To: J. Howard Elstro, Director of Public Works, City of Lima
CC: Mayor David Berger
From: Don Kissick, Allen County Libertarian Party Chair
Re: the behavior of an individual affiliated with the July 4th Festival
As promised, this is the letter detailing the nature of the confrontation we discussed regarding the individual who identified himself only as a member of the committee which plans the annual 4th of July festival in Faurot Park.
Since I do not have his name I only have his description to offer: he was an elderly gentleman who is an apparent amputee (right leg) and was riding one of the green carts used throughout the park that day.
For the record, I wish to be clear my primary complaint is not about the prohibition against distribution of literature during the festival. In brief, I do reserve disagreements but they shall be addressed later.
The gentleman in question who approached my fellow Allen County Libertarian Party members and I (this was approximately 6 p.m.) did so in the most unprofessional manner possible.
As he rolled-up in the cart, he began repeatedly bellowing, “Give me that box,” and, “Hand over that box!”
In light of the fact he never once identified himself or under what authority he operated to be able demand forfeiture of anyone’s personal property, I politely refused.
At that point, his behavior went from threatening and combative to outright belligerent. All the while he insisted we were not allowed to distribute copies of the Declaration of Independence, he never once explained why or under what authority it was prohibited. He then attempted to interrogate me as to whether or not we had gotten “a permit from the committee” to pass out copies of the Declaration of Independence but refused to explain to what committee he was referring or how a permit was necessary to distribute anything on public property.
Throughout the exchange, I was resolute on the grounds that distribution of copies of the Declaration of Independence is a perfectly legal, First Amendment-protected activity and we were well within our rights to do so.
Eventually I was able to bring to his attention – after multiple attempts due to the belligerent manner in which he kept yelling over my responses to his questions – that there were no notices of any kind posted anywhere in or around the park informing the public of such prohibitions during the festival: to which he accused me of lying.
Next, he once more demanded that I surrender my property to him and this time included I had to “get out of the park” – again, without ever even hinting to what authority he retained to eject anyone from public property – and if I did not comply he would involve officers of the Lima Police Department.
When I reiterated we had every right to be on public property and distribute copies of the Declaration of Independence under the protection of the First Amendment he then employed his radio to contact others working the festival and asked them to direct law enforcement to our location, saying, “He thinks he’s got rights but he ain’t got no rights!”
After finishing his call to have the police step in, he continued with his belligerence and even commented, “If you want to be taken down you keep going! And, don’t think just because I got one leg I can’t do it!”
It was right after that he then violently ripped out of my left hand the copy of the Declaration of Independence I was holding in it (the box containing the other copies was in my right hand).
Within a few short minutes, three officers arrived on the scene led by Sgt. Holman (sp?). He very calmly and with far greater professionalism than the gentleman who suggested he was on the (yet unidentified at that time) committee explained that even though Faurot Park is public property since it was reserved via permit by a private entity they retained the prerogative to determine what activity was and was not permissible during the festival.
One of my fellow members and I let the sergeant know if that gentleman simply had informed us of all that there would have been no need for law enforcement to intervene and that we would have gladly kept to the sidewalk with our copies of the Declaration of Independence.
Instead, this committee member (who would not identify himself) engaged in the most unprofessional and atrocious (at times bordering on violent) behavior toward us. To demand forfeiture of my personal property constituted an attempted petty larceny, to engage in his threatening and menacing behavior constituted a public nuisance, and to grab any items out of my hand could very easily be interpreted as assault.
Clearly understanding he was not just in the wrong but way out of bounds, he changed his behavior as soon as he noticed law enforcement was approaching the scene.
At this point of the letter, having described the incident with this member of Star Spangled Spectacular, Inc.’s committee, I would wish to have some important technical points explained.
Now, per our conversation in the Lima Municipal Building this afternoon, you mentioned the City of Lima is “a partner” with Star Spangled Spectacular, Inc. If your description is accurate, then the 4th of July festival cannot be classified as a private event as it is conducted under a partnership by SSSI with the city government on public property.
Therefore, there is a complete lack of legal and constitutional standing when it comes to prohibiting the distribution of literature of any kind – political, religious, or otherwise – during such an event. The handing-out of copies of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July in Faurot Park remains a First Amendment-protected activity.
Furthermore, with the festival operating as a public-private partnership, those who (be they SSSI committee members or volunteers recruited by them) staff the festival under such an arrangement would become by default representatives of the City of Lima.
Given these circumstances, I would want to know if the city would be comfortable with the fact those who assume representation of it (even if temporarily) are treating members of the public in such a manner while on City of Lima property, operating with a City of Lima-issued permit, conducting the event in partnership with the City of Lima, and using the City of Lima’s name in the event.
This has the potential to reflect very unfavorably on the city.
It is our hope and expectation this matter can be resolved to the satisfaction of the Allen County Libertarian Party as well as the satisfaction of the taxpayers of this great community.
Thank you for your time and professionalism in considering this situation.
Together in Liberty,
Allen County Libertarian Party Chair