Police Okay to Remove Protesters from Missouri Highway Overpass

This is another highway-overpass-protests case.

In 2013, in St. Charles, Missouri — about 30 minutes northwest of St. Louis — Jimmy Duane Weed participated in a protest of President Obama’s policies on a highway overpass.  Weed and his fellow protestors held signs directed at the traffic beneath them.

weed.jpg
The protesters above the highway in St. Charles, Missouri.  (Danny Wicentowski)

After the protestors arrived on the overpass, four accidents occurred on the highway below them.  Upon investigating the accidents, Missouri State Highway Patrol officers were told by motorists that they were being distracted by the protestors.  The officers also witnessed erratic driving on the highway during the protest.  After the fourth accident, MSHP Corporal T.R. Jenkins decided that the protestors were creating a traffic hazard and contributing to these traffic accidents.  MSHP officers went to ask the protestors to leave, but Weed refused to do so.  After a warning from Jenkins, Weed refused again and was arrested.

Weed sued Jenkins for, among other reasons, violating his First Amendment right to free speech.  The Court found, however, that Jenkins was protected from liability due to the doctrine of qualified immunity.  Pre-existing law granted officers the ability to disperse protests if they cause an obstruction and to arrest any resisting protestors.  Thus, the Court ruled that Jenkins would have no reason to know that his order to disperse was in any way unlawful.

In a furtherance of his First Amendment challenges, Weed argued that the statute under which he was arrested for resisting an officer is unconstitutionally overbroad.  But the Court found that “resists or opposes” was not an overbroad phrase.  The Court therefore affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment in Corporal Jenkins’ favor.  The take-away: protest over highways in Missouri at your own risk.

Case: Weed v. Jenkins, No. 16-3629 (8th Cir. Oct. 17. 2017) (opinion here)

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