Posts Tagged ‘the rutherford institute’

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal court has rejected an attempt by a Virginia police officer to dismiss a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a man who was arrested as he was engaged in a First Amendment protest against President Obama while lawfully carrying a rifle.

The order entered in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter, allows the lawsuit to move forward.

Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that the police violated Howard’s First Amendment right to free speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from a groundless arrest when they confronted him with guns drawn and ordered him to the ground on the unfounded belief that Howard was violating the law by being in public with a rifle slung over his shoulder, when in fact his possession and display of the rifle was wholly legal and did not make him subject to an arrest.  Soon after the incident, the City of Hopewell Police Department  admitted in writing that the incident involved a violation of department policy.

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s reply brief in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter .

“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest.”

On Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Brandon Howard arrived at an overpass above Interstate 295 in the City of Hopewell, Va., and displayed a 6 foot by 4 foot sign that read “Impeach Obama.” Howard was carrying a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Howard lawfully owned each firearm and did not point or brandish them at any time while engaged in his First Amendment protest activity on the overpass. Howard displayed his protest sign for 30 minutes, but Howard did not directly engage with anyone.

At about 5:30 p.m., a police officer pulled up to the area, remained in his car and observed Howard. Thereafter, three to five additional police cruisers arrived at the scene with emergency lights engaged.  Approximately eight officers exited these vehicles with their guns drawn and ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands spread above his head. Howard complied with the officers’ orders.

Despite the fact that Howard at no time made any threatening action toward the officers or anyone else, one police officer allegedly asked Howard, “What do you think you are doing threatening people on my interstate?” Howard explained that he had not threatened anyone but was simply exercising his First and Second amendment rights. Howard was then handcuffed and transported to the police station, where he was left, handcuffed, in an interrogation room for 90 minutes, after which time he had his firearms returned and was released. A month later, the Deputy Chief of Police acknowledged in writing that an internal investigation had concluded that one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training. Attorney Raul Novo of Richmond, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit.

______

Support the Fight


The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville, Va., is deeply committed to protecting the constitutional freedoms of every American and the integral human rights of all people through its extensive legal and educational programs. The Institute provides its legal services at no charge to those whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.

Every dollar donated to support The Rutherford Institute’s legal and educational work helps to safeguard someone’s constitutional rights and religious freedoms. Whether you are a new donor, a Supporting Member wishing to renew your gift, or interested in becoming a Supporting Member, your generous support is crucial to continuing success in The Rutherford Institute’s fight for freedom.

The Rutherford Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization, gifts to which are deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes.

You can use your credit or debit card to make an online donation right now—it’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s totally secure.

 

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit against Virginia police and mental health officials on behalf of a 37-year-old disabled man who was arrested, diagnosed by police and an unlicensed mental health screener as having “mental health issues,” apparently because of his slurred speech and unsteady gait, and subsequently locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will and with no access to family and friends. A subsequent hearing found that Gordon Goines, a resident of Waynesboro who suffers from a neurological condition similar to multiple sclerosis, has no mental illness and should not have been confined.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges that the Valley Community Services Board (VCSB) is ultimately responsible and liable for the deprivation of Goines’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights because the Board allows unqualified persons to make mental health examinations.

A Government of Wolves book cover“By giving government officials the power to declare individuals mentally ill and detain them against their will without first ensuring that they are actually trained to identify such illness, the government has opened the door to a system in which involuntary detentions can be used to make people disappear,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Indeed, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally.”

Gordon Goines resides in Waynesboro and suffers from cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition similar to multiple or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrigs disease. As a result, Goines has difficulty at times with his balance, causing him to walk unsteadily, speaks slowly and with a slur and has problems with fine motor skills. Goines has no cognitive impairment, is of above-average intelligence, and acutely aware of what is happening around him.

