- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Providence on Monday for allegedly violating free speech rights when police ordered protesters to move further and further away from a campaign fundraiser for Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, says the city violated the federal and state constitutional guarantees of free speech during a September 2013 fundraiser held outside the Casino at Roger Williams Park. It also says officers violated one protester’s rights against unreasonable search and seizure because she was arrested.

The ACLU says the case is especially egregious because it happened six months after a federal judge found Providence police had violated a woman’s free speech rights in a similar case.

A Providence police spokeswoman said Monday the department had no immediate comment.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the city-owned park to protest Raimondo, the state treasurer, for pushing the state’s landmark pension overhaul in 2011. They carried signs and were chanting slogans such as “Hey hey, ho ho. Gina Raimondo’s got to go” and “Gina cooked the books,” according to the lawsuit.

Shortly before the event began, according to the lawsuit, protester Gladys Gould tried to walk on the sidewalk in front of the building with a sign critical of Raimondo and was told by two officers she was not allowed to be there. She crossed the road to join a larger group of protesters. About 15 minutes later, the lawsuit says, police told the group to move further from the entrance, and they moved to about 250 feet away.

Soon after that, they were told again to move and protesters again had to cross a road, moving about 285 feet away. One protester, Shannah Kurland, refused to move, telling officers that in March 2013, a federal judge had found that the city violated a protester’s free speech rights in 2010 when officers forced her to move from a public sidewalk as she passed out leaflets critical of the then-mayor.

Kurland was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. She pleaded not guilty.

In October 2013, the city acknowledged it violated the rights of the protester in the 2010 case and agreed to pay $75,000 to settle it.

The lawsuit filed Monday asks that the city be required to properly train officers about people’s constitutional rights to demonstrate peacefully. It also asks for unspecified damages and legal fees.


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