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Barnes' backer claims his rights were violated by Mule Camp arrest

Man, lawyer protest trespass charge while campaigning; festival organizers cite ordinance

POSTED: October 20, 2010 11:21 p.m.
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Larry Gibson

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A man who was arrested after carrying a Roy Barnes gubernatorial campaign sign during Mule Camp in downtown Gainesville is now calling for his First Amendment rights.

Larry Gibson was arrested and charged with criminal trespass around 4:20 p.m. on Oct. 8 after several members of the Gainesville Jaycees and Gainesville Police Department asked him to carry the sign outside of the event barricades.

Under the city's special event ordinance, event organizers can ask a person to leave if he or she "interferes with the orderly conduct" of the event. The Jaycees, who had the permit for the event, wanted to hold a non-political event and asked Gibson to leave, said Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard.

"Another person, a Republican, campaigned for (state Rep.) Carl Rogers on Saturday, but he left when they asked him not to campaign in the area," she said. "It wasn't the Barnes sign. They just didn't want politics to be a part of it at all."

Jaycees member Michael Barron asked Gibson to leave the corner of Bradford and Spring streets several times before contacting police, according to the incident report.

"Police were asked to respond to the area, and again he was given the option to go outside of the barricades, where he could campaign all he wanted," Lt. Carol Martin said Tuesday. "At that time, the city ordinance was explained, as well as the state law of criminal trespass, and he was advised to go outside of the barricade. He refused, said it was his right and said to take him to jail."

Barron told police the Jaycees didn't want campaigning because "in the past there had been issues between both political parties, ultimately resulting in altercations," and it would "take away from the purpose of the event," according to the police report.

Gibson told police it was his right to campaign, and officers on the scene decided to check the city ordinance before arresting him. About an hour later, Barron told police Gibson was still at the event and was "disturbing sales at booths that were set up," according to the report.

After checking the ordinance, officers took Gibson to the Hall County Jail and kept the sign as evidence, but because of the size of the sign, the jail refused to keep it. The officer contacted Gibson's brother to return the sign and then went back to the square to take written statements from business owners who were "disturbed by Gibson's actions."

Gainesville attorney Rich Brannon took up the case free of charge when a friend said it was "right up his alley."

"At first blush, it looks like a clear violation of First Amendment rights. I can't imagine that you can take a public street and somehow convert it to a private area for an event and then arrest someone walking around with a sign," Brannon said Wednesday. "I bet money that I could have walked in with a (gubernatorial candidate) Nathan Deal sign and wouldn't have been asked to leave, particularly by the Jaycees, which is a more conservative group."

Returning to town Wednesday, Brannon is catching up on the case and hadn't yet received the police report or checked the city ordinance.

"We have to examine if the ordinance is constitutional or not," he said. "We have to remember that all we floated over here on boats with sails to have these rights and political freedoms."

Brannon wasn't aware of a specific court date yet but is looking forward to the intricacies of the case.

"If that is the ordinance, what if I decided to hold an event that is political, like a Roy Barnes event, and blocked off the whole square for it and made people leave when I didn't want them there?" said Brannon, who doesn't consider himself to be a member of any political party.

"Larry Gibson felt like he had a right to carry a sign and wasn't disturbing anyone. Sounds like an American to me."

 



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