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Huron pays Stacy and Jason Hinners $256,000 to settle First Amendment–retaliation and malicious-prosecution suit

Monday, November 27, 2023

The suit followed Mrs. Hinners's May 2019 civic speech to the Huron City Council—and the unsuccessful prosecution that ensued.

Huron, OH – The City of Huron, Ohio, through its insurance carrier, has paid Stacy and Jason Hinners $256,000 to fully settle their First Amendment–retaliation federal lawsuit against the City and its current and former officials. The suit arose from Huron officials' conduct during a May 14, 2019 Huron City Council meeting.

During the public-comments portion of that meeting, Mrs. Hinners announced that she and her husband Jason had filed a lawsuit under Ohio's Open Meetings Act to reverse secret payments Huron had been making to its then-city manager, Andrew White.

As soon as Mrs. Hinners disclosed the lawsuit, Council member and then-Vice Mayor Trey Hardy cut her off and then–Mayor Brad Hartung announced he was having Mrs. Hinners charged with supposedly disturbing a lawful meeting.

Police arrived minutes later, yanked Mrs. Hinners out of her chair, threw her against the wall, and charged her with disturbing a lawful meeting. And days later, they charged her with supposedly resisting arrest.

The amended federal complaint alleged that this and other conduct by City officials violated all of Mr. and Mrs. Hinners’s First Amendment rights:

  • Punishing Mrs. Hinners for speaking about her lawsuit, in violation of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause;
  • Punishing Mrs. Hinners for her published statements opposing Defendant Hartung’s agenda, in violation of the First Amendment's Free Press Clause,
  • Removing Mrs. Hinners from a meeting of fellow citizens, in violation of the First Amendment's Freedom of Assembly Clause; and
  • Punishing Mr. and Mrs. Hinners for filing a lawsuit against the City, in violation of the First Amendment's Petition Clause.
  • Trying to impose Defendant Ginesi’s definition of “Christian behavior” on Mr. Hinners’s church, in violation of the First Amendment's religious Establishment Clause;
  • Interfering with Mr. Hinners’s attempts to become a church deacon, in violation of the First Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion Clause;

The suit also brought claims for malicious prosecution. The purported criminal case against Stacy Hinners was dismissed.

The civil lawsuit named as Defendants the City of Huron and several other former and current city officials, including Hartung, Hardy, and the police officers who pulled Mrs. Hinners out of the meeting and filed charges against her.

The settlement follows a ruling by the federal court, after reviewing video footage of the incident, that it was plausible that the officers and city lacked probable cause to arrest Mrs. Hinners. In other words, the video footage evidence of what happened showed that the arrest was wrongful.

Subodh Chandra, Mrs. Hinners’s lead counsel, said, "Rarely do we see so many First Amendment rights violated in one case. Many of the officials who put Huron in hot water are no longer public officials. The Hinnerses are pleased to see this unfortunate episode behind them and will continue to be productive and engaged members of the community they love."

The case was captioned Hinners, et al. v. City of Huron, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Case No. 1:19-cv-02868, and was assigned to Judge J. Philip Calabrese, who presided over settlement talks.

The operative amended complaint may be viewed here.

Mr. and Mrs. Hinners were represented by Subodh Chandra of The Chandra Law Firm LLC and Brian D. Bardwell of Speech Law LLC.

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentPolice Misconduct & BrutalityMalicious Prosecution, Abuse of Process, and False Arrest

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