Pro-lifers claim civil rights violated at Granite City parade

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 5, 2006, 5:30pm

A trio of anti-abortion activists are suing Granite City claiming their civil rights were violated while attending an annual community Christmas parade that turned violent in November.

Mia, Daniel and Angela Michael of Highland filed the suit Jan. 3 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois against the city, Mayor Edward Hagnauer, Police Chief Richard Miller, and two police officers.

The suit was the first filed in the civil division in 2006.

According to the complaint, the Michaels were displaying pro-life signs on the sidewalk of the parade route on Nov. 19, 2005.

The Michaels, who frequently stage anti-abortion demonstrations in the Metro-East, claim that Hagnauer, along with the Madison County Auditor Rick Faccin, complained about the presence of signs showing photographs of actual aborted babies, urging them to turn the signs away so others at the parade would not see them and be offended.

The Michaels are represented by Jason Craddock of Sauk Village. The case has been assigned to District Judge William Stiehl and Magistrate Philip Frazier.

Among other relief, the Michaels are asking the court to enjoin the Granite City Council from passing an ordinance that prohibits signs larger than 8 1/2- by 11-inches and award them compensatory and exemplary damages and attorney's fees.

"Such an ordinance chills the rights to free speech and free exercise of religion for all plaintiffs, who are compelled by their Christian beliefs to proclaim the reality of abortion to the public at large through large signs which depict what aborted fetuses look like," the complaint states.

As the parade began, Michaels allege that an "irate" parade attendee, Cheryl Parker, began screaming obscenities and shoving another woman who was holding a pro-life banner.

"Mia Michael was videotaping the pro-lifers and told the woman to stop hitting the pro-life woman, stating that such was an assault," the complaint states.

The complaint states Parker replied, "I'll show you assault and battery and I'll be out fifteen minutes later."

The Michaels claims that Parker then went over to another individual holding a pro-life sign and began furiously kicking the sign, which eventually broke. Mia again told her to refrain from kicking the sign, according to the suit.

The Michaels claim that Parker's daughter then ran up to Mia and shoved her into a concrete light pole and onto the ground, attempting to first stomp, then kick her.

The lawsuit alleges that Angela Michael ran over to protect Mia and fell over her to protect her from further blows causing the two attackers to run off into the crowd.

"Four Granite City police officers witnessed the beating of Mia and did not intervene," the complaint states.

According to the Michaels, only after a witness complained to police and after Angela chased Parker and her daughter down, did police intervene, arresting Parker.

They allege that the police did not arrest Parker's daughter and also refused to take the statement of the witness who alerted the police.

According to the suit, one of the police officers told the pro-life demonstrators that they must leave as a condition for taking Parker to the police station.

The plaintiffs' also claim that parade officials attempted to drive their vehicles alongside the sidewalk were they were standing trying to conceal the pro-life signs.

One city official stated to the Michaels and other pro-life attendees, "You'll never close that clinic," referring to the Hope Clinic in Granite City which performs abortions, the Michaels claim.

The Michaels also claim that parade participants began throwing hard pieces of candy and bags of hard candy directly at their faces and heads from passing floats.

They claim they attempted to inform a Granite City police officer of the assaults from the parade participants.

"He smiled and said, 'I don't see nothing,' and walked away," according to the Michaels.

According to the complaint, after an officer viewed the videotape of the attacks, he told Daniel Michael that if they wished to press charges against Parker's daughter, the police would then press charges against Mia.

"The Michaels have declined to press charges against Parker or her daughter out of fear of having charges pressed against Mia," the complaint states.

They also claim that the Granite City police have shown bias and hostility against pro-life protesters in the past making them the subject of unwarranted arrests, citations and charges.

"Granite city police are attempting to silence, discourage and prohibit the plaintiffs and other pro-life individuals from exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religious expression, by their custom of withholding police protection from pro-life individuals while they are protesting, and by their custom of responding to their complaints of assaults, with threats to charge them if they pursue charges against their attackers," the complaint states.

Angela claims that she has not returned to the Hope Clinic to exercise her First Amendment rights to protest abortion peacefully as frequently as she has done for the past 12 years because she fears individuals may assault her and that the police would protect them from attackers.

Mia also has not returned for the same reason as her mother.

They claim that they were exercising their rights to freedom of speech and religious expression on a public sidewalk, which is a traditional public forum.

They also claim the police had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to warrant pressing charges against them since they had not assaulted, injured or threatened anyone.

The suit claims that as of Nov. 29, 2005, the Granite City Council is considering passing an ordinance prohibiting large signs along a parade route at annual parades for Santa Claus, high school homecoming, Labor Day and the Park District little league baseball season opener.

If passed, a $100 fine would be assessed to those who violate the ordinance.

They claim the proposed ordinance is not narrowly tailored to serve any compelling government interest, and that Granite City Police Chief Rich Miller even stated that the pro-life protesters' signs, though constitutionally protected, were antagonizing and offensive.

"This proposed ordnance runs afoul of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of plaintiffs and others not before the court, as it is overbroad,' the complaint states.

The Michaels are asking the court to declare that Granite City's alleged policy of pressing charges against non-violent pro-life demonstrators who seek to press charges against their attackers, be declared unconstitutional.

They also want the defendants' to be enjoined from arresting, citing or charging any of them with any violation of municipal ordinance or state statute arising out of the events which took place on Nov. 19, 2005 and allow them to press charges against Parker's daughter for assaulting Mia, without having charges pressed against any of them.


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