ACLU Sues City of Homestead for Arresting Critics at Public Meetings

Kim Hill is one of two activists who have been arrested and banned from City of Homestead public meetings simply for asking for reforms at the police department. In 2016, both Hill and activist James Eric McDonough told WSVN that they'd been arrested and carted out of city hall on three occasions, simply for asking for changes at the police department.

Hill says he criticized the city during an August 24, 2016 meeting and was immediately arrested for "trespassing." He was released but says the cops then told him that if he returned to city hall, he'd be charged criminally.

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, stating Homestead committed an egregious violation of the First Amendment.

“One of the foundational ideas of our democracy is that all of us have the right to openly and publicly question and challenge our elected officials,” legal panel chair of the ACLU's Greater Miami Chapter, Jeanne Baker, says in a release. “Those 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 a right to be heard.”

According to the lawsuit, Hill stood at a lectern August 24 and demanded that Homestead Police begin wearing body cameras. He said Homestead cops were "slaughtering" black residents. And he criticized Councilman Elvis Maldonado, who had claimed at a prior event that he "could not be racist" because he's a Colombian immigrant.

Once he stepped away from the lectern, Hill claims, four armed officers surrounded him, told him he was trespassing, and said he needed to leave. Homestead Police officers admitted as much. In a written followup, the police wrote that Hill had violated the city's "decorum" policy, which bars speakers from making "slanderous" remarks or disrupting the flow of a meeting.

"Mr. Hill violated the decorum policy by becoming impertinent and boisterous while addressing the council. Mr. Hill was informed that he was trespassed [sic]," officers wrote. Yet video of Hill's speech shows him speaking calmly the entire time.

Hill immediately contacted the ACLU, which demanded the city change it's "decorum" policy to prevent other critics from being arrested. But separately, the city has continued to spar with Hill's fellow activist, McDonough, who nearly faced arrest for simply recording a conversation he had with Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle in 2014.

McDonough says that he caught a local cop speeding through a residential area in 2012 and that, because he filed a complaint against the cop, Homestead PD engaged in a years-long harassment campaign against him. In 2014, McDonough sat down with Rolle in the mayor's office while recording the conversation on his phone. He claims Rolle consented to the recording; the mayor denies he gave permission and went as far as to ask State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to send McDonough a letter threatening to arrest the activist if he ever recorded the chief's words again.

McDonough then sued, and a federal appellate court ruled last year that Rundle had illegally threatened to arrest the activist on Rolle's behalf. One month after winning that fight, McDonough sued 30 Miami-area cops for allegedly harassing him for years.

Hill, meanwhile, has since returned to Homestead City Hall without being apprehended, but he's now suing the city for violations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as false imprisonment.

“Suppression of free speech should never be a tool for the government to use against dissenters engaged in civil discourse,” Hill says in a news release. “We all have a right to address our leaders, and officials can’t execute a gag order against a person like me simply because they don’t want to hear what we have to say.”

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