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Michael v. City of Granite City

March 27, 2009

MIA MICHAEL, DANIEL MICHAEL, AND ANGELA MICHAEL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF GRANITE CITY, ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, EDWARD HAGNAUER, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF GRANITE CITY, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, RICHARD MILLER, CHIEF OF POLICE OF GRANITE CITY, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND GRANITE CITY POLICE OFFICERS MERZ AND NOVASICH, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

This matter is before the Court for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law after a bench trial. The plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint seeking to recover for alleged violations of their First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights related to their efforts to protest in favor of pro-life at Granite City, Illinois sponsored parades. The only remaining claim before the Court for determination is whether defendants' actions during the November 2005 Christmas Parade in Granite City amounted to a restriction of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion because the defendants withheld police protection from plaintiffs and threatened to charge them with assault.

The Court previously granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the City of Granite City from enforcing Granite City Ordinance 7878 on the grounds that was unconstitutional because the ordinance was not narrowly tailored; was too restrictive on the permitted size of any signs; and was too restrictive in limiting the distance from a parade route for the displaying of signs (See, Memorandum & Order at Doc. 34). The Court thereafter granted plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, finding that Granite City Ordinance 7878 was unconstitutional, as written, and amounted to a heckler's veto (See, Memorandum & Order at Doc. 48), and precluded the City from attempts to enforce the Ordinance. The Court held a bench trial on the remaining claim of First Amendment violation based upon a failure to protect and threat to prosecute, and took the matter under advisement. The Court now enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiffs to this action are Mia Michael, Daniel Michael, and Angela Michael. The defendants are the City of Granite City, Illinois, a municipal corporation; Edward Hagnaure, Mayor of the City of Granite City, sued in his official and individual capacities; Richard Miller, Chief of Police of Granite City, sued in his official and individual capacities; and Granite City police officers Tony Merz and Nicholas Novasich, both of whom are sued in their individual capacities.

2. Plaintiffs have regularly attempted to exercise their First Amendment rights, based on their religious and personal beliefs as pro-life protestors, and they carry protest signs showing photographs of aborted fetuses at public events in Granite City.

3. During the Christmas Parade in Granite City on November 19, 2005, the plaintiffs, Mia Michael, and Angela Michael,*fn1 together with a group of other pro-life supporters, held several large pro-life banners and signs. The protesters were present at the parade site from approximately 1:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. The parade lasted from approximately 2:00 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. that day.

4. The protesters gathered at the corner of Niedringhaus and Madison in Granite City, which was the beginning of the parade route, and began setting up their signs. Some of the signs held by the protesters had only words, others had graphic depictions of aborted fetuses.

5. As the protesters were setting up their signs, the crowd nearby began heckling the protesters, telling them in various ways that the protesters should not be at the parade and that they "needed to leave."

6. At some point the Mayor, defendant Hagnauer, asked the protesters to turn their signs around, saying that their signs were fine, but not the graphic pictures. This is depicted on the videotape which was admitted into evidence. There was also evidence that an unidentified person, who was on the parade route in a golf cart, drove the cart back and forth in front of the protesters. There is no evidence that this person was a Granite City official and he was not one of the named defendants.

7. After approximately 10 to 15 minutes, the protesters were approached by a woman from the crowd, Sheryl Horgon, who physically and deliberately shoved one of the protesters, Angela Rataj, who was holding a large banner with another protester. Horgan then kicked a sign held by another protester. Mia Michaels was videotaping the parade (Pl. Ex. 2), and both Mia Michael and Rataj told the woman not to touch Rataj as it was, "Assault."

8. At that point, other people from the crowd pushed forward and Mia Michael was pushed backward by Horgon's daughter, causing Mia Michael to fall and hit her head. Plaintiff Angela Michael, Mia Michael's mother, then called for help and defendant Merz arrested the woman who pushed down Mia Michael, placed her in handcuffs and took her into custody by placing her in his squad car.

9. The arresting officer, defendant Merz, then asked the protesters to leave the area at the start of the parade route with their signs.

10. The protesters refused to leave, and Merz responded by releasing Horgon from his custody and stated, "It's over." The entire incident lasted approximately 10 minutes.

11. After the parade was over the plaintiffs, accompanied by other protesters went to the Granite City Police Department to file charges. Horgon came into the Station a few minutes later and lunged at Angela Michael. Two officers then placed Horgon in handcuffs and took her into custody.

12. Plaintiffs inquired about pressing charges and were told that because they had refused to leave the corner when directed by the police officer, they could not now press charges. They were directed to call the Police Chief the following Monday.

13. Daniel Michael called the police department the Monday after the parade to inquire why the police did not take the statement from either Angela Michael or Mia Michael after the parade. He was told by Detective Novacich that the case was under investigation. A few days later, Daniel Michael was informed by defendant Novacich that there was a possibility that they would have to press ...


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