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ACLU: City Hall bans “improper” and unconstitutional

Police spokesman says "the mayor was not involved" in keeping Kim Trueheart out of City Hall.

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.”

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  • ushanellore

    City Hall had nothing to do with this–no sir.  The Mayor was not responsible.  Some rogue police got out of hand and that’s how Kim Trueheart’s arrest was effected.  When things go badly blame it on the lower echelon and let the upper echelon go free.  Has been this way for centuries.

  • bmorepanic

    Thank you for this article.  
     I appreciate your evenhanded reporting and am thankful to the ACLU for stating why I
    I felt dismay at the concept of someone being “banned” for being confrontational with government officials but in a non-violent way that didn’t interrupt anything but political showboating. 

    There are too many instances of SRB using over the top tactics to shutdown protest for me – particularly the untidy protests of actual people.  Using swat teams to disband peaceful protesters, having your employees go on jihad against individual citizens at public meetings, plus the entire concept of banning people from government buildings for what seems to be a ginned up reason. 

    It’s like she believes she is a ruler instead of the citizens’ employee.  I don’t mean that as a comment on her ability to work hard, because I’m sure she does.   But she gives the impression that she only cares about ego strokes from corporations and that individual citizens should get out of her way.

  • discer

    While I agree that there have been a few instances where police have used their powers inappropiately I believe in evaluating each instance on its own set of circumstances. At what point does civic activisim deteoriate into disruptive behavior? The peoples rights are not limitless and some level of decorum does not to be maintained. Having said that it is no surprise that Ms Truehart’s version of the events differs from the police version. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. Based on some of Ms Truehart’s posting on this sight I have seen where should can be confrontational and abusive at times. This is unfortunate as it clouds what are legitimate concerns.

    Thw ACLU’s blanket opinion does not address the specifics of this case. It should be interesting to see if they get involved.

    • Gerald Neily

      The First Amendment is sacred. Our country has been built upon it. For the purposes of discussion in The Brew, that’s as specific as we need to get. Which is very specific.

      • baltimorebrew

         Tell it, brother….

      • discer

        Don’t remember first amendment rights being questioned. Merely reiterating what was said in the second paragraph of this article.

        • Gerald Neily

          You referred to the ACLU’s “blanket opinion”. The blanket is the First Amendment.

          • discer

            Seriously, you know better than most first amendment rights are not limitless.

          • Gerald Neily

            Constitutional rights are limitless in that all other laws are subordinate to it.

  • ushanellore

    Hey Discer,
    You mean site-not sight–although I would say the Brew has more sight than most other sites.  Anyway, Ms.Trueheart has never been abusive on this site.  I read her everytime she posts.  She can be miffed with what she sees as an unfair practice or an injustice.  She has a finely honed sharp conscience and when she does not espy the same in fellow posters or even in the Brew editors she calls folks out.  Once she got miffed enough to tell the Brew, if I remember correctly, she won’t be back on the Brew, but thankfully she relented and returned.  She is confrontational.  Heck, that ain’t a sin.  You stand your ground and she posts her confrontations–no one’s a wallflower on this site–the posters survive and return for more head butts.  She is not a cuddly kitten.  She is a tigress and she roars but that’s what makes interesting, illuminating and fun. Let her roar.  Please don’t endorse insipidity and dispassionate posts for the Brew.     

  • discer

    Again, not questioning validity of Ms Trueheart’s assertions. Just questioning the effectiveness of her methods. Are there tangible results? Getting. ‘atta boys from fellow posters isn’t the goal. Getting desired results those you are petitioning is. If those goals are being achieved then full speed ahead and congratulations, sincerely. If not a reassessment may be in order. That was the only point.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

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