YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Avoiding what could have become a media circus, Newark officials have settled with an animal-rights activist who was arrested while protesting outside the Prudential Center the last time Ringling Bros. came to town.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced the settlement this afternoon in the case of Nicholas Botti, who standing on a public sidewalk when he was arrested March 7 of last year.
Ironically, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to town this week.
“Looking back, it was futile to tell the police we weren’t breaking any laws,” Botti said, “but if my experience means the police don’t infringe on the rights of other people for speaking their minds, then it was a victory for both civil rights and animal rights.”
Botti — who was toting a sign that said “This is Ringling Baby Elephant Training” — and six other protestors were herded into a “protest zone,” where, the ACLU said, “sparse foot traffic exposed fewer people to their signs and literature.”
So Botti and another activist moved to the intersection of Mulberry Street and Edison Place, diagonally across from the arena, where their signs could be seen more readily. Police soon arrested Botti on charges of obstructing the sidewalk and failing to observe a police order to move.
The ACLU took up the case (SEE: Nicholas Botti v. City of Newark), filing papers only a few weeks ago.
As part of the agreement that resulted, the City of Newark will provide free-speech policy training every six months to all police officers and city employees responsible for special event permits (SEE: Botti/Newark Agreement).
“Any policy can only be as good as its enforcement,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Over the years we’ve helped Newark build strong free speech policies, and with new emphasis on teaching those policies, they’ll be even stronger.”
“We’re gratified that Newark not only recognized the importance of enforcing its free speech ordinances, but responded quickly to institute it,” said Bennet Zurofsky, the attorney who represented Botti for the ACLU-NJ.
What the ACLU didn’t mention was that the city also agreed to cover Botti’s $1,600 in legal fees.