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HomeNightlifeActivist James McDonough's Free Speech Battle With Homestead Rages On

Activist James McDonough’s Free Speech Battle With Homestead Rages On

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On July 27, 2016, James Eric McDonough stood on the podium earlier than the Homestead Metropolis Council and accused the native police division of falsifying stories and destroying public information. The police accountability activist additional demanded the town implement a physique digital camera program, which the Homestead Police Division had been reluctant to do on the time.

McDonough, who has a doctorate in natural thermochemistry and goes by “Doc Justice” on-line, then directed his feedback towards then-city councilman Elvis Maldonado.

“The final level I want to hit off with is, Mr. Maldonado, I would respect it in case you obtained one thing to say to me, you come say it to my face. You do not have to speak about me behind my again in public and discuss to different individuals,” stated McDonough.

That was when Homestead police officer Garland Wright ordered McDonough out of Homestead Metropolis Corridor, a three-story, 84,000-square foot constructing that had been accomplished two months earlier at a value of $26.5 million, which McDonough and his associates discuss with because the “Taj Mahal” due to its “monstrous measurement and outmoded structure.” On his approach out, McDonough declared, “I’ll sue your dumb ass,” a pledge he would ultimately hold.

The encounter marked the beginning of one more chapter in a greater than decade-long authorized campaign that McDonough has pursued towards Homestead legislation enforcement and metropolis officers. Alongside the way in which, he is lodged allegations of illegal arrests, retaliatory harassment, and an unwarranted anal-cavity search.

After getting booted from metropolis corridor, McDonough returned the next month to attend a council assembly, however as McDonough remembers it, he barely made it by means of the door when Wright ordered him off the premises, telling him he was banned from metropolis corridor. The officer advised McDonough write some sort of letter to regain entry, by no means explaining what the doc should say or to whom it needs to be addressed.

He complied with Wright’s order, however as he was strolling again to his automotive, he turned to the officer and flipped him off together with his center finger, telling him, “I am leaving buddy, bye-bye.”

Inside seconds, McDonough was arrested on fees of trespassing and disorderly conduct, the latter of which is a catch-all cost regularly utilized by police to arrest activists exercising their First Modification rights, in keeping with the ACLU. Of their report, the cops accused McDonough of grabbing his genitals as he flipped the cop off to the horror of bystanders — an allegation he denies and was not supported by video digital camera proof.

Years deep into McDonough’s lawsuit over the fracas, a federal appeals court docket in January dominated that police had no proper to arrest McDonough for flipping the cops off, no matter whether or not he grabbed his groin whereas doing it. The three-judge panel additionally dominated that the town couldn’t completely ban him from attending metropolis council conferences over his previous confrontations. 

The victory was short-lived, nonetheless. 

On February 29, the appeals court docket vacated the choice and agreed to rehear the case with a full panel of judges after the town filed a petition arguing its trespass order towards McDonough was legitimate. (Town’s petition didn’t problem the ruling that McDonough’s arrest was unconstitutional.)

For McDonough, it was a well-recognized improvement. Lots of his tussles with the Metropolis of Homestead have taken lengthy, labyrinthine paths by means of court docket, replete with hundreds of pages of filings and years of authorized head-butting over constitutional case legislation.

The activist has been relentless in his opposition to Homestead police practices previously 12 years, partaking in numerous administrative and courtroom skirmishes over public information requests, civil rights claims, and governmental transparency. Whereas some Homestead metropolis staffers have at one level or one other deemed him a nuisance (and, presumably, the bane of their existence), McDonough has a repute within the First Modification activism neighborhood as a stalwart litigator free of charge speech rights.

McDonough’s legal professional, Alan Greenstein, says his consumer’s pending appellate case with the Metropolis of Homestead has main implications within the enviornment of free speech at authorities conferences.

“That is precedent as a result of I’m unaware of any case within the eleventh Circuit the place an individual was banned from talking at a council assembly based mostly on conduct at a earlier assembly,” Greenstein, a prison and civil rights legal professional and professor on the College of Miami, tells New Occasions.

Homestead City Corridor

Metropolis of Homestead photograph

The Delivery of Doc Justice

A Virginia native who attended the College of Miami, McDonough grew to become a police accountability activist in 2012 following a confrontation with a Homestead cop who lived down the road from him. As tensions rose between McDonough and native police, he was arrested varied occasions on fees that by no means stood up in court docket, together with felony stalking and witness tampering.

He has repeatedly filed civil rights lawsuits, however twice the Southern District of Florida based mostly in Miami threw out his complaints, resulting in profitable appeals. “I am not the man who takes threats towards my rights from authorities officers sitting down,” he tells New Occasions.

McDonough says it began on October 29, 2012, 5 days after Homestead police officer Alejandro Murguido, his neighbor, allegedly ran him off the highway in his patrol automotive, inflicting him to virtually crash into an oncoming car. McDonough approached Murguido, who was standing in his entrance yard together with his gardener, and requested him to decelerate for the protection of the youngsters within the neighborhood, together with his three youngsters.

However Murguido responded by calling the police on him, leading to a dozen officers from the Homestead and Miami-Dade Police departments detaining him for 90 minutes and pledging to arrest him for trespass if he walked on Murguido’s block once more. The cops claimed McDonough had acted in a threatening method.

McDonough contacted the inner affairs division of the Homestead Police Division to file a criticism towards Murguido — after which level Murguido had him arrested on felony stalking fees, which have been dismissed in court docket, McDonough says.

