INDIANAPOLIS -- Two Indianapolis-area panhandlers have joined a third man in suing an Indiana State Police trooper, claiming he is falsely arresting them merely because they're homeless.
The men have all panhandled for money by holding up signs at intersections in Marion County.
The recent lawsuits, claiming violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights, were filed by Rodney McKinsey and James Henley against Trooper Troy Sunier, who patrols the Marion County area.
McKinsey's complaint also alleges that during one of the arrests, Sunier tried to force alcohol abstention on McKinsey.
"Plaintiff does sometimes drink alcohol in the evening ... but in a responsible amount," the complaint reads. "Defendant has given Plaintiff a portable breathalyzer test on at least four separate occasions, and on each occasion the results of the test have been zero.
"Despite the fact that the use of alcohol is Constitutionally protected, Defendant has attempted to use his arrest powers to paternalistically coerce Plaintiff into alcohol abstinence."
The two men's federal lawsuits are in addition to one filed in April by Benjamin Gorton against Sunier.
Charges against the men included panhandling and refusal to aid an officer.
In Sunier's response to Gorton's complaint, he acknowledges that on Nov. 16, 2016, he saw Gorton at Keystone and 86th Street and told Gorton that he would arrest him if he saw him there again.
Under Indiana code, panhandling does not include an act of passively standing and singing while displaying a sign indicating a donation is sought, according to court filings.
"Therefore, an Indiana State Trooper who sees a homeless person holding a sign that requests money has no legal recourse against the homeless individual," the suit alleges.
McKinsey claims he's had encounters with Sunier eight times beginning in 2012.
On Feb. 6, 2017, McKinsey was standing near I-465 and Keystone Avenue and holding a sign that read: "Disabled veteran please help."
He was arrested for refusal to aid an officer and held in the Marion County Jail for two days. The case is still pending.
In previous probably cause affidavits, Sunier wrote that he had asked McKinsey to assist in keeping an intersection "safe and free from distractions and hazards."