The City of Cleveland agreed to a $50,000 settlement Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by Steven Fridley, who was arrested outside of the 2016 Republican National Convention for burning the American flag.
Fridley was charged with obstructing official business, aggravated disturbance of peace, and disobeying a lawful order, but those charges were dropped by Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Charles Patton in October 2017.
In his ruling, Patton cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision, which found that burning the American flag was protected by the First Amendment.
A year later, in October 2018, Fridley filed suit against the City of Cleveland in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on the grounds that the city, its police chief, and police officers unlawfully prosecuted him for exercising his First Amendment rights.
Fridley’s lawsuit, according to a Wednesday press release from his attorneys, also claimed that city officials manufactured false reports and evidence in an effort to pursue “sham charges” intended to “create plausible deniability” and “conceal their politically motivated censorship of a lawful protest.”
The City of Cleveland settled Fridley’s claims Wednesday for $50,000.
“The case is a timely reminder that respect for dissent is more patriotic than censorship, and even clear instructions from the Supreme Court cannot prevent Orwellian ordeals,” Patrick Kabat of the Chandra Law Firm said in the press release. “Our officers must protect our freedom to criticize our government, not enforce their own politics. Mr. Fridley’s liberty remained in jeopardy for a year because he exercised First Amendment freedoms the Supreme Court guaranteed decades ago to the very man whose protest he joined.”
Indeed, as Kabat indicated, Fridley was arrested along with Gregory “Joey” Johnson, who was the defendant in the high court’s Texas v. Johnson case. Johnson is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which was behind the 2016 flag burning outside of the RNC. Johnson has also sued the City of Cleveland over the same incident, though his case remains pending.
“It remains troubling that Cleveland has still done nothing to discipline the officers who retaliated against Mr. Fridley for exercising his First Amendment rights—despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Texas v. Johnson holding and the municipal court’s decision [that] the prosecution was unconstitutional under that holding,” attorney Subodh Chandra said.
Chandra and Kabat are also representing Johnson in his lawsuit against the city.
“It’s also disturbing that the city, police chief, and law department apparently failed to properly train officers in the run-up to the 2016 RNC,” Chandra added. “This doesn’t bode well for Cleveland’s future in honoring free speech and protecting protesters—and suggests officers remain free to run amok and betray the Constitution.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Quicken Loans Arena” by Erik Drost. CC BY 2.0.