Muni, WPD Officer Sued Over Forest Fair Ejections
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Grisham v. City of Anchorage, et al. was filed in United States District Court for the District of Alaska against Municipality of Anchorage [MOA], Anchorage Parks and Recreation Director John Rodda and Whittier Police Department’s (WPD) Officer John Casselman on Jan. 4.
The complaint concerns ejections from Girdwood Forest Fair (GFF) on July 8, 2017 due to proselytizing, which the event prohibits, despite taking place in a public park.
According to lawsuit, plaintiffs David Grisham of Anchorage and Tina Watson of Ft. Worth, Tex. were denied their rights to free speech and due process when escorted by Casselman away from Forest Fair Park (FFP) boundaries. The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief, nominal damages, costs and attorney fees.
The annual, three-day festival posts a concise set of rules: “No Dogs. No Politics. No Religious Orders.” The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs were peaceably distributing religious tracts during the event and were requested to stop by GFF security. When the plaintiffs refused, Officer Casselman became involved and escorted them outside park boundaries.
FFP is public land managed by Girdwood Parks and Recreation and part of MOA. Girdwood Forest Fair, Inc. is a private, nonprofit which runs GFF and must receive a special event permit from MOA to operate. GFF is free and open to the public at all times. Under stated conditions, the plaintiffs believe they had a right to proselytize GFF attendees.
According to the suit, GFF security responded and requested Grisham stop distributing tracts. When he refused, he was “forcefully removed” to the security tent and detained until Officer Casselman arrived to escort Grisham to the edge of the park.
When Grisham asked why he was ejected from the public park, the lawsuit states, “‘Officer Casselman reiterated the directives of the security guards. He told Grisham that he had to leave the public park because he was distributing religious literature against the wishes of the event organizer.’”
Around the same time, plaintiff Watson was led to the security tent by a female security guard for actions similar to Grisham’s. In dialogue with two other security volunteers, Watson said her rights were being violated.
In response, the lawsuit says she was told, “Okay, here’s the thing. You can follow the rules of the Forest Fair or you can leave. It’s trespassing if you do not follow the rules. We have the license to this park for the entire duration of the fair.”
In an exchange with Watson a few minutes later, a GFF official allegedly said, “Nobody is saying you cannot practice. We’re saying we are not allowing proselytization. No proselytization from anyone.”
The suit goes on to report Grisham later received a letter from an unnamed Assistant Municipal Attorney stating the park is not a public forum during GFF and, due to a special events permit, GFF has exclusive use of the park, including a ban on proselytizing.
In response, the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote, “Defendants have no legitimate reason that can justify their censorship of the religious viewpoints that Grisham and Watson wish to express in a public park.”
The plaintiff’s attorneys also asserted a violation of due process clause, writing, “Defendants’ policy and practice that adopt and enforce a ban on ‘religious orders’ in California Creek Park during the Girdwood Forest Fair are vague and lack sufficient objective standards to curtail the discretion of officials and police officers. As a result, the policy and practice adversely affect protected speech and are administered in an ad hoc, arbitrary, and discriminatory manner.”