ACLU wants city, tourist attraction operators held in contempt

Wednesday, December 1, 1999

The ACLU of Nevada is asking a federal judge to find the city of Las Vegas and the operators of a downtown tourist attraction in contempt for violating an injunction prohibiting enforcement of an anti-leafleting law.

In a motion filed Nov. 24, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the city of Las Vegas and the operators of the Fremont Street Experience — a five-block, canopied pedestrian mall — have repeatedly violated a 1998 injunction barring enforcement of an ordinance against leafleting at the attraction.

“Even though there is an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the anti-leafleting law, they have consistently tried to enforce that law,” said Allen Lichtenstein, the ACLU attorney handling the case.

Security guards “have been the source of a lot of the problems because they have told people that they are not allowed to leaflet,” Lichtenstein said. The guards have laminated cards that say leafleting is illegal, and the management still has signs posted advertising the ban, he said.

“That is clearly in violation of the court order,” Lichtenstein said.

U.S. District Judge David Hagen issued the April 1998 preliminary injunction in ACLU v. Las Vegas, saying that the ordinance was likely unconstitutional because it allowed labor demonstrations but no other gatherings.

In its latest motion, the ACLU is asking Hagen to fine the city and mall operators and to force the removal of all posted signs banning leafleting on Fremont Street. The group is also asking the court to clarify its 1998 order, which allowed the city to enforce an ordinance prohibiting solicitation at the pedestrian mall.

The motion cites four incidents as evidence of the city’s and the operators’ disregard of the injunction.

  • The first occurred about one month after the court order was issued. Several people trying to gather signatures for a medical marijuana petition were forced to leave the Fremont Street Experience by security guards and city police, the motion states.
  • Last July 17, Fremont Street Experience security tried to eject a minister and several supporters who were attempting to distribute religious fliers. According to the motion, security guards directed the leafleters to the posted signs and showed them wallet-sized cards that said leafleting was illegal. The security staff denied any knowledge of the injunction. They only relented after Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, arrived with a copy of the order and Fremont Street Experience officials were contacted by the security supervisor.
  • The third incident occurred last Oct. 22, when several people distributing fliers about police brutality were stopped by security. The guards told them that leafleting was banned and showed them the laminated cards advertising the ban. When demonstrators mentioned the injunction, the guards denied any knowledge of it. The guards then called the police, who arrived and asked the protesters why they didn’t have a copy of the injunction. The demonstrators called Peck, who arrived and told the guards and officers about the injunction. Peck then spoke to the security supervisor who, after consulting his attorney, let the leafleters continue.
  • The most recent incident occurred on Nov. 9 when several anti-nuclear activists handed out fliers protesting nuclear testing.

“When we came down there, we were met immediately by security guards on bikes,” said Heather Aelfgifu Burmeister, one of the demonstrators at both the Oct. 22 and Nov. 9 incidents. “They asked to see our fliers,” she said. “When they looked at our fliers, they called their supervisor.”

The supervisor told the leafleters that their flier violated the anti-solicitation ordinance because it included the line: “Join us, Call (702) 647-3095.” In order to continue distributing the fliers, the demonstrators had to cross out the “j” and the “o” in join, so that the flier read “in us.”

They were then allowed to continue leafleting, but the guards watched them the entire time, Burmeister said.

“I consider that harassment,” she said. “I don’t understand why we were being targeted — why anyone’s being targeted that way.

“They obviously objected to what we were doing. That, to me, seems like a personal matter to them and not a security matter.”

Todd Bice, one of the attorneys for the Fremont Street Experience, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he doubts “there’s been any violations of any injunction.”

“I’m certainly not aware of any,” he said.

Neither Bice nor his co-counsel could be reached by the First Amendment Center Online for comment.

William Henry, counsel for the city, refused to comment because the matter is in litigation.