A middle school teacher has filed a lawsuit against Homestead and its mayor after he says he was unconstitutionally kicked out and banned from city hall.
Kim Hill — a community activist and Miami-Dade County public school teacher — was removed from an August 2016 council meeting after urging city officials to implement police body cameras.
Hill’s year-long plea for police reform, which took place during the public comment portion of monthly council meetings, came after Homestead police officer Anthony Green shot and killed a 32-year-old father of six, Edward Foster III, at a South Miami-Dade intersection in 2015. Prior to this incident, Green had shot and killed two others while on duty and was cleared.
Hill says city officials claimed he violated the city’s decorum policy and was escorted out of the building — a move Hill said violated his civil rights.
The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against Homestead and its mayor, Jeff Porter, on behalf of Hill — argues that banning Hill from city hall, which precluded him from challenging the ban, infringed upon his freedom of speech and due process rights.
“Suppression of free speech should never be a tool for the government to use against dissenters engaged in civil discourse,” Hill said in a statement. “We all have a right to address our leaders, and officials can’t execute a gag order against a person like me simply because they don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
According to the lawsuit, Hill was surrounded by several police officers, told he was “under arrest,” and escorted out of the city hall chambers. Hill was then told by officers that he had “been trespassed” and was not allowed to return to City Hall under the threat of criminal charges, “effectively preventing him from participating in the public comment section of future City Council meetings for fear of being arrested.”
Footage of the council meeting shows Hill speaking during his allotted time. When his time ran out, Hill walked away from the podium. There was no yelling or shouting.
“This is a moral struggle,” Hill said at the 2016 meeting. “This is an issue about black males being slaughtered all over America.”
In response to the lawsuit, Homestead spokesman Zackery Good issued a statement to the Miami Herald: “The City of Homestead denies these allegations and looks forward to its day in court.”
Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter was unable to be reached by the Miami Herald on Thursday.
The lawsuit says Homestead officials claim Hill violated the city’s decorum policy, which states “any person making impertinent or slanderous remarks, or who becomes boisterous while addressing the council, shall be barred from further audience before the council by the mayor.”
But Hill’s complaint argues that the policy — which was printed on the agenda — “was not actually in effect at the time, as the City Council had adopted new rules four months prior,” the ACLU said in a statement.
City records show that the policy was adopted on March 18, 2015. However, a new policy was adopted on April 20, 2016 — four months before Hill was reportedly kicked out of city hall.
“The revised resolution eliminated ‘making impertinent … remarks’ and ‘becom[ing] boisterous’ as grounds for barring a speaker from addressing the City Council. [It also] eliminated the requirement that for a barred speaker ‘to continue or again address the council,’ the speaker must obtain ‘permission … granted by the majority vote of the council members present,’” the lawsuit said.
Homestead officials would not comment.
“One of the foundational ideas of our democracy is that all of us have the right to openly and publicly question and challenge our elected officials,” said Jeanne Baker, legal panel chair for the ACLU’s Greater Miami Chapter.
The ACLU’s lawsuit follows that of another case involving a civic activist and the city of Riviera Beach. In that case, Fane Lozman sued the city in Palm Beach County when city leaders kicked him out of a city commission meeting and had him arrested while he spoke during the public comments section of the meeting. That case is scheduled to go before the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. More than 30 civil rights and media organizations have filed briefs in support of Lozman.