The complaint alleges that on May 15, 2014, Goines was having problems with his cable television reception, including disconnections and extremely loud line noise and signals, and called the cable company for assistance. A technician determined that a neighbor had spliced into Goines cable and recommended Goines contact police about the theft. Goines walked across the street to the Waynesboro Police Dept. and reported the theft to one officer, who called on two other officers to follow Goines home and investigate his complaint. However, the first officer reported that Goines was having “mental health issues.” The officers then proceeded to question Goines about his “mental health issues”; Goines told them he did not have any mental health problems. The officers then asked Goines if he wanted to go talk to someone; believing they meant about the cable theft, Goines told them he did. The officers then handcuffed him and transported Goines, who pleaded to be taken home, to Augusta County Medical Center. After he arrived, he was examined by an employee of VCSB who concluded that Goines suffered from a psychotic condition and a petition for Goines’ involuntary detention was filed as a result.

According to the complaint, the VCSB screener was not a licensed medical professional, clinical psychologist or social worker and so lacked the required training to diagnose mental disorders. The petition was granted and Goines was committed to Crossroads Mental Health Center and held against his will and without access to family and friends until May 20, 2014, when a subsequent hearing found that Goines had no mental illness and should not be confined. Affiliate attorney Timothy Coffield of Keswick, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute by representing Goines in his civil rights lawsuit.

OCALA, Fla. — In a resounding victory for the First Amendment, the City of Ocala, Fla., has affirmed that it will no longer object to a “Dont Tread On Me” flag displayed in front of a local sporting goods store. Ocala officials reversed their stance after being informed by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute that their flag ordinance policy and notice of violation to small business owners Keith and Hannah Greenberg constituted a content-based restriction on speech that patently violates the First Amendment. Ocala officials have also announced their intention to amend the ordinance, which bans most flags except those of the United States and State of Florida, in order to bring it in line with constitutional standards. The Greenbergs plan to resume flying the “Dont Tread On Me” flag in front of The Gear Barrel.

A Government of Wolves book cover“Living in a constitutional republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, simply holding up a sign or flying a flag in front of their home or business,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “These kinds of cases speak to the citizenry’s right to express their concerns about their government to their government, in a time, place and manner best suited to ensuring that those concerns are heard. That’s what the First Amendment is all about, and I’m glad to see that the City of Ocala recognizes the value of this vital freedom.”

Keith and Hannah Greenberg lease property on Northeast 3rd Street in Ocala, Fla., and operate The Gear Barrel, a sporting goods store. In July 2014, the Greenbergs hung on a pole outside their store the “Gadsden Flag,” which depicts a yellow field bearing the image of a coiled snake and the words “Dont Tread on Me.” The Gadsden Flag was designed and used during the Revolutionary War and has been adopted recently as a popular symbol of discontent with the government. In September 2014, the Greenbergs received a letter from the City informing them that their property was in violation of the City’s sign ordinances and demanding that they cure the violation. Believing the notice related to another display at the property, the Greenbergs removed that display and Keith Greenberg called the City’s Code Enforcement Officer to advise him that the display had been removed. At that time, the Code Enforcement Officer told Keith that the outside display of the Gadsden Flag was also prohibited and that flag must also be removed. Keith was also told that flying a United States flag was not prohibited. Keith told the officer his liberty entitled him to fly the Gadsden Flag and he would not remove the flag. Thereafter, the City sent a Notice of Violation to the Greenbergs and their landlord demanding removal of the flag and informing them that they could be fined up to $500 per day for repeat violations. After consulting with their landlord, the Greenbergs removed the flag from outside the store in order to avoid the steep penalties threatened by the City.

In coming to the defense of the Greenbergs, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute demanded that the City’s threat to prosecute the couple be withdrawn. Institute attorneys also pointed out that the provisions of the City’s ordinances allowing only governmental and religious flags is patently in violation of the First Amendment because speech is permitted on the basis of the content of the speech. Affiliate attorney Robert A. McGlynn, Jr., P.A. assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Greenbergs’ First Amendment rights.

