On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Sues City Over 700-Police ‘Emergency’ Lockdown That Resulted in Arrest of Disabled Veteran for Canned Iced Tea & Bug Spray
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Denouncing excessive, costly government security protocols lacking in common sense and intended to chill First Amendment activity, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit against government officials who allowed a disabled war veteran to carry two firearms through a security checkpoint only to arrest him for lawfully purchasing canned iced tea, bug spray, lightbulbs and razor blades, which were banned as part of the city’s pre-emptive measures to discourage civil unrest. Incidentally, the veteran’s guns (not among the list of prohibited items) caused no alarm. A district court judge later dismissed the charges against 64-year-old John Miska, ruling that the ordinance used to justify the veteran’s arrest was overbroad and unreasonable and, therefore, unenforceable.
The Rutherford Institute’s lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville comes in response to pre-emptive “state of emergency” lockdown measures adopted in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the August 12, 2017, racially-charged protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a Confederate statue from a public park. In accordance with an emergency declaration by Governor Northam, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies locked down portions of the small college town, deployed 700 police officers—many in riot gear—to patrol portions of the downtown area, restricted the free movement of persons on public streets, and imposed a broad ban on innocuous items such as metal food and beverage containers, aerosol sprays, glass bottles, skateboards, masks and hoods at a cost of several million dollars.
“Talk about overkill: government officials spent more than $3 million on security for the August 12 anniversary events, only to have a dozen police swarm a disabled veteran with a walker buying cans of iced tea and bug spray from a CVS,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Unfortunately, this case is far from the only example of a dysfunctional, excessive government that overreaches, overspends, and is completely out of sync with the spirit of the Constitution.”
One year after the events of August 12, 2017, when civil unrest broke out in Charlottesville over the city’s decision to remove a Confederate statue from a public park, government officials declared a pre-emptive “state of emergency” and deployed 700 police, some in riot gear, at an expense of more than $3 million. As part of the City’s emergency measures, police established a “security area” around the Downtown Mall, restricted access to the area on August 11-12, 2018, and prohibited the possession of numerous objects within the area that could be considered an “implement of a riot.” City officials also declared that all bags would be “consensually” searched before anyone was allowed to enter the security area.
John Miska, a disabled war veteran, visited the Downtown Mall on Sat., Aug. 11, to shop for household items and eat lunch. Using a walker because of his disability, Miska was allowed to pass through the security area with his firearms, which were vetted by a police officer. Prior to lunch, Miska visited a CVS Pharmacy, where he purchased two cases of canned Arizona Iced Tea, a package of razor blades, and bug spray. Upon exiting the store, Miska was swarmed by a dozen police who then handcuffed, arrested and charged him with possessing canned drinks, an aerosol spray and razor blades, all of which were prohibited under Section 18-25 of the City Code. Although the “prohibited” items were seized by police, Miska was allowed to keep his firearms. Miska suffered personal injuries when police attempted to shove him into a police vehicle that was too small for his frame.
Affiliate attorney Elliott M. Harding is assisting The Rutherford Institute with the Fourth Amendment lawsuit.