A driver who stopped to give a couple of bucks to a panhandler in a wheelchair at a busy freeway interchange was handed a $344 littering ticket by a Cleveland police officer after the cash fell to the ground.
The driver, who's now fighting the ticket, said he can't believe that his attempt to help someone in need might cost him a lot more.
"It's turned into a big hassle," John Davis, of Elyria, told WJW-TV after he pleaded not guilty to the minor misdemeanor Tuesday in court. He is due back in court Thursday, when he hopes the ticket will be thrown out.
The panhandler was at a busy intersection during rush hour on May 17, and it's illegal to solicit or give money at the side of a roadway, Cleveland police said.
"It's a huge safety issue," said police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia. "The main issue was where it occurred."
Davis could have been ticketed for donating to a panhandler, which carries a smaller fine of about $160, but instead was cited for littering from a vehicle.
Ciaccia said she could not talk about why the officer handed out the littering ticket now that the issue is in court.
The man in the wheelchair was not cited for panhandling, but he has been many times in the past at the same spot and along other roadways, Ciaccia said.
Davis could not be reached for comment Wednesday. There was no current home telephone listing and court records did not list whether he has an attorney.
The city's code on littering says occupants of motor vehicles can't throw, drop, discard or deposit litter onto any street, road or highway, regardless of the intent. Among the items considered litter, according to the city code, are garbage, trash, waste, rubbish, ashes, bottles, paper and anything of an unsightly or unsanitary nature. Money is not listed, according to the section on littering from a motor vehicle.
Cleveland police said they've received a lot of questions about the issue.
"Although we certainly understand the confusion regarding this situation, it is important to understand that the media and social media discussions primarily represent only the statement of the individual who received the citation," a statement said. "He will have an opportunity to contest the citation in court and the officer will be required to justify the citation."