Freedom of Speech Upheld in Escondido

October 25, 2012 1:28 pm

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The City of Escondido agreed to uphold the First Amendment right of individuals to protest and record the Escondido Police Department’s controversial traffic checkpoint program, in a settlement filed today in federal court.

The settlement concludes part of a case filed earlier this year against Escondido and the California Highway Patrol, in which the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties challenged interference by the City and CHP with the First Amendment rights of protesters who oppose checkpoints.

Under the settlement, Escondido agrees not to interfere with the First Amendment right to protest, film, or record traffic checkpoints, except to the limited extent members of the public may be excluded from a narrowly defined “operational area” at the checkpoint.

The operational area may include the portion of the road where vehicles are stopped or secondary inspection is conducted. It may also include limited portions of the public sidewalk, if necessary to ensure a safe distance of 15 feet between observers and officers, or to allow the placement of generators, lights, and cables on the sidewalk during a checkpoint conducted after dark. Otherwise, individuals will have free access to public sidewalks to record checkpoint operations, in the interest of holding police accountable for their conduct. Escondido also agreed to pay $7300 in fees and costs. The court will reserve jurisdiction to oversee compliance if necessary.

“This is a fair settlement that protects the First Amendment and respects the City’s legitimate law enforcement interests,” said David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “I’m glad the City came to the table to work out an agreement.”

The case continues against CHP, which has refused to agree to a settlement. A hearing is currently set for November 6, 2012 at 9:30 a.m., before Judge John A. Houston in federal district court. Judge Houston will decide whether to issue an injunction prohibiting CHP from enforcing its vague standard for restricting sidewalk protests due to unspecified concerns about “traffic or public safety.”

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