LAS VEGAS (CN) – An Elvis impersonator and his guitar-playing accompanist say impersonating “The King” is a constitutional right, and the ACLU agrees. They claim the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department harassed the performers on a slew of bogus charges to prevent them from exercising that right.
Guitarist Suzette Banasik and William Jablonski are regular faces on the Strip, where tourists have themselves photographed alongside the latter-day Elvis.
Banasik and Jablonski claim Vegas cops harass them by accusing them of operating without a license, storing materials on a public sidewalk, begging, obstructing the sidewalk, disorderly conduct, and being a public nuisance.
Banasik and Jablonski want those Clark County ordinances enjoined as unconstitutional.
Jablonski, who performed for a nationally televised Elvis tribute at the MGM Grand in 2006, says he stopped impersonating Elvis in public in Las Vegas after he was cited for obstructing the sidewalk in 2007.
A year later, however, he read about the ACLU’s victory in a similar case, ACLU et al. v City of Las Vegas. Emboldened by this, Jablonski says he returned to the velvet suit, and was being Elvis in front of the Paris Hotel & Casino on April 23 when a Las Vegas police officer told him he could not have his picture taken with tourists and accept tips.
Jablonski challenged that statement, and claims that the officer, who had threatened him with jail, decided not to issue him a citation.
It was a short-lived victory. Seven days, he says, the Paris casino’s security guards, accompanied by the same police officer, told him he was on the resort’s property and was not allowed to be there.
Undaunted, Jablonski whipped out a copy of ACLU of Nevada et al. v City of Las Vegas. After a brief discussion, the officers told Jablonski he could stay, but he had to stay 3 feet from the curb and could not accept tips.
After that, Jablonski says, he tried to get a license, but was told he was doing something illegal and could not get one.
A few weeks later, Jablonski says, he was approached by no fewer than five Metro officers, who said they saw him accept a dollar from a tourist and that he could not be there. Jablonski says a discussion ensued, in which two officers “voted” that he should not be issued a citation, but three voted in favor of it. But a sergeant said his higher rank gave his vote more weight, so Jablonski would not get the ticket.
Jablonski says that none of the officers in this legal conclave identified themselves.
Banasik was arrested on March 12 while performing on a walkway between Bally’s Hotel and Casino and Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. She says that for the third time in as many months Metro officers told her to leave the area because she was obstructing the sidewalk.
As she took pictures to show that she was not obstructing anything, Banasik says, she found herself in handcuffs. She was arrested for operating a business without a license and obstructing the sidewalk.
The buskers seek a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. They are represented by Judy Cox with the ACLU of Nevada.