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Eastpointe mayor sued for potential free speech violations

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Sarah Cwiek
/
Michigan Radio

Four Eastpointe residents are part of a federal lawsuit against Mayor Monique Owens. They claim Owens has repeatedly suppressed and shouted down peaceful citizen speech at city council meetings.

The plaintiffs — community activist Mary Hall-Rayford, former teacher Karen Beltz, animal rights advocate Karen Mouradjian and healthcare worker Cindy Federle — are longtime, active residents of Eastpointe.

Every Eastpointe city council meeting includes a “Hearing of the Public,” where citizens can make three-minute statements on topics of public concern. The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Conor Fitzpatrick with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, argue Owens has not provided space for certain citizen opinions during recent meetings.

At a meeting in March, Fitzpatrick said, Federle attempted to criticize the mayor’s negativity towards protestors, but Owens interrupted and required Federle to omit direct criticism of Owens’ mayorship from her remarks.

Fitzpatrick said during a September hearing, Owens interrupted statements from Hall-Rayford and Beltz that disapproved of her treatment of a city councilmember.

“You’re not going to sit here and assault me, lady I never met,” Owens said, speaking over Beltz during the public comment period, according to video of the meeting.

Fitzpatrick said Owens’ behavior violates citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech.

“One of the pinnacle values of the First Amendment is that the government doesn’t get to decide which side of a debate is right. It can’t favor people who agree with the government of the day and it can’t disfavor critics,” he said. “So the reason this is important is making sure that governments treat their citizens equally and with respect regardless of what their views happen to be.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday night. Fitzpatrick also filed a motion that he said would prevent Owens from further suppressing protected speech while litigation proceeds. He anticipates the motion will be decided by the Eastern District of Michigan Court within a month.

The mayor’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Emily is a junior at the University of Michigan double majoring in Communications and Creative Writing.
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