An Oklahoma pawn broker took his small town’s police department to federal court, claiming cops clamped down on him when he put a sign on the curb warning of a speed trap ahead.
James Goad, of Meeker, says the harassment that followed his action amounted to a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In the suit against the Meeker Police Department and Police Chief Sam Byrd, Goad claims police arrested him and violated his civil rights to get back at him for his sign stunt.
"Mr. Goad was exercising his constitutional right to free speech when he posted the speed trap warning sign on the property," Goad's attorney, Jack Dawson, wrote.
Byrd said he couldn’t comment on Goad’s specific charges because he had not been served with the lawsuit. But he said the sign Goad posted in June, 2012, in front of Meeker Supply & Pawn, which read “Slow down, Meeker speed trap ahead,” didn’t bother him.
“To be honest, nobody cared. It’s freedom of speech - you can post whatever you want out there.”
- Police Chief Sam Byrd, Meeker, Okla.
“To be honest, nobody cared,” Byrd told FoxNews.com. “It’s freedom of speech - you can post whatever you want out there.”
But the sign apparently bothered former Meeker reserve Officer Sean Sugrue, according to Dawson. Sugrue allegedly began staking out speeders with a radar gun on Red Hill Road, right in front of the pawn shop, blocking customers from coming in.
Goad claims when he told Sugrue to leave, the reserve cop refused and then followed him when he went to town hall to complain to the mayor. Once there, Sugrue accused him of not wearing a seatbelt and of running a stop sign, claims Goad denied.
After the incident, Goad filed a formal complaint, and an internal investigation backed him up. Sugrue, who no longer works for the department and could not be reached for comment, issued an apology, but the wording did little to assuage Goad.
"I apologize if my actions appeared unprofessional and showed the town in a bad light," Sugrue wrote. "Mr. Goad needs to know that he does not own the police department and that attempting to get belligerent with a police officer might have some negative effects."
Byrd said he thought the issue had been resolved after the departmental investigation. Although he said Sugrue no longer works for him, he added that it was not a result of the feud with Goad.
“In the issue with Mr. Goad, he came and filed a complaint with us,” Byrd said. “That was investigated and that was dealt with.We have our procedures for those kinds of complaints.”
But in February, 2013, Sugrue pulled Goad over for speeding, and the feud was back on. Goad challenged the ticket in court, and on March 6, 2013, requested a copy of Sugrue's personnel file. A day later, Sugrue ran a background check on Goad with the FBI's National Crime Information Center, and arrested Goad for the felony offense of "making a false declaration to law enforcement" in his old complaint against Sugrue.
The issue, Sugrue said at the time, was that Goad had stated he owned the pawn shop, something he could not do as because Goad had a past felony conviction. A judge tossed both the speeding ticket and Sugrue’s new charge. But the suit Dawson filed on behalf of Goad in District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma shows the battle is not over.