DETROIT (CN) – A park that bills itself as “Detroit’s Gathering Place” gutted its own “everyone is welcome” motto, the group Moratorium Now claims in a federal complaint.
Moratorium Now, a grassroots activist organization that fights wrongful foreclosures in the Detroit area, filed the Jan. 28 action with two members who took flyers to Campus Martius Park on Feb. 14, 2014.
“The flyer advertised a town hall meeting on March 2, 2014, to discuss the Detroit bankruptcy and was entitled: Defend Detroit City Pensions and Services – Make the Banks Pay,” the complaint says.
Tom Michalak and Cheryl LaBash, a retired Detroit employee with over 30 years of service, say they quickly took notice of the police cars at the municipal park, which abuts Cadillac Square in the Campus center of downtown Detroit.
Not long after they got to work, a Guardsmark security guard approached the group and said “that they were prohibited from any political flyering or petition gathering.”
The complaint names as defendants the private security firm Guardsmark, and Detroit 300 conservancy, which manages the park.
Surveillance from an outfit that monitors activities at Campus Martius and other places downtown allegedly tipped Detroit 300 Conservancy and Guardsmark off.
Sgt. Thomas Taylor, another named defendant, soon arrived and told “that the police were near Campus Martius Park because they had received ‘intel’ about the nature of Moratorium Now’s flyers,” the complaint says.
In a teleconference with media and the ACLU Wednesday, LaBash quipped: “It seems these public-private partnerships want to extend First Amendment valentines to only certain people. And I’m apparently not one of them.”
Michalak said he was told that the security action was “because of the content” of the leaflets, which opposed bankruptcy, according to an Mlive.com report from Gus Burns.
The complaint also challenges park security’s refusal in 2013 of about 20 members of a different group, Women in Black-Detroit, including Joan Mandell and Wallis Andersen.
Brooke Merriweather-Tucker, an attorney with ACLU Michigan, represents the activists, seeking punitive damages and an injunction for violations of the First Amendment.
The defendants were acting under the color of state law because “they conspired, acted in concert with, and acted in joint participation with, each other and with City of Detroit officials to manage a public park and public sidewalk, and regulate the public’s access to, and use of, a traditional public forum,” the complaint says.
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