enforce their anti-camping ordinances,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, in a written statement. “In addition, even if shelters have space, these camping ordinances cannot be enforced against people to whom indoor shelter is unavailable because of personal circumstances.”

Wiemold was represented by attorney Adam Frank in cooperation with the ACLU of Colorado.

“Everyone has to sleep. If someone is going through homelessness and can’t access shelter, they have to sleep outside,” Frank said in a written statement. “I am grateful the court recognized that the Eighth Amendment requires cities in Colorado to respect this principle of our shared humanity.”

The ACLU of Colorado hopes that the ruling paves the way for more protections for unhoused people, regardless of whether shelter space is available.

“Couples may find that shelter rules forbid them from sheltering indoors together,” the ACLU wrote in a press release celebrating the ruling. “People with pets frequently cannot stay at a shelter, nor can people who have more property than the shelter allows. Additionally, some people with mental illness are unable to remain in confined and crowded spaces, and others coping with substance abuse may be banned from shelters altogether.” 

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