OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Six Oklahomans have filed two federal lawsuits that challenge a state law intended to crack down on protesters and that allege their civil rights were violated when they were arrested in Oklahoma City in 2020.
The anti-protest law is unconstitutionally broad and vague, according to one of the lawsuits filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City on behalf of Sincere Terry, Mia Hogsett, Tyreke Baker, Preston Nabors, Trevour Webb and Austin Mack by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It sweeps far beyond the very limited and narrow true threats exception to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, thereby subjecting non-violent protesters to criminal liability for exercising their constitutionally protected rights to speech and assembly,” according to the lawsuit that names state Attorney General John O'Connor and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
O'Connor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Prater, who is named in both lawsuits, said he has not been served with either legal action.
“We will make the appropriate filings in federal court when we are served,” Prater said.
The law was passed in 2021 to crack down on protesters by increasing penalties for blocking roadways and granting immunity to motorists who kill or injure rioters. It was among a series of GOP-backed proposals across the country aimed at cracking down on protesters.
Supporters said it was prompted mostly as a result of a pickup truck being driven through a crowd gathered on a Tulsa interstate in 2020 while protesting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several people were injured, including one who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass.
The driver was not charged after the district attorney said people in the crowd had been throwing things at the vehicle.
The second lawsuit alleges that Prater, the city of Oklahoma City and its police department violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights following a confrontation with a police officer while protesters were painting a mural on the street outside of the department's headquarters.
“Plaintiffs seek ... an order mandating Defendants to refrain from targeting and harassing racial justice protesters, so that Plaintiffs and others have freedom to engage in the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution,” according to the lawsuit.
Five of the six were charged with inciting a riot and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer.
An inciting a riot charge was initially sought against the sixth, Mack, but was dropped after it was determined he was not present at the confrontation. Mack alleges it was unreasonable and racially discriminatory to seek a warrant for his arrest.
City spokesperson Kristy Yager declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Both lawsuits seek unspecified “nominal” amounts in damages plus attorney fees, costs, and expenses.