The extra the police tried to close him up, the extra he continued talking up, criticizing cops in a web based discussion board referred to as LEO Affairs frequented by police, the place he started posting below the moniker Doc Justice. As McDonough started investigating Murguido by means of public information requests, he discovered the then-66-year officer had a protracted historical past of disciplinary motion towards him at different police departments, together with the Hialeah Police Division.

State Lawyer Eyes McDonough 

In January 2014, McDonough filed one other inside affairs criticism towards Murguido, accusing him of retaliating towards him for his preliminary complaints. A month later, Chief Alexander Rolle invited McDonough to his workplace for a gathering about his allegations towards Murguido. The assembly on February 7, 2014, was attended by McDonough, Rolle, a Homestead detective, in addition to a good friend of McDonough.

Through the assembly, McDonough started recording on his telephone, which he positioned on the chief’s desk in open view. The recording confirmed that McDonough handed the chief paperwork pertaining to Murguido’s historical past of alleged misconduct on the Hialeah Police Division.

“My authorized victories present that common residents with the info and legislation on their aspect can battle metropolis corridor if they’re persistent.”

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Nevertheless, when McDonough later made a public information request to Homestead for information pertaining to Murguido, these paperwork weren’t included. When McDonough endured in asking why the paperwork have been lacking, Chief Rolle claimed he by no means acquired them.

click on to enlarge

James Eric McDonough photograph

McDonough, in flip, posted a clip from the assembly on his YouTube channel, prompting Miami-Dade State Lawyer Katherine Fernandez Rundle to ship him a letter threatening to have him arrested below the state’s wiretapping legislation if he continued to document police contained in the police division with out their consent. The state legal professional, who has been criticized for taking a light-handed method to prosecuting cops, claimed that Rolle had an expectation of privateness inside his workplace.

McDonough sued over the state legal professional’s risk, and though the district court docket sided with Fernandez Rundle, McDonough prevailed on enchantment.

The eleventh Circuit dominated that Rolle didn’t have an expectation of privateness within the assembly as a result of it not solely pertained to authorities enterprise however was additionally attended by one other Homestead police officer in addition to a good friend of McDonough. “The info that each one attendees of the assembly have been both public staff performing in furtherance of their public duties, or members of the general public discussing a matter of public curiosity, undermines any goal expectation of privateness,” the 2017 ruling said.

“With this ruling, we will now document cops even in a closed-door assembly as a result of, as public officers, they haven’t any expectation of privateness within the efficiency of their public duties,” McDonough says.

“My authorized victories present that common residents with the info and legislation on their aspect can battle metropolis corridor if they’re persistent,” he says.

Coup De Grâce

One in all McDonough’s most bold authorized campaigns got here within the type of a lawsuit filed in 2016 (refiled in 2017) towards the Homestead, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County police forces and greater than 30 officers. McDonough claimed cops had been harassing, doxxing, and threatening him and his spouse ever for the reason that 2012 confrontation with Murguido.

Within the lawsuit, the activist claimed Miami-Dade police as soon as arrested him at his dwelling, threw him into the again of a police automotive, and subjected him to what police name a “tough journey” or “nickel journey,” by which cops slam on the breaks and jerk the cruiser round whereas a detainee bounces in regards to the car.

Upon his arrival at a Miami-Dade jail after that 2013 arrest, McDonough alleged he was “pressured to strip bare, bend over, and manually unfold his butt cheeks and cough whereas a guard was observing. This was in a room with an open door, whereas individuals have been strolling previous and noticed him on this method,” the lawsuit alleged.

McDonough claims that on the early stage of his dispute with Homestead police, he started struggling panic assaults from the ensuing stress. When he visited an pressing care clinic, a health care provider wrote him off as delusional and referred to as the supply of his swelling angst: the Homestead police, who, upon arrival, made threats to commit him to a psychological establishment.

The civil case was in the end dismissed in federal court docket, with the presiding decide classifying it as a “shotgun pleading,” one which lacks sufficient readability to permit the defendants to mount a coherent protection. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Workplace had argued that “fused, obscure, and ambiguous allegations are frequent all through the moment criticism and go away defendants to guess at exactly what the plaintiffs are alleging.”

“It definitely just isn’t the court docket’s duty to aim to discern potential causes of motion from a hodgepodge of allegations haphazardly strewn collectively,” U.S. District Decide Robert Scola wrote.

Scola famous that the deadline to file among the claims within the lawsuit had handed.

What’s Subsequent for McDonough

Eight years after his arrest for attempting to attend the 2016 Homestead Metropolis Corridor assembly, McDonough is scheduled to argue his case earlier than an prolonged panel of appellate judges for the eleventh Circuit, the best federal court docket within the Southeast United States.

The circuit has a majority of conservative judges, which might play in his favor when it comes to strict adherence to First Modification ideas. U.S. Circuit Decide Britt Grant, who penned the now-vacated ruling in McDonough’s favor in January, is understood for rulings upholding free speech rights. (Grant backed McDonough’s proper to attend Homestead council conferences despite officers’ notion that he’ll be disruptive to metropolis enterprise.)

A central problem within the case is whether or not metropolis council conferences are thought of “restricted public boards” or “designated public boards” — a distinction that may affect how a lot leeway cities have in blocking controversial audio system like McDonough from displaying up.

Although Grant denied Wright and one other Homestead policeman certified immunity (a authorized safety that shields cops from legal responsibility for on-the-job conduct), they may have an opportunity to re-argue their case within the appeals court docket rehearing.

Scheduled to submit his briefs by April 16, McDonough is able to make his free-speech argument as soon as extra.

“They may nonetheless agree with me. They may change their minds on the First Modification trespass problem,” he says. 



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