Vegas Protesters & Police Are Chalk and Cheese

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – Las Vegas police unconstitutionally arrested four protesters who wrote angry protests against police in water-soluble chalk on sidewalks, the graffitists claim court.
     Brian Ballentine, Catalino Dazo, Kelly Patterson and Gail Sacco claim they were “improperly arrested, cited and harassed for using water-soluble chalk to write messages that are critical of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (‘LVMPD’). Using water-soluble chalk on public sidewalks is not a crime, but the Las Vegas police improperly applied Nevada’s graffiti statute for the purpose of punishing free speech.”
     They sued the police and three named officers on Sept. 26, in Federal Court.
     The four say they are members of a Las Vegas group called the Sunset Activist Collective, which bills itself as a “revolutionary” movement that uses water-soluble chalk to express their beliefs.
     The sidewalk messages they wrote allegedly included “Fuck the Police” and “Murderers Still Work Here.” The messages were written to protest police shootings, and were staged in front of police headquarters on July 13, 2013, and the Clark County Regional Justice Center five days later.
     The plaintiffs claim the arrests were part the police department’s “unlawful policy and practice of permitting its officers to harass, cite, arrest and search” people for “peacefully writing in water-soluble chalk on a public sidewalk” in violation of “constitutional rights to free speech, expression and assembly, rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and unlawful arrests, and substantive and procedural due-process rights.”
     They also accuse the police department of “false imprisonment, negligent training and supervision, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
     The prosecutor who initially charged the four with graffiti violations said profanity was the primary reason for the arrests.
     “This is not a kid drawing with a piece of chalk on the sidewalk. These are adults who used chalk to draw profanity,” District Attorney Steve Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2013. “There is a law on the books that makes it a crime to engage in this activity.”
     Wolfson dropped the charges against the four after learning that police officers or uniformed court staff directed the protesters to the spots on the sidewalks where they wrote the messages, The Associated Press reported on Friday.
     The group says the police department abuses state law by “either explicitly or implicitly … allowing officers to enforce Nevada Revised Statute 206.330 arbitrarily and intentionally to chill free speech critical of LVMPD.”
     They claim the law “does not criminalize the use of water-soluble chalk to write messages on public sidewalks.”
     The protests were sparked by a 2011 Las Vegas Review-Journal article that reported that 142 people were killed in 378 shootings involving local police in the Las Vegas area over about a 20-year period.
     The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for First Amendment violations, unreasonable search and seizure and violation of due process.
     They are represented by Margaret A. McLetchie.

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