Three activists arrested in 2013 broke an anti-graffiti law but Detective Christopher Tucker failed to take other people into custody whose slogans didn’t attack the police, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in reversing a lower court dismissal of their lawsuit.
“A reasonable officer in Detective Tucker’s position had fair notice that the First Amendment prohibited arresting plaintiffs for the content of their speech,” the court said in a 3-0 ruling reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
If the ruling stands, it would apply to federal courts in California and eight other states.
Tucker could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. His attorney wasn’t immediately available for comment, the Chronicle said.
The protesters belonged to the Sunset Activist Collective and they began writing anti-police messages on Las Vegas sidewalks in 2011. In June 2013, they were writing slogans outside the police station. Officers asked them to stop, urged them to use protests signs instead and issued citations but didn’t arrest them.
Tucker, however, reviewed the case and ordered their arrest at another protest in August, although authorities didn’t prosecute them, and some participants whose messages didn’t attack police weren’t arrested.
The ruling is “a win for free speech and police accountability,” said the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Devi Rao of the MacArthur Justice Center in Washington, D.C.
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