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VICTORY: Federal judge finds it plausible that Huron officials had no probable cause to arrest community activist Stacy Hinners

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Judge orders that 21 civil-rights claims including claims for First Amendment retaliation and malicious prosecution against former mayor Brad Hartung and police officers shall proceed.

Video of Stacy Hinners being arrested for criticizing Huron officials at the May 14, 2019 Huron City Council meeting.

Cleveland, OH – Yesterday, U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese ordered that many of Huron, Ohio civic activists Stacy and Jason Hinners’s federal civil-rights claims—stemming from the May 14, 2019 incident in which Mrs. Hinners was arrested following a speech to Huron City Council—may proceed. The court found, based on its review of the civil complaint and accompanying video footage, that the Hinnerses had plausibly alleged that Huron officials had no probable cause to arrest Mrs. Hinners that day.

In May 2019, Mrs. Hinners, a lawyer, attended a Huron City Council meeting to announce during the public-comments section of the meeting that she and her lawyer husband, Jason Hinners, had just filed a lawsuit against the city for violating Ohio’s Open Meetings Act. (That suit was later settled favorably for the Hinnerses.)

While Mrs. Hinners was speaking about the city officials’ illegal conduct, Mayor Hartung interrupted her speech. Mrs. Hinners asked the mayor to afford her the same, slightly extended speaking time as that afforded to other attendees, but he refused. In response, the Mayor and police chief ordered police to physically remove Mrs. Hinners for exercising her constitutionally protected rights under the guise of Mrs. Hinners supposedly “disrupting a public meeting.”

Video footage recorded this blatant abuse of public power and attendees’ expressions of shock.

After the incident, officers charged Mrs. Hinners with “disrupting a lawful meeting” and resisting arrest. The complaint alleges that a month earlier Huron Councilman Glen Ginesi contacted the Hinnerses’ pastor to ask that Mr. Hinners not be appointed as a deacon for supposedly “non-Christian” conduct as retribution for the Hinnerses’ track record of activism. In total, Huron officials violated several of the Hinnerses’ First Amendment rights—freedom of speech, freedom to petition the government, and freedom of religion.

Chandra Law secured partial justice for Stacy Hinners by maneuvering to force the criminal charges to be dropped. On July 10, 2020, at Chandra Law’s urging, the Huron municipal court finally permanently dismissed the charges against Mrs. Hinners “with prejudice”—meaning that the government cannot charge her again for the May 2019 Council incident. Complying with demands from citizen taxpayers also represented by Chandra Law, the City of Huron also fired special prosecutor Michael Joseph O’Shea. And since the incident, Mayor Brad Hartung, City Manager Andrew White, and Law Director Aimee Lane have all resigned.

A judge appointed the Ohio attorney general to launch a criminal investigation of Huron officials for their mistreatment of the Hinnerses, the outcome of which remains unclear.

Stacy and Jason Hinners—represented by The Chandra Law Firm—continue to seek full justice through their federal civil-rights suit against Huron and numerous current and former city officials.

Although Judge Calabrese dismissed some of the Hinnerses’ claims, he notably found based on his review of the complaint’s allegations and the video footage of the May 2019 Council incident that the Hinnerses plausibly alleged that Huron and its police officers had no probable cause to arrest Stacey Hinners in the first place. Before Mrs. Hinners’s arrest, Mayor Hartung called in Officers John Orzech and Kevin Koehler claiming that Mrs. Hinners was disrupting the public meeting. But when those officers arrived at the Council chamber, Mrs. Hinners was, as Judge Calabrese observed, “sitting quietly in her seat.” The officers thus had no evidence to substantiate Hartung’s accusation other than Hartung’s word alone. The court therefore determined that the complaint plausibly alleged that the officers arrested Mrs. Hinners simply based on Hartung’s arbitrary will to punish her for exercising her rights.

In total, the judge found “‘not one reasonable determination’ of probable cause.” Therefore, the judge decided that claims of retaliatory arrest, malicious prosecution, false arrest, failure to intervene, and false imprisonment will proceed.

Federal civil-rights claims will proceed against the City of Huron, former Mayor Brad Hartung, former City Manager Andrew White, Councilman Glen Ginesi, former Vice-Mayor Trey Hardy, Chief Robert Lippert, Officer John Orzech, and Officer Kevin Koehler. Claims range from First Amendment retaliation to intimidation.

Subodh Chandra, Stacy and Jason Hinners’s lead counsel, said, “Huron officials and its expensive outside lawyers have displayed no interest in resolving the Hinnerses’ concerns, despite our repeated invitations to talk. It remains to be seen whether they will do so now that a federal judge has ruled that it's plausible that Huron officials lacked probable cause to arrest Mrs. Hinners in the first place.”

“Regardless,” Chandra added, “the Hinnerses are determined to hold current and former Huron officials accountable for their misconduct. The Constitution matters, and officials who abuse their power to retaliate against those criticizing the government can’t get away with it—or we all lose.”

The Hinnerses are represented by Subodh Chandra and Brian D. Bardwell.

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentMalicious prosecution, abuse of process, and false arrest
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