Police officers in Jackson, Mississippi, are being accused of letting thieves walk away with the property of pro-life activists who were exercising their First Amendment rights on public sidewalks, and a video has been posted to support the claim.
The video shows the activists approaching police and reporting the thefts. An officer, who is holding a drink and appears to be leaning up against a vehicle, states: “I see that. I’m dealing with something right now.”
The video accompanies a lawsuit against the city’s police department over the officers’ behavior.
The complaint was filed by Pro-Life Mississippi and a number of individuals against Police Chief Lindsay Horton, the city and officers Jesse Robinson, James McGowan, Mary James, Marie Hampton, James Ross and Willis Thomas.
The police department refused WND’s request for comment, and the city attorney’s office did not respond to a WND message.
The action was filed by the Life Legal Defense Foundation on behalf of the activists.
Dana Cody, president and executive director of the foundation, said the Jackson Police Department “has routinely harassed pro-life citizens, who have been peacefully exercising their legal right to oppose abortion in the public square and offer information about life-affirming alternatives to women seeking abortion.”
Cody said the complaint accuses the police department of blatant and ongoing violations of the free speech rights of the activists protesting the state’s only abortion business, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
It cites frequent threats of arrest for “offenses” such as getting out of a legally parked car and allowing a protest sign to touch the sidewalk.
The legal team argues such threats have no legal basis and constitute harassment by police.
The July 17 video, the complaint says, records Jackson police “standing by as an individual stole the group’s pro-life display.”
“As a group member asked an officer to do something about it, the policeman – leaning back against a squad car and hold a beverage ‘to go’ cup – responded, without moving. ‘I’m dealing with something right now.'”
The legal team said such behavior is not unusual, and the lawsuit seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and damages.
Cited as background in the case is a March 2008 consent order against the city, the police chief and a number of officers that was issued because of a “pervasive policy of violating the free speech rights of pro-life advocates.”
That order required training in First Amendment rights for law enforcement personnel.
The lawsuit alleges:
- In June, there were threats of arrest for exiting a parked vehicle to share pro-life literature on a public sidewalk.
- In March, there were multiple threats of arrest and orders that pro-life speakers move.
- In February, and in December 2013, there were arrests of people with pro-life signs or literature for sitting in chairs on public property
- Other arrests have been made of people holding pro-life signs.
Charges were dismissed in most cases, and the legal firm said that in some cases, police even refused to inform the courts of the charges.
Also, personal belongings have been confiscated and converted to police use, the claim alleges.
Cody said: “For police to be selective and prejudicial as to how they enforce the law outside of Mississippi’s only abortion vendor does a disservice to the people of Jackson. When those charged with upholding the law violate the basic rights of citizens, it cannot be tolerated. Life Legal Defense Foundation intends to pursue all legal remedies necessary to stop this targeted persecution of those who promote the sanctity of human life.”
The claims include constitutional issues involving free speech, due process, false arrest, equal protection, retaliation, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.