2 men arrested on charges of disrupting city council meeting
‘This is the United States of America. This is not North Korea.’
WILMINGTON, Ohio (WXIX) - Two Tri-State men are accused of disrupting a recent city council meeting.
Tony Thomas, 52, of Wilmington, and Darrell Petrey, 42, of Clarksville, were both arrested by Wilmington police and charged with disrupting a lawful meeting on April 20.
Both men criticized the mayor, John Stanforth, and turned to address the crowd, too, during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, according to a copy of the meeting video and police and court records.
The men’s attorney, Matt Miller-Novak, says their actions were protected by the U.S. Constitution.
He filed motions with Wilmington Municipal Court to dismiss both cases.
“The First Amendment protects critical speech and the rights of our citizens to petition their government officials with grievances and critical viewpoints. This is the United States of America. This is not North Korea,” their attorney said Wednesday.
“The idea that people could or should be prosecuted for allegedly turning their torso while verbally criticizing a mayor and his ‘decision’ is offensive to our values as Americans.”
FOX19 NOW requested comment from the mayor, all city council members, the police chief and the special prosecutor. We also asked Wilmington city officials for a copy of council’s rules for public speaking during meetings.
Wilmington police wrote in court records on April 20 that Thomas became argumentative and “verbally attacked” the mayor and his decisions and members of the council.
“Anthony continued being argumentative and stated he was just stating facts, not attacking the mayor. The president (of the council) then warned Anthony (he) would be removed from the meeting and Anthony stated ‘Do it, I would like for you to,’” the report states.
Before walking away, Anthony pointed at the mayor and city council president and called them a “Natzi (sic) belt,” a Wilmington police sergeant wrote in the court document.
An affidavit explaining Petrey’s case accuses him of being disruptive at the meeting despite being warned not to so he was arrested too for not complying with orders.
Miller-Novak says neither of his clients aimed to disrupt the meeting.
“My clients did not have the intent to disrupt the meeting,” Miller-Novak explained. “They had the intent of petitioning their government with grievances which goes to the core of what we are as a nation. We’re supposed to be able to petition our government with grievances, we’re supposed to be able to say critical things.”
Both men were handcuffed and transported to the Clinton County Jail, where they were held until their bond hearing.
Both have since been released and the case returns to court for a scheduling conference on June 5.
FOX19 NOW Chief Legal Analyst Mike Allen says the charge shouldn’t be connected to the words that were said but instead, the actions that were taken.
“The speech really is not the essence of the offense,” Allen explained. “As I see it, it’s the actions that you take with respect to not stopping to talk when you’re instructed to by the person running the meeting.”
Thomas’ and Petrey’s attorney agrees with Allen.
“I think we’re looking at a statute that is problematic on its face and it could potentially just limit viewpoints that are critical of the government and mischaracterize them as disruptions,” said Miller-Novak.
Thomas and Petrey have previously accused the mayor and city officials of alleged misconduct and corruption and criticized police related to the March 2013 death of Casey Pitzer, according to an online petition that Petrey started to try to reopen the case.
Petrey was convicted of disorderly conduct in Wilmington in 2004, court officials say.
An affidavit shows police responded to a residence on George Road for a fight and Petrey was “ramming a Bobcat into (another man’s ) vehicle, causing damage.”
The vehicle’s owner and Petrey’s mother told police he fired shots into the air. The vehicle’s owner told police he was not going to file charges against Petrey.
Police wrote that they read Petrey his rights and “he gave a written confession that he had rammed the car and fired the shotgun in the air because he was angry.”
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