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Published: 10/22/2013

Occupy group files lawsuit alleging Defiance violated First Amendment

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DEFIANCE - Occupy Defiance filed a federal lawsuit today against the city of Defiance alleging the city violated the First Amendment by its ban against sidewalk chalk writing.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, on behalf of the local Occupy group and three individual plaintiffs from Defiance and Napoleon, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Toledo.

The suit stems from a dust-up last year over chalk messages written on city sidewalks by members of Occupy Defiance. Police told the group writing the messages to stop the activity but did not issue any citations.

The suit states plaintiffs want to hold another “chalk walk” event Thursday but “are afraid to do so for fear they will be arrested or prosecuted.”

Plaintiffs seek a judgement declaring their right to write on sidewalks with chalk and preliminary and permanent injunctions ordering the city to stop using and enforcing city ordinances that pertain to the situation, as well as unspecified monetary damages plus attorney’s fees and costs.

City Law Director David Williams said he found out about the suit from media outlets and had not read the complaint.

“It pretty much tells me that this whole thing is aimed at publicity,” he said.

Mr. Williams, in a Sept. 26 letter to the ACLU, said Occupy Defiance is welcome to use public right-of-ways to express political opinions and may assemble on public property. But, he wrote, the group “must supply its own sign-making materials” if it chooses to express itself in writing instead of using “the pavement as its blackboard.”

An ACLU attorney was not immediately available to comment on the case.



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