Two police officers in Midland, Texas were reprimanded for a contest to see who could confiscate the most cardboard signs from homeless panhandlers, despite the fact that panhandling is not illegal in the city.
The officers, Derek Hester and Daniel Zoelzer, were suspended for three days without pay and, according to Police Chief Price Robinson, "reminded to respect individual rights and human dignity."
"We want to respect people, no matter who they are -- homeless, whatever," he continued. "That situation's been dealt with. Those officers understand."
An attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Cassandra Champion, said that "the fact that they are making sport out of collecting the personal property of homeless individuals could be seen as them targeting these individuals for discriminatory harassment. Simply holding a sign is absolutely a protected part of our free speech."
Moreover, there is no law against panhandling in Midland, Texas. Hester and Zoelzer told internal affairs investigators the signs were confiscated when the homeless people were issued criminal trespass warnings, but neither officer issued such a citation in 2013.
The department became aware of the contest when another officer complained that Hester and Zoelzer had failed to log into evidence a pair of brass knuckles they had obtained during a patrol stop. When officers searched the trunk of Hester's patrol vehicle, they not only found the knuckles, but also at least 10 signs.
The Associated Press obtained a text message sent by one of the officers, alerting the other that the contest had been discovered.
"My bad man when he first ask me about it he didn't seem mad or anything so I just told him me and u wereaking [sic] a game outta it when we'd trespass them and stuff," read the first.
The other officer replied, "Man this is some bs."
It is not known which of the officers sent which message.
["Poor Pauper Begging For Help" on Shutterstock]