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Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds May Have Curbed Artist’s Rights, Judge Says

(CN) - A federal judge refused to fully dismiss a lawsuit against the United States and District of Columbia, filed by a performance artist who was arrested while touring the Capitol wearing a costume of newspapers, shampoo bottles and honey jars held together with duct tape.

David Olabayo Olaniyi, a native of Nigeria, was arrested in March 2003 for making a false bomb threat, among other charges. He says in his complaint that, before entering the Capitol, he passed through several security checkpoints wearing the costume composed of "various materials from the [D.C.] environment." Olaniyi wanted to tour the building as research for a play he was writing.

Security officers approached Olaniyi, who was carrying a hand-carved mask sculpture, and asked him about his costume. One officer shattered the mask against the floor, and others cut the costume off Olaniyi, even after Olaniyi said it was explosive-free, because they said it resembled vests worn by suicide bombers.

A subsequent search of the costume and Olaniyi's van did not turn up any explosives, only glass jars filled with urine.

Authorities detained Olaniyi for three nights in the mental health unit of a jail and forced him to take diabetes medications despite Olaniyi's protests that he was not diabetic. Olaniyi says the medication was more likely an antipsychotic since it was administered via injection to his arm and caused him to lose consciousness for several hours.

After the charges were dismissed, Olaniyi returned to Washington in January 2004 to pick up artwork that police confiscated during his first arrest. While driving near the Capitol in the van that authorities had searched months earlier, police pulled him over and searched the van again.

The government claimed the van's Michigan plates were suspicious and that there was snow on the roof. One of the detectives involved in Olaniyi's first arrest appeared on the scene, and the van was searched with dogs.

Olaniyi filed suit in March 2005, amending and adding to his complaint over the years to involve dozens of federal and jail officials. The latest ruling answers the motion filed by the government, District of Columbia and federal officials for summary judgment.

In a 52-page ruling on Friday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton agreed to dismiss most of the counts against the government, but found that Olaniyi stated an adequate claim for false imprisonment arising out of the January car search.

"The fact that the plaintiff's van had out-of-state license plates and uncleared snow on it are not enough, standing alone, for the court to find probable cause to stop the van," Walton wrote.

"The factual record in this case may ultimately clarify the circumstances surrounding the January 2004 stop of the plaintiff's van, such as the reason the plaintiff's van was pulled over, the duration of the encounter, and the scope of the canine search," he added.

Walton also declined, pending additional discovery, to dismiss the district's motion to dismiss Olaniyi's claims with regard to his confinement in the jail's mental health unit.

"In this case, the plaintiff has adequately pled a predicate constitutional violation arising from the alleged forcible administration of antipsychotic medication, which if proven at trial would constitute a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment," the ruling states.

Walton concluded the decision by awarding summary judgment to the 37 federal defendants whom Olaniyi sued.

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