OCALA, Florida. —The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of the owners of a Florida sporting goods store who were ordered by Ocala, Fla., officials to remove a Gadsden flag, also known as a “Dont Tread On Me” flag, displayed in front of their store. Rutherford Institute attorneys are insisting that the City renounce its order to remove the flag, pointing out that the City’s threat to prosecute small-business owners Keith and Hannah Greenberg for flying the flag in front of The Gear Barrel as well as its flag ordinances constitute content-based restrictions on speech that patently violate the Greenbergs’ fundamental right to freedom of speech. Under the City’s ordinances, display of the flags of the United States and State of Florida is allowed, but other flags are prohibited. The federal appeals court for Florida has previously held that laws allowing only governmental flags to be displayed are content-based regulations of speech that violate the First Amendment.

“What we’re seeing is the criminalization of free speech, manifested in incidents where the government attempts to censor speech that is controversial, politically incorrect or unpopular,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Under the First Amendment, the government has no authority to pick and choose what type of speech it approves.”

Keith and Hannah Greenberg lease property on Northeast 3rd Street in Ocala, Fla., and operate The Gear Barrel, a sporting goods store. In July 2014, the Greenbergs hung on a pole outside their store the so-called “Gadsden Flag,” which depicts a yellow field bearing the image of a coiled snake and the words “Dont Tread on Me.”  The Gadsden Flag was designed and used during the Revolutionary War and has been adopted recently as a popular symbol of discontent with the government. In September 2014, the Greenbergs received a letter from the City informing them that their property was in violation of the City’s sign ordinances and demanding that they cure the violation. Believing the notice related to another display at the property, the Greenbergs removed that display and Keith Greenberg called the City’s Code Enforcement Officer to advise him that the display had been removed.  At that time, the Code Enforcement Officer told Keith that the outside display of the Gadsden Flag was also prohibited and that flag must also be removed. Keith also was told that flying a United States flag was not prohibited. Keith told the officer his liberty entitled him to fly the Gadsden Flag and he would not remove the flag.  Thereafter, the City sent a Notice of Violation to the Greenbergs and their landlord demanding removal of the flag and informing them that they could be fined up to $500 per day for repeat violations.  After consulting with their landlord, the Greenbergs removed the flag from outside the store in order to avoid the steep penalties threatened by the City. In coming to the defense of the Greenbergs, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are demanding that the City’s threat to prosecute the couple be withdrawn. Institute attorneys also point out that the provisions of the City’s ordinances allowing only governmental and religious flags is patently in violation of the First Amendment because speech is permitted on the basis of the content of the speech. Whitehead cites a 1993 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruling an ordinance of the City of Clearwater, Florida, unconstitutional for restricting all flags except governmental flags.

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Weighing in on a case that will significantly impact expression on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Anthony D. Elonis v. United States of America argues that the First Amendment protects even inflammatory statements that may give offense or cause concern to others unless the statements were a credible threat to engage in violence against another and made by the defendant with the intent to cause fear in the alleged victim. The case arises out of Facebook postings made by Anthony Elonis expressing his anger about events in his life, and which were based upon rap lyrics of artists such as Eminem and a comedy sketch of the group The Whitest Kids U’ Know.

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Elonis v. United States is available at www.rutherford.org.

A Government of Wolves book cover“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook, the end result is the same—the criminalization of free speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.”

Anthony Elonis was an active poster on Facebook who often used references to popular culture to express his views, feelings and frustration about events in his life. In May 2010, after Elonis’ wife left him and took his two children, he began listening to rap music and alluding to the sometimes violent lyrics of rap songs on his Facebook page. Elonis would couple these postings with statements acknowledging that the lyrics were fictitious and that he was simply exercising his First Amendment right of expression. After his estranged wife obtained a protection order against him, Elonis posted a reference to a comedy sketch of The Whitest Kids U’ Know about threatening language that Elonis changed to include a reference about harming his wife. In another post, Elonis used the lyrics of Eminem in which the rap artist included fantasized thoughts about shooting up a school. After federal agents were alerted to some of his postings, an investigator was sent to speak with Elonis. In response, Elonis posted rap lyrics he wrote containing fantasized language about having a bomb strapped to his body and doing violence to the agent.

