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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Woman Removed from Wentzville Meeting After Criticism Sues the City

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 12:21 PM

click to enlarge FLICKR/PAUL O'REAR
A Maryland Heights woman who was forcibly removed from a Wentzville Board of Aldermen meeting after criticizing its city government has filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality.

Sally Hunt is being represented by the ACLU of Missouri in her claim against Wentzville, which is about 40 minutes west of St. Louis in St. Charles County. The lawsuit alleges that her First Amendment rights were violated and asks for judgment in her favor, nominal damages and attorneys' fees.

In the suit, Hunt says she attended the Board of Aldermen meeting to share her concerns about a new addition to the board's meeting room — a sixteen-foot sign stretching across the dais that reads "IN GOD WE TRUST."

Hunt, "an advocate for strict separation of state and church," had criticized the decision to install the plaque on Facebook — leading to her being blocked on the social network by Mayor Nick Guccione. Then she decided to attend the board's February 2018 to further share her opinions.

Members of the public are each given five minutes during the public forum portion of the meeting, the lawsuit says. And the ACLU says Hunt used her time appropriately: She "stuck to her pre-submitted topic, spoke in an audible tone of voice, used no profanity, did not engage in slander or name-calling, made no personal or impertinent remarks, did not raise her voice beyond a normal public-speaking volume, addressed her comments to the Board as a body, and remained at the podium throughout her speech."

Mayor Guccione interrupted at four minutes 35 seconds, telling Hunt her time was up. She thanked him and moved away from the podium.

But then, the suit says, the mayor addressed her. "OK, OK, but I want to correct one thing," he said, and then told her that her comments were "hearsay." Then he talked for another 30 seconds.

When Hunt responded in disagreement, he told her that her time was up and that he was having her removed, the suit says. When Hunt returned to her seat, the suit says, "she was immediately approached by two uniformed law enforcement officers."

When they threatened to remove her forcibly — including grabbing her arm — she stood up to leave, but questioned why she was being removed, the suit says.

"Mayor Guccione responded that her time was up and that she was from Maryland Heights," the lawsuit says. Then, grabbing her again, the officers spun her around and "directed her down the aisle, gripping her arm firmly."

Guccione later told a TV station that he removed Hunt because "he thought she was going to be disruptive," the lawsuit says.

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