HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of Homestead and Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter on behalf of a community activist who was arrested at a Homestead City Council meeting and barred from attending future meetings.
According to the lawsuit, Kim Hill, a middle school teacher, was removed from the meeting for engaging in constitutionally-protected speech.
Hill began attending Homestead City Council meetings in 2015 following a shooting involving a Homestead Police officer and used the council's public comment period to call for police reforms such as the use of body cameras.
The ACLU said Hill was surrounded by several police officers during a meeting on Aug. 24, 2016, after he spoke during the public comment period.
The officers told Hill that he was "under arrest" and they escorted him out of City Hall, the complaint stated.
According to the lawsuit, the officers then told Hill that he had "been trespassed" and was not allowed to return to City Hall or he would face criminal charges.
"Suppression of free speech should never be a tool for the government to use against dissenters engaged in civil discourse," Hill said in a statement. "We all have a right to address our leaders, and officials can't execute a gag order against a person like me simply because they don't want to hear what we have to say."
Hill contacted the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP after the incident, which in turn contacted to the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida for legal assistance.
"As the NAACP was contacted concerning Mr. Hill’s situation and turned to the Miami ACLU for assistance, we commend the ACLU for filing this suit clarifying the rights of all persons to advocate before the Homestead City Council," Brad Brown, a vice president of the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch, said in a statement.
The lawsuit stated that Hill's comments during the meeting were protected by the First Amendment and the "lack of a means for him to challenge the ban constitutes a violation of his due process rights."
The complaint also stated that the printed policy used as justification for Hill's removal during the meeting was not in effect at the time, as the City Council had adopted new rules four months prior.
"One of the foundational ideas of our democracy is that all of us have the right to openly and publicly question and challenge our elected officials," ACLU Greater Miami Chapter legal panel chair Jeanne Baker said. "Those officials cannot use the power of their office to prevent someone from speaking indefinitely just because they don't like what that person has to say. Mr. Hill has a right to be heard."
City of Homestead spokesman Zackery Good said in a statement Monday to Local 10 News that "The City of Homestead denies these allegations and looks forward to its day in court."