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Tacoma prevails in lawsuit over backpacks at 2007 port protests

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Jan. 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
January 23, 2013 4:12 pm

Tacoma police did not violate the constitutional rights of protesters when they implemented a “no backpack” rule during 2007 anti-war demonstrations at the Port of Tacoma, a federal jury decided today.

The jury of six women and two men got the case just before close of business Tuesday and deliberated for a few hours Wednesday morning before unanimously siding with defendant City of Tacoma.

The ACLU of Washington filed the civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of six people who claimed the backpack ban violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Thomas McCarthy, Phan Nguyen, Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein, Patrick Edelbacher, Leah Coakley and Charles Bevis sought monetary damages for being arrested after defying the backpack ban. They were not convicted.

The plaintiffs contended in the lawsuit the no-backpack policy “chilled” their ability to freely express themselves during the demonstrations by denying them ready access to food, water and other supplies.

The demonstrations ran for 12 days in March 2007. Protesters were upset the port was being used to ship military equipment to Iraq.

Police designated “protest zones” where people could gather during the demonstrations. They banned backpacks in those zones after finding a bag filled with chains and locks in one of the designated areas.

The city argued the ban was a reasonable restriction given public safety considerations and did not affect the protesters’ rights to express themselves in any meaningful way.

“They could be present. They could chant. They could sing,” attorney Jean Homan, who represented the city, said during her closing argument Tuesday. “You don’t need a backpack to protest.”

ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said a decision had not been made regarding a possible appeal.

“The ACLU brought this lawsuit because the right to peaceful protest is so fundamental in our society,” Honig said. “We believe it is important to challenge restrictions on free speech that we find unreasonable.”

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