Free-Speech Case in Quartzsite Advances

     (CN) – A frequent critic of The Powers That Be in the desert hamlet of Quartzsite, Ariz., can advance claims related to her ejection from a town council meeting, a federal judge ruled.
     Jennifer Jones, a dog groomer, newspaper publisher and erstwhile candidate for state office, has filed no less than six lawsuits against various officials in the tiny Interstate-side town since 2010.
     Known for its huge outdoor swap meets and gem shows, and as a haven for “snowbirds” in motor homes, the Sonoran desert town of about 3,500 residents entices some 2 million visitors every winter, when the summer’s triple-digit temperatures dip down to the 70s.
     The crowds were long gone at a town council meeting in June 2011 when Jones received a nod from Mayor Ed Foster to speak during the public-comment portion. About a minute into her criticism of the board, then-councilman Joe Winslow interrupted and made an oral motion to have her ejected for an “unidentified procedural violation.” Claiming that a majority of council members supported the motion, Winslow told Jones to leave or be escorted out by police.
     Jones said then-Police Chief Jeffrey Gilbert and police officers Fabiola Garcia and Rick Paterson moved toward her, grabbed the microphone out of her hand and forcibly ejected her from the meeting. She was then arrested for disorderly conduct but the charges were later dropped.
     Jones sued Quartzsite, Winslow, Gilbert, Garcia, Paterson and others in 2012, but U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled found Wednesday that only her First Amendment claim will go forward.
     “Even if defendants acted solely to cure plaintiff’s unidentified procedural violation, defendants’ actions may have run afoul of applicable law because plaintiff alleges that she was speaking peacefully about a matter of town-importance after being duly recognized to speak by the moderator of the meeting,” Teilborg wrote.
     In one of Jones’ earlier complaints against Quartzsite, she claimed that the town council and the police force had harassed her with warrantless searches in an attempt to discourage her political activities. While a court tossed that 2010 case a year later, a similar lawsuit she filed in 2012 fell apart for failure to prosecute.
     In one of two still-pending lawsuits that Jones filed against Quartzsite in 2013, she claimed that town administrators and town council members conspired to lodge 603 false charges against her and her pet-grooming business, which she has “operated out of a variety of recreational vehicles for almost a decade.”
     Jones said that the harassment began after she announced her intention to run for town council in 2010 and began speaking out against the council’s failure to reign in Gilbert, who had been accused for years of abusing his power.
     She said 10 of the town’s 13 police officers had asked the council to investigate Gilbert in a 2010 letter, claiming he had misused his power to help and protect his political allies.
     The Arizona Department of Public Safety investigated Gilbert in 2011, and he was fired in late 2013.
     Jones is the publisher of a local Quartzsite newspaper, the Desert Freedom Press, and recently ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Arizona Legislature as a Republican.
     Though Jones is being represented in the present case by Tempe attorney David Enevoldson, and in her other cases by Montana attorney Elmer Rhodes, she filed a new complaint against the town in August by herself.
     That action, similar to her others, alleges a “conspiracy” to violate her rights “on account of her perceived political expression, because of her activities as a journalist and publisher which are critical of the town.
     Neither Jones nor her attorney responded to a request for comment. Quartzsite’s attorney, Lisa Wahlin, was traveling on Friday and unavailable for comment.

%d bloggers like this: