Pombo v. City of Providence (2015)
Category: Free Speech
This lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorneys Shannah Kurland and John W. Dineen, is on behalf of Manuel Pombo, a 62-year-old local street musician (or “busker”) who has been arrested once, and threatened with arrest on numerous other occasions, for playing his saxophone on sidewalks and street corners in Providence. The license not only prohibits him from soliciting donations for his performances, it allows him to perform solely at the unbridled discretion of police officers. This is the third time in five years the ACLU of Rhode Island has sued the City of Providence for interfering with the exercise of free speech rights on the City’s streets and sidewalks. When the suit was filed Mr. Pombo said: "I love to play the saxophone and I know that it has brought joy to many people. But I now live in constant fear of being arrested for playing my music, and it takes a physical toll on me. This is not the way a city that claims to be arts-friendly should treat anybody.”
In January 2016, a settlement was reached. As a result of the settlement, the City of Providence can no longer order Pombo to stop performing on public property or require him to obtain a permit to perform on public property absent violation of any other valid ordinances. The settlement agreement further stipulates that “because soliciting donations is protected speech under the First Amendment,” the City cannot stop Pombo from soliciting or accepting donations for his performances. The City also agreed to pay compensatory damages.