LOS ANGELES - Like Nightline anchor Ted Koppel's choice to honor soldiers who died while fighting the war in Iraq by reading hundreds of names, two Santa Barbara brothers chose to read soldiers' names on Veteran's Day last year in the city's shopping district.
Like Koppel, the brothers came under fire for their actions.
While peacefully reading the names last November, police approached Michael and George Tocher and arrested Michael. The ACLU of Southern California filed a claim today with the City of Santa Barbara seeking damages for Michael for the violation of his First Amendment rights.
The brothers had read about 400 of the 1,200 names of soldiers who died when police arrived in response to a citizen complaint. They then wrongly accused Michael of disturbing the peace, yelled at him, demanded identification and promptly arrested him. George was not cited.
"The right of free expression is one of our most fundamental rights," said Ricardo Garcia, criminal justice director for the ACLU of Southern California. "Neither Michael nor George were doing anything that is not protected by the First Amendment. Free speech does not stop at the city limits."
The claim was received by the city Friday morning and if the claim is denied, the ACLU of Southern California will file a complaint with federal district court in the central district of California for violations of Michael's First and Fourth Amendment rights.
"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."
The Tochers, two of five brothers, are Santa Barbara natives. Michael lives in Nipomo and George in Los Angeles.
"If we were to do it all again, I would do it without hesitation," said Michael Tocher, electrical engineer and father of two. "It is our duty as people in this great country to speak out, be heard and engage the freedoms that we claim as our own. It is so important that everyone have a chance to speak out without fear of retribution."