Dem mayor sued for abusing power, shouting down critical constituents at city council meeting

A mayor who berated residents in Eastpointe, Michigan for criticizing her during a city council meeting is being sued for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights after attempting to silence them and abusing her power.

(Video Credit: Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression)

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) announced the lawsuit against Mayor Monique Owens for her abusive behavior during a Sept. 6 city council meeting. The lawsuit was officially filed on Nov. 9.

“This is a case about Monique Owens, the Mayor of Eastpointe, Michigan, abusing her office and her role as the Presiding Officer of Eastpointe’s City Council to silence her critics,” FIRE proclaimed in its legal filing.

Those being represented in the suit include Eastpointe citizens Mary Hall-Rayford, Karen Beltz, Cindy Federle, and Karen Mouradjian. The lawsuit is filed against Owens and the city of Eastpointe.

When the meeting began, it was opened for public comment. A number of people used their time to speak concerning the ongoing dispute between Owens and Councilman Harvey Curley.

Owens claims that she was “assaulted” by Curley during an event in June. He has steadfastly denied the assertion.

“Just 19 seconds into public comments, Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens interrupted the first speaker,” FIRE noted in a statement.

Video footage appears to show Owens interrupting and shouting over residents who were attempting to speak. She cut them off and threatened to end the meeting immediately after it began if they dared to comment on the dispute.

“Some things need to be said, and they need to be said in person,” a resident said at the beginning of her time. “I’m here in support of Councilman Curley.”

“You’re not going to sit here and assault me, lady I’ve never met,” the mayor arrogantly cut her off. “Don’t call my name because I don’t know what book you’re reading [from] and I don’t care.”

“Okay, you know what, I’m going to stop you right there,” Owens informed the woman, “or we’re going to stop the council meeting.”

“I’m not going to let you speak on something that has to do with a police [investigation],” she contended.

There was a harsh backlash against the mayor over her heavy-handed behavior.

“I love Eastpointe. Eastpointe is my home,” said Mary Hall-Rayford, a community activist, former chaplain, and school board member who attempted to speak at the meeting, according to FIRE. “But every resident should have the freedom to express their thoughts about what happens in their community. Mayor Owens may not want to hear our feedback, but we have the right to speak up. Change doesn’t happen when people sit quietly.”

“This is ridiculous,” another person stated during the meeting. “There’s no reason for this. We have First Amendment rights. Part of our First Amendment right clearly states we have the right to redress our government without fear of reprisal or retaliation.”

The video appears to show a city council member telling Owens, “Mayor, you’ve got to let her speak.”

The mayor sparred with a number of residents. The meeting came to an abrupt end when members of the city council walked out.

City Attorney Richard Albright told ClickonDetroit that the mayor has the right and the authority to discontinue certain remarks or conversations, free speech notwithstanding.

“If it’s going to get into being an issue of racial accusations or something along those lines, then certainly the mayor has the right, as controller of the meeting, to shut that down, but otherwise anybody has a free rein,” Albright commented.

Owens would go on to defend her actions, telling ClickonDetroit, “I don’t think that was the place to re-victimize me, to use that as a place of mockery and I won’t let them do that to anyone.”

FIRE pointed out when it announced the lawsuit that Eastpointe police never arrested Curley over the alleged assault and that prosecutors didn’t file charges.

“This is Michigan, not Moscow,” FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick said in a statement on Thursday. “Public officials are elected to serve the people, not silence them. The First Amendment prohibits the government from requiring citizens to offer praise in order to be heard. FIRE is suing Owens to ensure that she no longer censors Eastpointers or tries to protect herself at the expense of the Constitution.”

“City council meetings aren’t safe spaces for elected officials,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal asserted. “They’re opportunities for politicians to get honest feedback from the public. FIRE will make sure that Owens and other mayors tempted to abuse their authority get the message that the First Amendment trumps their ego.”

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