ACLU is suing Homestead Florida for arresting critics at city conferences
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Kim Hill is one of two activists arrested and excluded from public gatherings in Homestead City for soliciting police reforms. In 2016, both Hill and activist James Eric McDonough informed the WSVN that they had been arrested three times and taken out of town hall just for asking police to make changes.
Hill said he criticized the city during a meeting on Aug. 24, 2016 and was immediately arrested for “trespassing”. He was released but says the police then told him that he would face criminal charges if he returned to the town hall.
Now Hill wants to force Homestead to change its ways. Today he filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Jeff Porter in federal court. The American Civil Liberties Union has now taken up Hill’s case and stated that Homestead had committed a tremendous violation of the first amendment.
“One of the basic ideas of our democracy is that we all have the right to openly and publicly question and challenge our elected officials,” said Jeanne Baker, chairwoman of the ACLU’s Greater Miami Chapter Legal Committee, in a press release. “These officials cannot use the power of their office to prevent someone from speaking indefinitely just because they don’t like what that person has to say. Mr. Hill has the right to be heard. “
According to the lawsuit, Hill was standing at a lectern on Aug. 24, asking Homestead Police to wear body cameras. He said homestead cops “slaughtered” black residents. And he criticized councilor Elvis Maldonado for claiming at an earlier event that he could “not be racist” because he was a Colombian immigrant.
As he stepped away from the lectern, Hill claimed that four armed officers had surrounded him, told him he was trespassing and that he had to go. Homestead police officers also admitted this. In a written follow-up, police wrote that Hill had violated the city’s “decency” policy, which prohibits speakers from making “defamatory” remarks or disrupting a meeting.
“Mr. Hill broke the policy of decency by being rude and boisterous when addressing the council. Mr. Hill was informed that he had been ill-treated [sic]Officers wrote. But the video of Hill’s speech shows him speaking calmly the entire time.
Hill immediately reached out to the ACLU, which asked the city to amend its “decency” policy to prevent other critics from being arrested. But separately, the city has continued to grapple with Hill’s activist McDonough, who nearly got arrested for simply tapping a conversation he’d had with Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle in 2014.
McDonough says he caught a local police officer speeding through a residential area in 2012 and that Homestead PD ran a year-long harassment campaign against him for filing a complaint against the police officer. In 2014, McDonough sat down with Rolle in the mayor’s office while recording the conversation on his phone. He claims that Rolle consented to the inclusion; Denying permission, the mayor goes so far as to ask District Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to send McDonough a letter threatening to arrest the activist if he ever records the boss’s words again .
McDonough then sued, and a federal appeals court ruled last year that Rundle had illegally threatened to arrest the activist on behalf of Rolles. A month after winning that fight, McDonough sued 30 Miami area police officers for allegedly molesting him for years.
Hill has since returned to Homestead Town Hall without being arrested. Now he’s suing the city for violating the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as for wrongful imprisonment.
“The repression of freedom of speech should never be an instrument for the government to use against dissenters who are involved in civil discourse,” Hill said in a press release. “We all have the right to speak to our leaders, and officials cannot carry out a gag order against a person like me just because they don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
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Jerry Iannelli was a former employee of the Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated from Temple University with honors. He then earned a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University.