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Las Vegas marshals ticket 7, arrest 3 amid homeless protests

KEN RITTER / AP | Aug 1 2006

City marshals blocked a radio personality from feeding homeless people at a City Hall park Monday, and issued summonses to a television news crew covering a publicity protest against a ban on "mobile soup kitchens."

Three people were arrested and seven were issued summonses at two parks, city officials said, including a reporter and a cameraman ticketed for trespassing while covering the protest for KLAS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas.

Beth Monk, a KKLZ-FM radio morning show personality, became the first person to receive a summons under a new city law that makes feeding the homeless a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

"The idea was to go out there and show the mayor this ordinance makes no sense whatsoever," said Monk, 24, a traffic reporter and radio comedy team sidekick who has engaged in publicity stunts including mud wrestling on the job.

Monk said city marshals confiscated food and water she set on a cement wall at Frank Wright Park - a patch of green wedged between a downtown bus terminal, a historic post office building and Las Vegas City Hall. She was threatened with arrest if she did not leave.

"I think right now everyone's realizing how outrageous this is," Monk said in a telephone interview.

Two people also were arrested Monday for trespassing before 7 a.m. at Huntridge Circle Park, city spokesman Jace Radke said. Huntridge is an urban park several blocks east of downtown where city officials first acted against so-called soup kitchen meals for homeless people.

"The ordinance makes it illegal to run mobile soup kitchens or feed the homeless in city parks," Radke said. "Marshals are going to enforce the law."

Bob Stoldal, vice president of news for KLAS, said he had not decided whether to fight trespassing summonses issued to reporter Kyla Grogan and photojournalist Jorge Montez.

"We're going to continue to cover the story very aggressively at all public parks," Stoldal said.

The staged protest came less than two weeks after the Las Vegas City Council passed a law criminalizing charity in parks, and a month after the city began rounding up homeless people for 72-hour mental health evaluations.

Officials, led by Mayor Oscar Goodman, say they want a long-term solution to homelessness rather than stopgap measures in a city with limited resources for those living on the streets.

"Rather than giving someone a sandwich once a day, the city supports efforts to end the cycle of homelessness and address the issues that keep these individuals on the streets," the mayor's office said in a statement Monday. It calls for the homeless to seek aid at social service agencies.

Activists and civil libertarians called the crackdown unfair and unconstitutional.

"They are treating people in public spaces in a way that is inconsistent with the First Amendment and our nation's history," said Lee Rowland, American Civil Liberties of Nevada public advocate in Las Vegas. She promised a lawsuit challenging the city law.

Linda Lera-Randel El, longtime executive director of Straight from the Streets, a Las Vegas area homeless advocacy group, said she distributed water, sandwiches and bus tokens at the City Hall park Monday, but was not issued a summons.

"I'm not saying feeding people in the park is the answer," she said. "But I don't think people in power can just pass an ordinance every time they don't like something or they're frustrated by the inability to fix it."

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