Leon Valley Hit With Lawsuit Over ‘Auditor’ Arrests

Eleven self-styled First Amendment “auditors” who were arrested or detained by Leon Valley police during three June protests at the suburb’s City Hall filed a federal lawsuit Thursday accusing officers of various civil rights violations.

The plaintiffs live in San Antonio, the North Texas town of Crowley, and in Ohio, Arizona and Illinois. Supporters call them constitutional activists who electronically record police and government activities by video, frequently with such persistence that their presence provokes an agitated police response.

The lawsuit accuses Leon Valley Police Chief Joe Salvaggio and at least eight of his officers of unlawfully seizing some activists’ cameras, cellphones and vehicles during demonstrations June 14, 18 and 23. Officers broke one person’s ribs, used stun guns on nonviolent observers and falsely arrested others, the lawsuit states.

Salvaggio said he seized cameras and cellphones without a warrant June 23 on the assumption that the items contained evidence of a crime — alleged death threats — because after the activists posted video of their earlier actions on YouTube, some people had written comments threatening the lives of officers and Leon Valley employees.

“We got death threats from all over the world,” said Salvaggio, a former San Antonio police lieutenant. “They’ve threatened my family. They put my home address out there, my daughter’s information. We’ll charge some with retaliation. We’re working up other charges on as many as 20 people.”

An attorney for one of the activists, Detroit lawyer Solomon Radner, said none of his clients used violence or inflammatory language that would have warranted aggressive police action. “This was not a mistake by the city,” he said. “This was premeditated.”

“I think the city of Leon Valley now realizes that their chief of police has made a very serious mistake,” Radner said. “In what universe would the police have the right to seize a phone or camera, without a warrant, because a YouTube post — not the activist — articulated a threat?”

Videos of the June 23 arrests on YouTube show Salvaggio meeting with the activists at what he later acknowledged was a fake “press conference” he called at City Hall, then summoning individuals in the group to come forward and surrender their cameras or cellphones. Several do so and then are handcuffed.

Salvaggio said he used the “pretense” of a press conference to “make sure that certain individuals would be present and remain there” so they could be detained. He said his actions had been coordinated with the Bexar County district attorney’s office but declined to say whom he spoke with there. A spokeswoman for the office Thursday declined comment “on the specifics of this pending litigation.”

Leon Valley City Manager Kelly Kuenstler said the city was working with the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office on possible further prosecutions.

The video activism in Leon Valley, a city of about 11,000, was similar to protests earlier this year in Olmos Park, Hollywood Park and Alamo Heights, which were more focused on protesters’ Second Amendment rights and “open carry” regulations governing the presence of firearms at public meetings.

“We think the vast majority of cops are amazing people,” Radner said. “They’re crime fighters, heroes. But they’re given a lot of power to put people in handcuffs. … We (represent) people who make it their mission to expose cops who don’t care about the Constitution.”

In interviews, some members of the group said they coordinated the June protests in response to Salvaggio’s arrest in May of San Antonio video activist Jesus Padilla, who can be seen in a YouTube video refusing to leave a part of City Hall he was told by an employee was a public area. The chief tells Padilla that it was a “restricted area,” calmly at first, but after Padilla hurls obscenities at him, Salvaggio wrestles him to the floor and handcuffs him.

Padilla, who Bexar County records indicate was charged with criminal trespass, was not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He did not return messages left with supporters or his California-based attorney, Krista Hemming.

“It is your First Amendment right to curse that cop,” Hemming said of the case. “But it will be explained (in court) that this isn’t about cursing a cop. Martin Luther King was arrested 32 times.”

Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley said Thursday that she was first informed of the video protests and Salvaggio’s actions June 19 during an executive session of the City Council. She said she expects that the council will discuss the lawsuit early next week.

“I don’t like litigation,” Riley said. “I hope we can settle all of it without litigation, and that our insurance would take care of any settlements. The city manager kept me informed, but I knew nothing beforehand about the arrests.”

Riley said she had gotten many calls from residents complaining about the activists and that their supporters around the country had so flooded City Hall and the police department with calls and phone messages that it crippled normal business.

Grabbing an inch-thick pile of open records requests from the activists, Salvaggio said they can bring a small police department to a standstill with demands for documents. He has a force of 35 officers.

“It’s not about the First Amendment, not about weapons or open carry,” Salvaggio said. “This is all about money. These people make money posting videos to YouTube or suing local government. They have Go Fund Me and PayPal sites. They’re all anarchists.”

Source: https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Leon-Valley-hit-with-lawsuit-over-auditor-13052803.php

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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