The ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri intervened on behalf of a man who was charged with violating the city's trespassing ordinance in May. The ACLU asked that the case against Nicholas "Wick" Thomas be thrown out because he was using a sidewalk in Westport at the time of his arrest. On July 18, the city prosecutor dismissed the charge.
The case highlights the occasional ambiguity between what is private and what is public space in Westport. Thomas is not the first individual to complain that the line gets a little fuzzy in the shopping and entertainment district.
A feature story in The Pitch last year described how individuals who misbehave in Westport are sometimes told that they are "banned" by the private security force employed by a Westport merchants' association. Technically, the ban applies to businesses and other private property that make up the Westport community-improvement district, an area that stretches approximately from Broadway to Waddell and from 40th to 43rd streets.
Jon Engelman, the executive director of the Westport Regional Business League, explained to the The Pitch that the ban was "basic Private Property Rights 101." Charles Renner, the Westport community-improvement district's attorney, said the security force respects the difference between public and private space. "I don't believe that you have instances of people being detained for trespass from being on public property," Renner said.
So why then was Thomas charged with trespassing for using a sidewalk outside the Jerusalem Cafe? In a statement about the dismissal of the charge, ACLU legal director Doug Bonney says Thomas' case shows that Renner's statement is "incorrect."
The ACLU says it is interested in hearing from other individuals who have been prosecuted for trespassing on public streets and sidewalks in Westport.