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Homeless food case costs Albuquerque $120,000

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Three arrested as they helped needy

The city has shelled out more than $120,000 as part of a civil settlement to men arrested in 2010 for feeding homeless people Downtown.

Alfonso Hernandez and two others were feeding homeless people on the Fourth Street Mall in September 2010 when officers approached them demanding to see a permit.

When they refused, they were arrested and booked on counts including inciting a riot, refusing to obey an officer, resisting arrest and failure to have a required permit.

After a year of legal battles, the charges were dismissed, but not before each of the men filed civil rights lawsuits. Hernandez’s lawsuit claims First and Fourth Amendment violations

Hernandez received a $45,000 settlement from the suit, which was settled last week, and his two partners each received $40,000. Hernandez says the city got off easy.

Nonetheless, he said the settlement should let others know that they should not worry about feeding the needy.

“This should send a message out that they can exercise their faith freely,” Hernandez said Saturday. “They don’t have to worry about the city hassling them.”

In a statement from Mayor Richard Berry’s office, a spokeswoman said he appreciates Hernandez and other faith-based groups’ compulsion to help the homeless. However, the spokeswoman said, the city also has a responsibility to look out for small businesses who might feel gathered homeless people hurt their business.

“There are small business owners who have concerns that the feeding activities by local groups disrupt their ability run their businesses,” spokeswoman Dayna Gardner said in the statement. “The Mayor will continue working to strike a balance between the needs of those who serve the homeless and the small business community.”

Hernandez pointed out that his group handed out food on Sundays when no Fourth Street Mall businesses are open.

The group will continue feeding homeless people on Sundays, he said.

Hernandez said he’ll use the money as a tithe to his church, for gifts and for taxes, and he’ll distribute the rest “as widely as possible.”

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