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Dismissal sought of protestors’ citations for curfew violations in Green Bay

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

GREEN BAY – An attorney representing Black Lives Matter protesters is seeking to dismiss citations issued to nine of his clients accused in early June of violating the city’s emergency curfew.

In a Sept. 2 letter sent to Mayor Eric Genrich and City Attorney Vanessa Chavez, attorney David Hassel said the curfew was “unconstitutional as designed and as enforced.”

“The curfew was nothing but an excuse to stop people from voicing their support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and calling attention to systemic racism,” Hassel said. “It targeted specific speech content, with the foreseeable, if not intended, consequence that law enforcement disproportionately used it to arrest people of color.”

The protests were held in response to George Floyd’s death May 25 when he was in police custody in Minneapolis.

On the night of May 31 as peaceful protesting concluded, Hassel said “certain actors unrelated to the peaceful protesters committed crimes of vandalism and theft in the same vicinity of the protests.”

“These crimes were immediately and unfairly attributed to BLM,” he said.

In response to those crimes, Hassel said the city banned BLM protests under the guise of a curfew.

“It initially applied to any person on any street, sidewalk or other public property during this time,” he said. “Presented this way, the curfew was never put forth as a restriction on the time, place and manner of political speech, but a true curfew such as those in place in Minneapolis and Milwaukee.”

However, as people complained about the restrictions, Hassel said the curfew was relaxed to allow businesses to stay open and people to leave their homes.

“It was later clarified that although it applied to all, the police would only use it on groups of people or people engaged in illegal activity,” he said. “The police used this discretion in line with the original purpose of the curfew – the only people selected for enforcement of the curfew on June 1 were non-violent BLM protesters critical of the police.”

Hassel emphasized in his letter the emergency curfew ratified June 2 by the city council applied to “all persons,” from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“Banning BLM outright would be unconstitutional,” he said. “The council instead adopted a curfew that had nothing to do with speech.”

Hassel said the city subsequently announced exceptions to the curfew when residents objected to being told they had to stay home because of public safety, and it ended up becoming “a powerful tool to rid the streets of anyone the police deemed undesirable.”

“Fourteen people were charged and arrested for violating the curfew, but not for any unlawful conduct,” he said. “All were people engaged in lawful speech critical of the police in general.”

Hassel argued in the letter the curfew and its enforcement “suffer numerous constitutional defects,” and he is seeking:

1. Immediate dismissal of all citations for violation of the curfew;

2. Expungement of all records relating to any arrest under the curfew, including any charges where the curfew formed the basis for probable cause;

3. An apology from the city and acknowledgment its response to the events of May 31 was imprudent.

4. Reasonable compensation for the time each of his clients devoted to addressing these charges;

5. Reasonable compensation for the actual arrests; and

6. Some compensation on a reduced-fee basis for the legal work required to get this relief.

Hassel said he has entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of the nine clients he represents.

He also sent a copy of his letter to Brown County District Attorney David Lasee, whose office is prosecuting the citations.

City response

When seeking comment from the city on the curfew citations issued to protesters Hassel is representing, Genrich referred the matter to Chavez, who said the citations were issued properly due to a valid curfew order.

She declined comment on the possibility the citations could face a legal challenge on their constitutionality.

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