Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Huron mayor orders police seize local activist as she speaks before council about officials’...
May 15, 2019
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Cleveland, OH — Yesterday, Huron activist Stacy Hinners filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit to block local personal-injury and DUI-defense lawyer Michael O’Shea from filing further criminal charges against her based on her May 14, 2019 speech to Huron City Council announcing that she had filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse secret payments it had been making to its city manager.
According to the complaint, the prosecution began 24 hours after Mrs. Hinners announced the lawsuit during the public-comments portion of the May 14, 2019 City Council meeting. After Mrs. Hinners disclosed the lawsuit, a council member cut her off from speaking any more, and then-Mayor Brad Hartung berated her and announced that he was having her charged with disturbing a lawful meeting. Police arrived just moments later, yanked Mrs. Hinners out of her chair, threw her against a wall, hauled her out of the room, and cited her. These events are captured on video and audio. Days later, they charged her with resisting arrest, as well.
The complaint says the City’s then-law director, Aimee Lane—who participated in the underlying misconduct against Mrs. Hinners, blocked the City’s prosecutor from deciding whether to drop the charges and instead hired Defendant O’Shea, offering him $125 an hour to pursue either a conviction or an agreement that would insulate her and the City from a lawsuit for false arrest.
A visiting judge on the Huron Municipal Court scheduled a hearing to determine whether the prosecution was being brought to retaliate against Mrs. Hinners for exercising her First Amendment rights. Her attorneys from The Chandra Law Firm LLC were prepared with witnesses, videos, and audio recordings to prove that the City was unconstitutionally, selectively prosecuting Mrs. Hinners in retaliation for her First Amendment-protected speech. But half an hour before the hearing was to start, O’Shea dismissed the case "without prejudice" (meaning the charges can be refiled), saying that all his most important witnesses were under criminal investigation by the Ohio attorney general for their actions against Mrs. Hinners and her husband—but if they’re ever cleared, he’ll be able to start the whole process all over again.
Since then, the voters of Huron have elected a new council, and Ms. Lane has been replaced as law director. But despite a pointed request from Mrs. Hinners that the City end the retaliation against her permanently, the new city government continues to leave the charges hanging over Mrs. Hinners’s head. (And Huron's new law director is from the same law firm as Ms. Lane, yet appears to be embracing the conflict of interest associated with him advising councilmembers about what to do and what not to do, even though his own firm is exposed from what Ms. Lane did.)
Mrs. Hinners chose not to wait to be revictimized.
Federal law allows victims of bad-faith prosecutions to vindicate their First Amendment rights by seeking an injunction ordering the government to stop prosecuting the case. Mrs. Hinners has asked a federal court to intervene.
Subodh Chandra, Mrs. Hinners’s lead counsel, said: "This has been a blatant case of First Amendment retaliation from the moment it started. Mrs. Hinners never disturbed any meeting; all she did was politely remind Huron City Council that it needs to meet in public if it wants to spend the public’s money. The actions of Mayor Hartung, Law Director Aimee Lane, and Defendant O’Shea were unjustified. The new law director—from the same firm as Lane and thus afflicted by conflict of interest—and the new City Council have failed to correct this injustice despite having had two meetings in which they could have done so. Mrs. Hinners is confident the court will see through the sham."
Chandra continued, "It took real courage for Mrs. Hinners to stand up for her rights, rather than make the false statements the City sought in exchange for dropping the charges against her. Our democratic form of government relies on people like her to watch what the government is doing, report that news to their neighbors, and hold elected officials accountable when they get things wrong. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hinners is being chilled in her ability to do because the prosecutor at any moment could reinstitute these sham charges. That threat must end."