Judge considers obstruction charge in crosswalk protest case

Updated March 21, 2018 - 8:10 am

Boulder City Municipal Court Judge Victor Miller will issue a written ruling on a motion filed to dismiss a charge of obstruction against a resident who was arrested after protesting a police-sanctioned crosswalk enforcement event by walking back and forth in the crosswalk.

Miller heard arguments for and against the dismissal at a hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Attorney Stephen Stubbs filed a motion in February to dismiss the obstruction charge against his client, John Hunt, because the allegation of criminal activity “attempts to criminalized the simple act of walking back and forth in a crosswalk being used for the enforcement activity.”

At Tuesday’s hearing Stubbs told Miller that the obstruction charge can only be used “where no other provision of law applies” and Hunt’s protest of the police department’s crosswalk activity was protected under the First Amendment.

For an act rather than speech to be protected, Stubbs said it must have been done to communicate a message and that a reasonable person must be able to understand it. According to Stubbs, Hunt’s action met those requirements because he told a Nevada Highway Patrol officer about it, and Boulder City Police Sgt. John Glenn said on tape that it was a protest.

Glenn arrested Hunt on June 8, 2016, on several charges after he repeatedly walked back and forth in a marked crosswalk during a police-sanctioned pedestrian enforcement detail. Those charges included obstructing traffic and resisting arrest.

The city originally dropped the charges against Hunt in late June 2016 but refiled them June 5, 2017.

According to Stubbs, former City Attorney Dave Olsen made handwritten notes in his criminal complaint that was protesting in conjunction with his constitutional rights.

“It’s a fact those acts communicated a message. … He used it for a purpose the police didn’t like,” he said.

According the declaration filed in the motion to dismiss the obstruction charge, Hunt said he “was not happy with government’s actions” and decided to exercise his First Amendment right to protest by “legally crossing the street in a manner that gave proper notice to drivers.”

Assistant City Attorney Gary Booker said in response that there was no symbolic speech in Hunt’s actions and he could have used “less burdensome alternatives.”

Booker said Hunt was obstructing a police activity and had admitted to being mad about that activity in his declaration.

“What he was doing was dangerous,” he said. “It was like running into a theater and yelling, ‘Fire!’”

Because of that danger, Booker said Hunt’s actions are not protected under the First Amendment.

Miller said that Hunt’s actions seemed to obstruct witnesses Bill and Amy Tobler, who saw Hunt use the crosswalk and stopped at it.

“They didn’t seem to mind,” Stubbs responded.

Stubbs also said it was not Hunt’s fault that the vehicle in front of the Toblers stopped when he was in the other side of the crosswalk because “the law is clear” and says that a car only has to stop at the part of the road where the pedestrian is.

“The truck in front of them didn’t know that. … He was crossing the street in the crosswalk,” he said. “He wasn’t running … drivers could use the crosswalk correctly. … (the) idea that he will be charged with obstruction for exercising his First Amendment right is preposterous.”

Hunt is scheduled to go to trial for those charges at 9 a.m. May 16.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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