A lawsuit has been filed against the Duncanville Police Department by three plaintiffs who allege that their First Amendment rights were violated by officers who prevented them from expressing their political views on a public overpass.
The lawsuit states that Kevin Caldwell, Larry Hook, and Ajua Mason were exercising their First Amendment rights on the morning of October 21, 2022, while holding a political banner at the I-20 overpass on Oriole Boulevard in Duncanville.
Plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit that multiple officers from the department arrived around 9 a.m. and “acted in their official capacities to obstruct, hinder, or [prevent] Plaintiffs from the enjoyment and exercise of their rights to the freedom of speech pursuant to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Speaking with The Dallas Express, the plaintiffs said they had been “dropping banners in Dallas county” for years and never had any issue with a police department.
Mason said they often interacted with police officers during their drops since “a lot of people disagree” with the messaging and file police reports. “They have to come out and do a routine check.”
“The cops would come out, assess the situation, and see that we were not in any violation as far as how the banner is placed. They assess the situation and leave,” Mason told The Dallas Express.
The plaintiffs claimed the officers who arrived at the scene last October issued $181 citations for an “illegal sign.” They said the officers did not respond when asked what city ordinances were being violated.
“We actually went in for a plea hearing, and they couldn’t explain what the charge was. They said, ‘We’re sorry you’re going to have to come back; we’re going to have to do some more research,’” Caldwell told The Dallas Express.
“Because we basically said, ‘We can’t plea. We don’t even know what the charge is,'” he said.
Caldwell noted that the first plea hearing had to be rescheduled. The second plea hearing was also rescheduled but for inclement weather.
Hook told The Dallas Express that the three plaintiffs arrived for their third plea hearing only to discover that “it was a replay” of the first. The city allegedly still had no definite answer as to which, if any, city ordinances were violated.
Just days before a trial for the citations was set to commence, the plaintiffs said the department offered to drop the charges if they stayed out of trouble for 90 days.
“We basically … said, ‘No, we’re not going to agree to that. You’re willing to drop the charges, but there won’t be any consequences on our end because we haven’t done anything wrong,’” Caldwell said to The Dallas Express.
Shortly after that discussion, Caldwell said the charges were dropped without any conditions.
“That is absolutely a public disservice by public employees,” said Hook. “I racked up hundreds of miles on my vehicle going back and forth between my house and that court down there in Duncanville.”
Since the initial incident, Caldwell said the plaintiffs have opted not to conduct any more banner drops to avoid unnecessary confrontation.
“In fact, we’ve been a little bit afraid because of the reaction that we got,” Caldwell told The Dallas Express.
The three plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages from the Duncanville Police Department and the officers involved in the incident.
The case resembles a 2014 lawsuit in which Overpasses for America (OFA) and Valerie Villarreal sued the City of Dallas in response to an ordinance that prevented any person from “carrying signs, wearing costumes, or engaging in other activities intended to draw attention to their signs or themselves on, over, or near those highways.”
OFA and Villarreal claimed in the lawsuit that the ordinance “eviscerates Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights of free speech and peaceable assembly, making it unlawful and subjecting to fines speech and assembly which takes place on any overpass in the City of Dallas, Texas.”
In 2015, U.S. District Judge David Godbey wrote in a two-page consent judgment that the “plaintiffs suffered a deprivation of constitutional rights,” according to Court House News.
Three months after the plaintiffs filed the 2014 lawsuit, the City repealed the ordinance following requests by then-City Attorney Warren Ernst and the Dallas Police Department.