Judge Rules Indianapolis Police Violated Protesters' First Amendment Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
February 9, 2005 12:00 am

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INDIANAPOLIS — In a lawsuit filed by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, a federal district judge today ruled that the Indianapolis Police Department violated protesters’ First Amendment rights by keeping them off of city sidewalks during a demonstration in 2003.

“Activists across the country have had good reason to believe that their First Amendment right to peacefully protest is under assault,” said Ken Falk, Legal Director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and lead counsel in the case. “But this federal judge made it very clear that the Constitution will not allow law enforcement to muzzle free expression.”

Today’s ruling comes in a case stemming from a protest during the National Governors Association meeting in Indianapolis in August 2003. The court found that Lieutenant Michael O’Connor positioned police officers on bikes and in cars to illegally block a group of approximately 25 protesters from walking through Monument Circle, the symbolic center of Indianapolis. Saying that “peaceful marching on public sidewalks is a quintessential First Amendment activity,” the court rejected the argument that possible traffic delays were a valid reason for blocking the protesters, who were non-disruptive and obeyed all traffic signals.

“If a group of demonstrators as small, quiet and peaceful as Plaintiffs can be herded through the city on such shaky grounds as a twenty-five second traffic signal and a vague fear that someone, somewhere might cause a civil disturbance, then not only would Plaintiffs lose this case, but the Constitution’s promise would be as hollow as a snare drum,” wrote Judge John Daniel Tinder of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Judge Tinder granted the protesters’ request for judgment in their favor and denied O’Connor’s request that he be granted immunity from civil damages. A trial will now be set to determine the amount of damages owed to the protesters.

For a copy of the decision, go to: /node/37485

For more information on protest rights, go to: /FreeSpeech/FreeSpeechlist.cfm?c=86

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