Kessler re-files First Amendment lawsuit against city

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler has re-filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville and several current and former city employees.

Kessler's suit claims the city violated Unite the Right protesters' free speech rights by failing to protect them from left-wing counter-protesters.

In addition to the city, the lawsuit names current City Manager Tarron Richardson, former City Manager Maurice Jones, former Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas and Virginia State Police Lieutenant Becky Crannis-Curl.

It says the defendants knew that left-wing protesters known as Antifa were planning to interrupt the Unite the Right event using violence in what the suit describes as a “heckler’s veto.”

It also says defendants didn’t take steps to protect the Unite the Right protesters’ free speech. It cites previous events where Antifa members allegedly committed violent acts.

This is the second time Kessler has sued the city for violating his First Amendment rights on Aug. 12. In an email, Kessler says he initially withdrew the lawsuit for "tactical reasons" but did not elaborate. He re-filed the new suit with a second plaintiff, David Parrott of Indiana.

Legal analyst Scott Goodman says the refiled lawsuit is stronger than the original because it draws information from the report on Aug. 11 and 12 by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy. That report includes specific accounts of city officials’ behavior, and Goodman says there’s other information from the report in the suit as well.

"They also have additional witnesses that have come forward and are quoted in the lawsuit that refer to specific instances where people who were trying to exercise their First Amendment right to protest were denied assistance by the police when they asked for it," Goodman said.

He says the suit is not a frivolous claim because the First Amendment protects the right to protest even if the views of protesters are reprehensible.

"The question for this lawsuit to answer is whether or not these plaintiffs were denied their rights to protest because the government decided deliberately to deny them that right because of the political content of their speech or was it just mere incompetence," Goodman said.

A city spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.



 
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