CLEVELAND - The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of three Parma Heights residents who contend they were denied freedom of expression during the city's annual Memorial Day parade.
The ACLU contends that a police captain threatened to arrest residents Peter Buca and Diane Sadowski, two members of a group opposed to the closing of city-owned recreation facilities, unless they stopped passing out fliers at the Cleveland suburb's parade.
The third resident was not permitted to advertise his candidacy for City Council in the parade.
"It would be hard to come up with a more clear cut or textbook violation of the First Amendment," said Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.
Mayor Martin Zanotti said no one threatened the residents passing out fliers with arrest.
He said Capt. C.J. Darnell suggested they shouldn't pass out the fliers because they were advertising an event at the city ice skating facility that that they were not authorized to hold.
Zanotti acknowledged that council candidate Zoltan Zoltai was not permitted to promote his campaign in the parade.
The mayor, however, appeared in the parade with signs promoting his name.
"Historically, the city has only allowed elected officials in the parade," Zanotti said.
Vasvari said the city does not have the right to determine which candidates are allowed to promote themselves in the parade.
"You need a one size fits all rule," he said. "It can't be content specific."
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from preventing the distribution of fliers or use of campaign advertising at city events. It also seeks damages and attorney fees.