518 F.2d 899 (6th Cir. 1975), 73-1509, Glasson v. City of Louisville

Docket Nº:No 73-1509.
Citation:518 F.2d 899
Party Name:Marjorie GLASSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF LOUISVILLE et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:June 13, 1975
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 899

518 F.2d 899 (6th Cir. 1975)

Marjorie GLASSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CITY OF LOUISVILLE et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No 73-1509.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 13, 1975

Page 900

Thomas L. Hogan, Phillip Grauman, Louisville, Ky., for plaintiff-appellant.

Page 901

James E. Thornberry, Herbert Van Arsdale, II, Frank A. Logan, Asst. Director of Law, City of Louisville, Louisville, Ky., for defendants-appellees.

Before PHILLIPS, Chief Judge, McCREE, Circuit Judge, and McALLISTER, Senior Circuit Judge.

McCREE, Circuit Judge.

On July 14, 1970, in Louisville, Kentucky, a police officer forcibly took a poster from a young woman peacefully standing on a public sidewalk and destroyed it. Although not every encounter between a citizen and a policeman warrants extended judicial scrutiny and review, the implications of this apparently inconsequential incident raise important questions about the constitutional guaranty of freedom of expression, and require us to determine the circumstances in which police officers may be required to respond in damages in an action brought under the Civil Rights Acts, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), for abridgement of rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 1

The district court, sitting without a jury, determined, after trial, that appellant could not recover damages under section 1983 because the police had acted reasonably in destroying her poster and that she could not recover damages under section 1985(3) because she had failed to prove that the destruction of her poster was motivated by an impermissible discriminatory animus. We reverse.

On July 14, 1970, the former President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, was scheduled to ride in a motorcade in Louisville, Kentucky, before attending the Appalachian Governors' Conference. In anticipation of this procession, appellant Glasson, a young Caucasian woman, had prepared to display to the President a poster on which she had printed, "Lead us to hate and kill poverty, disease and ignorance, not each other." By displaying this poster, she hoped to express to the President and to anyone else who might read it, her concern about the divisive issues of American racism and the Vietnam War, and her wish that the President would channel the energies of his administration to heal the divisions created by these issues, and to eliminate poverty, disease, and ignorance. These problems were on the agenda of the Governors' Conference.

Early that morning, Louisville police officers to whom had been assigned the duty of safeguarding the President during the motorcade by monitoring the crowd and keeping it orderly, were given their general orders of the day by Lt. Colonel Edgar Mulligan, Assistant Chief of Police of Louisville. Appellee Colonel Hyde, the Chief of Police, was also present. Appellees Johnson and Medley, police officers with approximately 25 years of experience, attended the meeting and were instructed to destroy any sign or poster that was "detrimental" or "injurious" to the President of the United States.

Both Johnson and Medley had previously received instruction in crowd control methods and in handling demonstrations and protests against important public officials. According to Chief of Police Hyde, "we always planned in generalities to use whatever force was necessary (to preserve peace) and have faith in the people . . . assigned out there to exercise their best judgment based upon their training . . . that (they) heretofore had had regarding crowd control." Individuals were to be permitted to demonstrate peacefully "(a)s long as they didn't incite others that might cause trouble . . .." Should other persons be incited or provoked by a sign, police officers were directed to take whatever action was necessary, including the use of force to maintain or restore order.

Page 902

It is undisputed that on the day in question, appellant Glasson was standing peacefully against a building holding her sign as she awaited the motorcade. Several other persons were also displaying signs and posters, all of which bore salutations like "Welcome to the President." According to Johnson and Medley, a group of persons located across the street from Glasson noticed her poster and were provoked by it into grumbling and muttering threats. Officer Medley testified that this group was "hollering" and that his attention was drawn by this boisterous conduct to appellant's poster on which, he testified, was printed in large letters "Murderer, teach us to hate and kill" and then in smaller letters "Poverty, ignorance and so forth", a message that he determined was detrimental to the President. 2 He then conferred with Officer Johnson and informed him that the poster was "pretty bad because the crowd across the street is going to go over and get her maybe hurt her." Officer Johnson agreed that the poster was detrimental to the President and directed Medley to follow the general orders given that day to destroy all signs detrimental to the President. Officer Medley then approached appellant and, according to his testimony, asked her "Would you please take this sign down Lady; it's detrimental to the United States of America." When Miss Glasson refused, and replied that she had a right to display it, Medley took it from her and tore it up. The hecklers across the street cheered and then immediately quieted down and began to disperse.

At trial, Johnson and Medley testified that the boisterous group that had spurred them into action consisted of twenty-five to thirty persons and that there were approximately seven to twelve police officers stationed on the block where the demonstrators stood. When asked whether the police force at hand was sufficient to handle a possible disorder in a crowd that size, Officer Johnson responded that the answer depended upon the number of people who became involved, but that "if it got so bad that we had to have reinforcements we could have done that also." Moreover, even though Johnson testified that the disturbance "was reaching the stage of a riot," the record shows that not one heckler crossed, or even attempted to cross the street, no reinforcements were ever summoned, and the secret service, the federal agency assigned the duty of safeguarding the President, 18 U.S.C. § 3056, was not alerted. Neither officer told the crowd to quiet down or attempted to calm its members except to assure them that the police would take care of appellant's poster. When Officer Medley was asked what he would have done had members of the boisterous group begun to cross the street, he replied, and Johnson agreed, that no crime would have been committed had they crossed the street and taken appellant's poster because it was "inflammatory anyway." A permissible sign, according to Medley, was "(a)ny sign welcoming the President," and, he observed, that he saw "no other signs with . . . derogatory remarks about the President . . .." When Johnson was asked, "If there were a group of school children holding a sign saying Welcome, President Nixon, and twenty-five or thirty people across the street were booing them and saying that they didn't like President Nixon and they were going over to get that sign, would you take that sign away from those school children, he replied, "No." He qualified this answer later in his testimony when he stated that he would not have taken it unless "trouble engulfed or started or was created."

Appellant and a law professor who was standing across the street from her near the crowd, both testified that they heard no boisterous heckling but that, on the contrary, because the motorcade had been delayed, the crowd had become subdued

Page 903

and bored at the time Medley grabbed the poster. They also testified that the reaction of the crowd to the police officer's action against appellant was mixed some persons applauded and cheered while other persons booed and hissed.

Miss Glasson testified that this was the first time that she had ever engaged in a political demonstration; that she was shocked and frightened by Officer Medley's conduct; and that since that time she has been fearful of participating in any other demonstrations.

As a result of this encounter, she filed this action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky under sections 1983 and 1985(3) of the Civil Rights Acts, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3). Her complaint charged that Officers Johnson and Medley, acting under color of law, deprived her of rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and that they, acting with appellee Hyde, conspired to deprive her of the equal protection of the laws and of equal privileges and immunities under the laws of the United States. She requested compensatory and punitive damages.

The district court, after trial without a jury, made the following findings of fact: (1) that before the President's motorcade had arrived, a group of persons became angered by the message on appellant's poster and began "pointing and calling across the street . . ."; (2) that Officers Johnson and Medley determined "that the message was inflammatory and (that) it was creating rancor and resentment in the crowd which could impede the progress of the motorcade and jeopardize the safety of the President, other members of the motorcade and the onlookers in the crowd;" and (3) that Officer Medley asked appellant to take her poster down and then took it away from her and destroyed it when she refused to comply with his request. The district court determined, as a matter of law, that Officers Medley and Johnson had not violated section 1983 of the Civil Rights Acts because they "acted in good faith and upon reasonable grounds, and their decision and action in removing the sign...

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