KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The American Civil Liberties Union has agreed to help a southwest Missouri protester who twice has been picked up by police officers and taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Dirk Kurtenbach, director of the ACLU for western Missouri, talked to Joe Hurley's attorney, Mel Gilbert, on Monday about the case.
Hurley has been held in a mental-health facility for almost a week after police picked him up May. 8. Hurley, 50, of Urbana, was on his way to the U.S. District Courthouse in Springfield to protest the execution of convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Hurley believes the FBI has not taken seriously his claim that he knows the identity of "John Doe No. 2." Hurley also believes McVeigh has information about other potential suspects in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.
Hurley could be released from his most recent mental-health evaluation at midnight Tuesday.
Gilbert, however, believes authorities are trying to hold him for a 21-day evaluation -- something that normally requires a judge's approval.
In an unusual move for a short-term evaluation, Hurley was transferred from the Springfield hospital to a hospital in Joplin. There, Gilbert said, Hurley was told he would be staying for 21 days.
"Several people are now saying that Joe Hurley is being held as a political prisoner," Gilbert said.
Hurley was first stopped by police April 23 after burning an effigy of a federal agent. He was held for a 96-hour mental evaluation and released.
At another protest May 8, Hurley had planned to display fake bombs, but police stopped him before he reached the courthouse.
"All he wanted to do was express his concern over this particular case," Kurtenbach said.
Springfield police spokesman Kirk Manlove, however, said officers received two tips that day. One person told police Hurley would have explosives at his protest, while the other said he would have fake bombs. Gilbert said Hurley informed officers of his plans.
Kurtenbach said that after police realized the bomb was fake, Hurley should have been allowed to proceed with his protest. He called the officer's actions an "outrageous violation" of Hurley's First Amendment rights.
"You don't incarcerate people for provocative and unpopular speech," he said. "That's un-American."
But Manlove also said the "unpredictability of his behavior" is what concerned officers.
When officers arrived at the April 23 protest, Hurley climbed onto his truck, gasoline in hand, and screamed "back up or I'll blow!" Hurley said he was desperate to get authorities to listen to him.
But Manlove said officers had that incident in mind on May 8.
"We're kind of looking at a whole series of events, not just a single incident," Manlove said.
He also suggested police may have thought Hurley had stopped taking his medication for the panic disorder he was diagnosed with about a decade ago.
Gilbert pointed out that Hurley was never charged with anything in either protest.
"Both times the police department and prosecutor's office have specifically said that he did not do anything illegal," Gilbert said.