BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has won a restraining order allowing her to display a light display in the shape of a raised middle finger on her home.
Sarah Childs filed suit against the City of Denham Springs, Jimmy Durbin in his official and individual capacities, Scott Jones in his official and individual capacities, Shawn Perkins in his official and individual capacities and an unknown police officer in his official and individual capacities in the United State District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on Dec. 20.
Childs claims Durbin as Mayor of Denham Springs, Scott Jones as chief of police and Shawn Perkins and an unknown man as police officers violated her constitutional rights by forcing her to remove a light display from the roof of her home in the shape of an raised middle finger she had erected on Nov. 27 in response to a disagreement with a neighbor.
The plaintiff alleges that the neighbor called the police who dispatched Officer Perkins to her home who told her that she would have to remove the lights or she would be cited in violation of a Denham Springs obscenity statute. Childs asserts that after she refused to comply with the officers orders he attempted to remove the lights by pulling on a strand, but ceased the action after the plaintiff complained that he may break them.
Childs later removed the lights and upon subsequent research she found there was no such obscenity statute in Denham Springs law as cited by Perkins. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) became involved at this point and sent an open letter to the City of Denham Springs in defense of Childs' First Amendment rights to which the city attorney responded defending the city's objection to the display.
On Dec. 14 Childs put a new installation up and shaped the lights into two hands with both middle fingers raised. After neighbors complained the ACLU claims the City of Denham Springs attacked Childs by issuing her a summons for walking down the side of the street not far enough out of the path of traffic and thus obstructing traffic, disturbing the peace for making up and singing an impromptu song about the dispute with her neighbor and for simple assault because the song contained obscenities.
Despite the charges against her, Childs kept the display on her home and called the police complaining that her neighbors were making false claims against her. An unknown officer was dispatched to Childs' home who allegedly told her to take down the new display or she would be jailed. After an argument with the officer Childs claims she removed the lights for fear of being jailed.
The defendants are accused of violating the plaintiff's First Amendment rights for forcing her to remove her holiday displays, retaliation for citing her for unrelated offenses and threatening to arrest and incarcerate her, violating the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process for forcing her to remove her light displays under threat of arrest without citing a particular law or allowing her an opportunity for a hearing, violating the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights to substantive due process for impermissibly burdening her fundamental rights without any sort of process whatsoever and violating the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights to privileges and immunities.
The City of Denham Springs, Durbin and Jones are also accused of being liable for the actions of Perkins and the unknown police officer for actions taken on behalf of the city and the police department.
The plaintiff sought a temporary restraining order against the defendants, nominal damages, a declaratory judgement the the defendants' action were unconstitutional and for reasonable attorney's fees.
Childs is represented by Justin Harrison of the New Orleans-based ACLU Foundation of Louisiana and Ronald L. Wilson of New Orleans.
The case has been assigned to James Joseph Brady who granted the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order on Dec. 20.
A preliminary junction hearing will be healed on Childs' request on Jan. 7.
Case no. 3:12-cv-795.