Man arrested twice for criticizing police sues Iowa town for violating his constitutional rights

A young man named Noah Petersen is suing the town of Newton, Iowa for violating several of his constitutional rights after being arrested twice for criticizing the small town's police, reports Reason,

"The mayor and police chief had Noah arrested, jailed, strip-searched, and criminally prosecuted simply because they didn't like what Noah had to say," says the lawsuit. "This suit is filed to vindicate the fundamental right to criticize the government without fear of retaliation and to ensure the constitutional accountability of all government officials."

From Reason:

Petersen was prompted to speak at an October 3, 2022, Newton City Council meeting after the release of body cam footage showing Newton officers arresting a college football player, Tayvin Galanakis. Galanakis was arrested for driving under the influence, despite blowing a 0.00 on a Breathalyzer and passing roadside sobriety tests. He was taken to the police station for further drug tests, all of which came back negative, before eventually being released.

Petersen approached the microphone and said: "Hello. This is my public comment for [the] City Council meeting, now October 3rd, 2022. Defund Newton Police Department. They are a violent, civil and human rights–violating organization who do not make your community safer. They are also pro–domestic abuse because they are currently employing a domestic abuser and choosing to not release the records about that domestic abuser. "

At that point, the Newton mayor ordered Petersen to stop speaking, although his allotted three minutes of time had not expired. When Petersen refused, the mayor ordered the police chief to remove Petersen for violating a council rule forbidding "derogatory statements or comments about any individual."

Police arrested Johnson, charging him with "disorderly conduct for disrupting a lawful assembly." He was arrested again the next day when he returned to the City Council meeting and called the police chief and mayor fascists. Neither charge stuck in court.

From the Institute for Justice, which is representing Petersen:

Now, with the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit public interest law firm, Noah is filing a federal lawsuit against Newton, its mayor, and its police chief. This lawsuit is a crucial step in the fight against the unconstitutional silencing and arrest of citizens in retaliation for speaking out during city council meetings. 

"The right to criticize the government is a central pillar of our Constitution," said Brian Morris, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Noah. "It is embodied in both the text and history of the Founding and First Amendment." 

Morris continued: "By ordering their opponents arrested, Newton's officials behaved like petty dictators in a banana republic, rather than democratically elected leaders in a constitutional republic. Anyone with a high school diploma should know that having your political opponents arrested is a textbook example of violating someone's First Amendment rights and we're confident that the courts will agree."

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, seeks to hold the city of Newton, Mayor Hansen, and the police chief accountable for violating Noah's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. It argues that the city and its officials violated the Constitution because it was unreasonable to arrest Noah without probable cause. Calmly criticizing the government during a public comment period is not illegal—it's protected speech.