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California man sues town following arrest at public meeting – October 2018

Chico, CA

During the public-comment phase of a Chico City Council meeting, a local resident approached the podium and began speaking about a member of the local community. He was arrested and removed from the meeting.

Key Players

Mark Herrera is a resident of Chico, a town of nearly 94,000 in northern California. Herrera is a former park commissioner for the city and a one-time candidate for city council.

The Chico City Council is an elected body, with seven nonpartisan members. Sean Morgan is mayor of Chico, and presides over council meetings.

Chico First is a community group that advocates for “public safety.” According to its Facebook page, some of its specific projects are related to “shopping cart” and “locking dumpster” initiatives. It hopes to address issues presented by homelessness in the community.

Further Details

On May 15, 2018, Mark Herrera attended a Chico City Council meeting. During the public-comment period, he rose to speak about Chico First, which was represented at the meeting by some of its members.

According to The Chico Enterprise-Record, Herrera at one point referred to the leader of the Chico First group in a way that, according to mayor Sean Morgan, bordered on a personal attack. Herrera later stated that his comment was intended to be satirical, and that he was merely poking fun at the group.

Following further comments by Herrera, Morgan ordered that he be detained, and two Chico police officers approached Herrera to escort him out of the meeting. Herrera ignored them, however, and was ultimately arrested for “wilfully disturbing a public meeting.” At the police station, he was found to have a high blood alcohol level on a breathalyzer test. Nevertheless, the Butte County District Attorney’s Office chose not to press charges

Outcome

Herrera sues city of Chico

Herrera filed a civil complaint in federal court on October 11, 2018. He claimed his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated during this incident. He named Morgan, the city of Chico, the Chico Police Department, and several individual police officers as defendants in the case. Herrera claims that Morgan violated his rights to freedom of expression and to petition the government when Morgan “unlawfully imposed a content-based restriction to silence [him] and preclude him from further speaking.” The city of Chico has declined to comment on active litigation as of October 20, 2018.

City denies having violated Herrera’s rights

Responding to Herrera’s lawsuit, the city of Chico said police had probable and reasonable cause to detain and arrest him, according to court documents filed on November 4, 2018. The city also denied allegations it violated Herrera’s First and Fourth Amendment rights and demanded a jury trial.

 

External References

Chico man sues city over arrest during City Council meeting, The Chico Enterprise-Record

Chico police detained man for disrupting city council meeting, KRCR News Channel

Chico man sues city, mayor, Chico News & Review

Chico First Facebook page

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: November 14, 2018