Man contests San Francisco ticket for eating pizza -- and wins

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- A man who was issued a citation for eating pizza at a San Francisco bus stop two months ago fought the case in court on Tuesday and won.

The case sparked outrage among homeless advocates who argued that Daniel McHugh, 64, was targeted solely because he was homeless.

Carrying signs and holding slices of pizza, supporters of McHugh gathered Tuesday on the front steps of the San Francisco Hall of Justice before he faced a judge. The officer who issued the ticket didn't appear in court so McHugh's ticket was dismissed.

In April, McHugh received a $234 ticket for eating a slice of pineapple-pepperoni-sausage pizza while he was at a bus stop at Seventh and Market streets.

"It was very embarrassing and very humiliating," McHugh said.

San Francisco police are known for forcing homeless people who frequently gather at the intersection of Seventh and Market out of the area. Police say the transients who loiter there don't plan to catch a bus.

People who gathered at the bus stop on Tuesday criticized police for issuing the citation.

"It's like why don't you go catch the child molesters, drug dealers, murderers, rapists (and) real criminals?" said Joel Vincent Delia, who was eating a burrito at the bus shelter.

Wanda Edwards, who is homeless, said some scofflaws are able to avoid tickets for far worse things than eating pizza.

People are "shooting up heroin, smoking crack, selling dope, whatever you want to do and it's legal," Edwards said. "But if you do something that is legal it's illegal."

There are no visible signs that prohibit people from eating at bus shelters but under San Francisco city ordinances, eating anywhere in the public transit system is illegal and the bus stop is part of that system.

Police and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) say ticketing is left to the discretion of the officer. And protesters say the pizza wielding man was cited under a law that is not evenly enforced.

"I think it speaks to a wider trend of criminalization of poverty and homelessness and the solutions that the city has chosen to address those problems," said Kamala Buchanan, a law clerk with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

McHugh said he did not hold a grudge against the officer for issuing the ticket.

"I respect the San Francisco Police Department and the officer, too yet the way he did it though maybe he was having a bad day or something," McHugh said.

McHugh is no longer homeless.

He now lives in an apartment that was obtained through the city's supportive housing program. He can now eat as much pizza as he would like in the privacy of his own home.

"I have a real nice place to live with my own bathroom, kitchen and shower," he said. "It gives me a sense of dignity."

By KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty.

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