In response to these postings, the federal government charged Elonis under a statute making it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce any communication containing a threat to injure another. Elonis was convicted on four counts of violating this statute but appealed his conviction, arguing that the government should have been required to prove that he intended to threaten the alleged victims, not simply that the victims could reasonably have believed the words were “true threats.” In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that “in order to protect the First Amendment rights of speakers, courts must ensure that they are criminalizing more than just the unrealized and unrealizable fears of particularly sensitive listeners.”

In a related case, The Rutherford Institute is also representing Marine veteran Brandon Raub, who was arrested, detained in a psychiatric ward, and forced to undergo psychological evaluations based solely on the controversial nature of lines from song lyrics, political messages and virtual card games which he posted to his private Facebook page.

WASHINGTON, DC — Ruling in two separate cases in Plumhoff v. Rickard and Wood v. Moss, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again refused to hold law enforcement officials accountable for allegedly violating citizens’ constitutional rights. In the first case, the Court dismissed complaints against police officers who were involved in a fatal shooting, despite Fourth Amendment concerns that the officers needlessly resorted to a deadly use of force, and in the second, the Court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated. Noting that these decisions are part of a recent trend toward granting government officials “qualified immunity” in lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, warned that such rulings incentivize government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion.

“Not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day to such an extent that Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This lawlessness on the part of government officials, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by the courts, which increasingly defer to law enforcement and prioritize security over civil liberties. In so doing, the government gives itself free rein to abuse the law, immune from reproach, and we are all the worse off for it.”

In Wood v. Moss, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Secret Service agents who removed only anti-Bush protesters (while allowing pro-Bush supporters standing on an adjacent street to remain) were not immune from lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, and had to make a showing that their actions were not unlawfully motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters. In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the protesters’ rights to “equal access to the President” were not clearly established under the law, and that the agents’ actions were not motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters.

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police officers who used lethal force against a man fleeing police in a high speed car chase were not immune from a wrongful death suit, and that the case should continue to trial. In Plumhoff, the deceased plaintiff led police officers on a high-speed car chase, which came to a halt after his car was spun out in a parking lot.  Officers proceeded to fire three shots at the stopped vehicle, then fired an additional 12 shots as the vehicle backed away, eventually killing both the driver and passenger of the vehicle.  The Sixth Circuit held that it could not conclude that the officers’ conduct was reasonable as a matter of law, and instead should proceed to a fact finder. In reversing the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the officers’ use of deadly force to terminate the car chase did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the officers were immune from suit.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, a case brought by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a student at a Missouri school who was subjected to a random lockdown and mass search by police. Rutherford Institute attorneys had appealed the case to the high courtchallenging a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings.

By refusing to hear this case, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again proven itself one of the most egregious defenders of the emerging American police state. While this is a disappointing turn of events, it only strengthens our resolve to keep pushing back against a government which increasingly sees its citizens, especially the youth, as suspects requiring surveillance and control, rather than a free people whose rights should not be subject to the whims of police officials.

The case arose out of an incident that took place on April 22, 2010, when the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms. School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students in random classrooms to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking a federal district court to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution.

In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In March 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found the lockdown policy was a reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school. Specifically, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment by holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students. However, Rutherford Institute attorneys disagreed, insisting that government officials should be required to show particularized suspicion for instituting such aggressive searches and to operate within the parameters of the Fourth Amendment.

Warning against the long-term ramifications of treating young people as if they have no rights, The Rutherford Institute then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to declare the use of random lockdowns, mass searches and drug-sniffing dogs in the public schools to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures. By refusing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively cemented in place the school district’s policy.

Affiliate attorneys Jeffrey L Light of Washington, D.C. and Jason T. Umbarger of Springfield, Mo., assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Burlison family.