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City answers First Amendment lawsuit, denies wrongdoing


William Browning



The city of Columbus has asked a judge to dismiss a federal lawsuit a local pastor filed after being arrested while taking part in a pro-life rally three years ago. 


Stephen Joiner, the pastor at First Church of the Nazarene, was arrested for "failure to obey a police officer" near the intersection of Highway 45 North and 18th Avenue on March 30, 2011. The 55-year-old had stopped to join a crowd of people taking part in The Personhood Tour, a two-week tour of Mississippi intended to drive support for the state's Personhood Amendment, which would have declared "personhood" at fertilization. 


Joiner claims his arrest was "unconstitutional" and violated his right to freedom of speech. Last month he filed a lawsuit against the city and police Capt. Fred Shelton, who made the arrest, in the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi. He is asking for, among other things, compensatory damages and for the incident to be expunged from his record. His attorney has said it is a First Amendment issue. 


The city, in a response to the lawsuit filed last week, denies any wrongdoing. In fact, the word "denied" appears more than 100 times in the city's 23-page response. The word "deny" appears 25 times. 


"The actions taken by the city of Columbus and its employees were taken in good faith and in good faith reliance upon then existing law," the city claims. 


The city also asks that costs and reasonable attorneys' fees be assessed against Joiner. 


Joiner is represented by Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. 


The city is represented by Wyatt, Terrant and Combs law firm. 


At the time of Joiner's arrest, a police department spokesperson told The Dispatch members of the rally were impeding traffic. Joiner, according to this lawsuit, was not impeding traffic and had a right to remain on the public right of way. 


The next court date in the matter is set to take place in August.


William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.



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