CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (TRI) — In a victory for common sense and the rights of citizens to not have their lawful First Amendment activity chilled by egregious, excessive government security protocols, officials with the City of Charlottesville have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by The Rutherford Institute.
Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of a disabled war veteran who was arrested in 2018 for lawfully purchasing canned iced tea, bug spray, lightbulbs and razor blades at a mall drug store in so-called “violation” of the city’s pre-emptive “state of emergency” lockdown measures adopted in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the August 12, 2017, racially-charged protests and counter-protests in the City.
The items were banned under the City’s 2018 ordinances and as part of the city’s pre-emptive measures to discourage civil unrest. Illustrating how absurdly illogical the city’s protocols were, the veteran—punished for being in possession of canned iced tea and bug spray—was permitted to open carry two firearms through a downtown mall security checkpoint.
As part of the settlement agreement, Charlottesville officials agreed to change the law to only prohibit ordinary items, such as bottles and metal cans, from being used weapons at a demonstration. The original ban broadly prohibited such innocuous items as metal food and beverage containers, aerosol sprays, glass bottles, skateboards, masks and hoods.
“This case—in which government officials spent more than $3 million on security only to have a dozen police swarm a disabled veteran with a walker buying cans of iced tea and bug spray—is a classic example of government overkill,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “We hope more city officials will be proactive in recognizing the need to exercise common sense in their efforts to maintain the peace and protect lawful, nonviolent First Amendment activities.”
The Rutherford Institute’s lawsuit against the City came in response to pre-emptive “state of emergency” lockdown measures adopted in August 2018 in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the August 12, 2017, racially-charged protests and counter-protests in the City.
Under an emergency declaration by Governor Northam, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies locked down portions of the small college town, deployed 700 police officers—many in riot gear—to patrol portions of the downtown area, restricted the free movement of persons on public streets, and imposed a broad ban on innocuous items such as metal food and beverage containers, aerosol sprays, glass bottles, skateboards, masks and hoods at a cost of several million dollars.
John Miska, a disabled war veteran, visited the Downtown Mall on Sat., Aug. 11, 2018, to shop for household items and eat lunch. Using a walker because of his disability, Miska was allowed to pass through the security area with his firearms, which were vetted by a police officer.
Prior to lunch, Miska visited a CVS Pharmacy, where he purchased two cases of canned Arizona Iced Tea, a package of razor blades, and bug spray. Upon exiting the store, Miska was swarmed by a dozen police who then handcuffed, arrested and charged him with possessing canned drinks, an aerosol spray and razor blades, all of which were prohibited under the City Code. Although the “prohibited” items were seized by police, Miska was allowed to keep his firearms.
Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit against the Charlottesville officials in February 2019. Affiliate attorney Elliott M. Harding assisted The Rutherford Institute with the civil rights lawsuit.