An antiwar activist who was arrested last month by St. Paul police while handing out leaflets promoting a demonstration at the Republican National Convention said Tuesday that he'll sue St. Paul for $75,000 in federal court.
After his arrest, St. Paul police said they had improperly arrested Mitt Kelly and a police official tried to reach him and apologize. Kelly said an officer called and left a message asking him to return the call, but he did not, under the advice of an attorney, and instead decided to file a lawsuit. He is represented by three attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild.
Kelly said he believes that an apology would be insufficient and that his arrest indicated a pattern by the city to "suppress the right to dissent." He linked the arrest to the city's refusal to grant a march route for the Sept. 1 antiwar demonstration that Kelly's group has been demanding.
Bob Hume, spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said his office had not yet seen the suit. "We acknowledged at the time of the incident that a mistake was made there and the mayor was pleased that the Police Department made an attempt to right the situation and apologize," he said.
As for Kelly's claim linking his arrest to the city's opposition to the group's march route, Hume said, "The pattern, from our perspective, is that we are providing them with unprecedented access to express their First Amendment rights.
"We have taken extraordinary steps, compared to previous conventions, to give these people a seat at the table ... and we will continue to do that whether it is through the courts or otherwise."
Arrest was at Obama rally
Kelly was arrested on June 5 outside the Xcel Energy Center, where he was handing flyers to people attending a campaign rally for Barack Obama.
Police, believing that it was illegal to hand out flyers near the Xcel's doors, put him in a patrol car, drove him about 10 blocks and gave him a ticket.
Kelly is a member of the group that filed a suit in federal court pressing the city to issue a permit for a march to the Xcel on the first day of the Republican Convention. After the city issued a permit, the group revised its lawsuit, alleging that the march route it was given is too narrow, does not allow them to march alongside the Xcel and requires them to end the demonstration before delegates arrive.
A court hearing on the case is scheduled for July 9 before Judge Joan Ericksen.
The city has insisted that it needs sufficient space around the Xcel to unload buses and move vehicles in an emergency. It also has said it must keep marchers at sufficient distance because of threats by other protest groups to stage civil disobedience that could disrupt the convention, and because of fears the convention may be a target of terrorists.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382