City officials may still be mulling the legality of their decision to “ban” activist Kim Trueheart from Baltimore City Hall, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is calling the concept of a ban “improper” and likely to lead to multiple violations of citizens’ First Amendment rights.
Without commenting on the specifics of the case against Trueheart, who was arrested at Baltimore City Hall yesterday and released early this morning, ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said today that “the circumstances under which a flat-out ban would be proper are probably non-existent.”
“Simply banning people from ‘the peoples’ house’ is not the way to deal with people the government finds annoying,” said Rocah, a staff attorney for the state ACLU. “They should not take lightly a ban on entering the center of city government.”
Rocah said the way to deal with disruptive people in a public building is to apply existing legal mechanisms, such as the law against trespassing.
“Significant First Amendment Issues”
The Maryland law against trespassing in public buildings “has as a requirement that the person has to be without a lawful purpose and that they be acting in a way that is disruptive of the actions of government,” Rocah said. “This is inconsistent with a permanent or temporary ban.”
The other way to remove someone who is disruptive, he said, is to petition for a peace order, a legal process that would give both sides the opportunity to make their case.
Rocah said there are also “significant First Amendment issues” raised by issuing an order to keep someone from entering a public government building.
“It potentially compromises the right to seek redress of grievances, the First Amendment right to receive information that a citizen would be affected by, if barred from a government building, and the First Amendment right to speak their opinion,” Rocah said.
“A ‘Naughty List?’”
Rocah said he was surprised that the city imposed a ban before checking on whether it is legal to do so. (Prompted by reporters, City Solicitor George Nilson has said he is evaluating the legal ramifications of the incident. He has not responded to phone calls from The Brew.)
“It’s just unbelievable the city is looking into the legality of a ban now, more than a week after they imposed it and a day after the incident in which they invoked it,” Rocah said. “That’s more than a little backwards.”
Meanwhile the spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Ralwings-Blake is referring all inquiries to police officials, who say she was not involved in the decision to bar Trueheart from City Hall.
“The mayor’s office had nothing to do with this,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, unprompted. He also volunteered that “there is no ‘naughty list’ at the door of City Hall” of people to be kept out.
But he acknowledged that there was, on Wednesday, essentially a list of one to be barred – Trueheart.
Prelude to Arrest
Trueheart’s description of the events leading to her being banned from the building on Jan. 16 and arrested yesterday differs significantly from the police version.
Speaking on the phone with The Brew after her release, Trueheart said during the the Jan. 16 press availability in City Hall, a police officer was shoving her before she even spoke.
Guglielmi said the officer got between Trueheart and the mayor because Trueheart “held a camera in her hand and approached the podium” and the officer “must have perceived a threat or that Ms. Trueheart was coming too close.”
Reading from the part of the arrest report that said Trueheart “became very disorderly and irate at that meeting,” Guglielmi noted that there was no mention made of the shoving: “I wasn’t there, I can only go by what I see here.”
As for yesterday’s incident, the arrest report written by Officer Samuel Thomas says Trueheart had been “asked not come back to this location by Lt. Rob Morris on Jan. 16.”
Thomas wrote that Trueheart “was told because of her disturbances and her being confrontational on other occasions she could not enter” and that she “refused to leave the location when asked several times” and was finally arrested.
“A Sense of Decorum”
Trueheart said she was trying to leave City Hall when five officers blocked her way in the space between the outer and inner doors and took her forcibly into custody.
Gugleilmi said city police are charged with maintaining safety and “a sense of decorum” in city buildings.
Asked to comment on the ACLU’s objections to the concept of City Hall “banning” people at all, Guglielmi said, “That must be what the City Solicitor is looking into.”