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YOUNGSTOWN Loiter law faces test



Published: Fri, November 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge on this case caused the city's loud music ordinance to be fine tuned.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Diane M. Fisher left her South Side apartment early one morning to buy a pack of cigarettes and ended up with a charge of loitering for prostitution.

That's her version of what happened.

Patrolman Dan Mikus' version, based on the city's loitering ordinance, will be put to the test Dec. 12 in municipal court.

Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly has scheduled a hearing that day to hear oral arguments. Fisher's lawyer, James J. Connelly of Northeast Ohio Legal Services, contends the ordinance is constitutionally vague and overbroad and implicates a person's status or otherwise innocent behavior.

Wording in question: The ordinance prohibits loitering in a public place for the purpose of engaging in sex for hire and allows police to consider if the person is a known prostitute or panderer. Last month, Lt. Rod Foley told city council's safety committee that he'd like to see the phrase prostitute or panderer removed from the ordinance and replaced with being in a public place with a reputation for prostitution.

Mikus, who arrested Fisher on Aug. 26, referred to her as a "known hooker" in his report. City records show that the 35-year-old West Chalmers Avenue woman has been arrested by Mikus before and has three prior loitering for prostitution convictions but none for soliciting or prostitution.

Connelly said the ordinance's potential application reaches a significant amount of protected activity and prohibits conduct that may be innocent -- such as walking down the street to buy cigarettes and speaking with passers-by.

Ben Joltin, an assistant city prosecutor, will argue the city's position.

It's not the first time Judge Kobly has been asked to decide if an ordinance infringes on constitutional rights.

In January, Judge Kobly found the city's loud-music ordinance vague, unconstitutional and unenforceable. City council revamped the law in February, adding the provision that police must be able to hear the amplified sound from at least 50 feet away from the vehicle.

Officer's report: Mikus, meanwhile, said in his report that Fisher offered no legitimate reason to be loitering near Oakhill and Cleveland avenues the day he arrested her. He and Patrolman Rick Baldwin had been sent to the South Side neighborhood when officials at St. Patrick Church complained about two women soliciting on the corner.

Mikus, using binoculars, had observed Fisher and Eartha Sanders for a while before approaching them. He saw the women take steps toward the street each time a car approached and try to flag it down, something women who work the streets call "waving."

Fisher, according to the officer, said she had gone to the store but bought nothing because it was closed. He said the store was open and she had no money on her to buy anything.

Sanders, 42, of Mahoning Avenue, was convicted last month of disorderly conduct, amended from possession of drug paraphernalia (crack pipe). A charge of loitering for prostitution was dismissed.

Judge Kobly placed Sanders on probation for one year and ordered drug counseling.

Sanders had given Mikus the same I-just-went-to-the-store story and said she bought cigarettes. Sanders, though, had only a crumpled pack on her with two cigarettes inside it, according to the officer's report.

meade@vindy.com




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