LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California along with a Santa Barbara man filed suit today against the City of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Police Department for violating his free speech.
Last November while reading the names of soldiers who died in Iraq during a peaceful commemoration of Veteran's Day on Santa Barbara's busy State Street, local police approached Michael and George Tocher, wrongly accused Michael of disturbing the peace, demanded identification and promptly arrested him.
'Our Constitution gives us the freedom to speak our minds and protects us from the Government's silencing of our political voice,' said Ricardo Garcia, ACLU/SC Criminal Justice Director. 'We remain concerned that the city condones its officers' conduct and that other community members may be risking arrest if they too choose to voice their political views.'
The lawsuit was filed today in federal district court in the central district of California for violations of Michael's First and Fourth Amendment rights. The ACLU of Southern California originally filed a claim in May with the City of Santa Barbara seeking damages for the two for the violation of their First Amendment rights, but the city denied the claim even though the Santa Barbara County District Attorney dismissed the charges against Michael Tocher.
'I would read the soldiers names again this Veteran's Day without hesitation, but I am filing this lawsuit because I hope that I or anyone else who wants to spark discussion and thought will not have to think twice before saying something,' said Michael Tocher, electrical engineer and father of two. 'I don't take lawsuits lightly, but it is our duty as people in this great country to speak out without fear of retribution.'
The Tochers, two of five brothers, are Santa Barbara natives. Michael lives in Nipomo and George in North Hollywood. They had read about 400 of the 1,200 names of soldiers when police arrived in response to a citizen complaint. George was not cited.
'My brother and I felt like we had to do something to remember the hundreds of soldiers who died in Iraq,' said George Tocher, a social worker in Los Angeles. 'We felt it was a very reasonable and non-offensive way of protesting the war. We didn't want to do anything negative, but rather bring awareness on Veteran's Day. Now we are concerned that other people may choose not to speak out in Santa Barbara for fear they'll be arrested.'