ACLU Sues Flint Mayor for News Carrier's Arrest

FLINT, MI -- A city mayor’s dislike and difference of opinion with a major Flint paper has resulted in a lawsuit filed today in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The ACLU is representing a man authorized to distribute and deliver the Flint Journal to city employees at the Flint City Hall.

“This is one of the more egregious examples we’ve seen of late where a government official tries to squelch criticism,” said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss. “These actions have had a chilling effect on Mr. Hansen’s right to do his job.”

Tom Hansen, a fifty-seven year old Genesee County resident who supplements his retirement income by delivering the Flint Journal, was delivering papers in the City Hall after Mayor Don Williamson issued Executive Order #04-0007 on July 7 that stated that city employees were prohibited from bringing onto any City property, or into any City vehicle, newspapers, magazines, or other reading materials that are unrelated to City business.

Moreover, the policy stated a violation of the order shall be considered cause for disciplinary action. In spite of the order, several city departments and employees continued their subscriptions.

Mayor Williamson’s disagreement with the Flint Journal was well known before he issued the executive order. Shortly after Mayor Williamson was elected, he announced that he would have his private businesses boycott the Flint Journal and he called for newspaper readers and other businesses to boycott the Flint Journal, as well.

When Mayor Williamson saw Mr. Hansen in City Hall he became angry and demanded to know if Mr. Hansen had a peddler's license. The mayor immediately phoned the police to have Mr. Hansen arrested. He also demanded to know the names of the subscribers and indicated that they would be fired. Mr. Hansen refused to disclose the names.

The lawsuit charges Mr. Williamson with interfering with Mr. Hansen’s right to distribute newspapers in violation of the First Amendment and unlawfully stopping, detaining and/or arresting Mr. Hansen in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“The Mayor’s action is an ugly example of how the First Amendment is being treated in Flint these days. In ancient Rome the Emperor killed the messenger of bad news. While modern day messengers in Flint may not be killed for delivering news the Mayor does not like, it appears they face the risk of having to call a bail bondsman if they deliver a newspaper he does not agree with,” said Gregory Gibbs, the ACLU cooperating attorney working on the case.

To read the complaint, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/hansencomplaintflintmayor.pdf

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