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Updated: Monday, 30 Apr 2012, 11:31 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 30 Apr 2012, 5:40 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) has filed a federal lawsuit against nine individuals along with the City of Allegan and the Allegan Public School District in connection to an event shut down at which he and a self-proclaimed former terrorist were scheduled to speak.
The Jan. 26 event was organized by Allegan County Commissioner Bill Sage, who rented out the Allegan High School auditorium to host it.
The speaker was Kamal Saleem. Saleem claims he is a former terrorist and travels around the country speaking at events. According to a web page administered by Sage, Saleem was going to speak about his life as a hired terrorist and committing acts against the United States.
Agema was scheduled to speak about a bill called American Law for American Courts -- labeled HB4769 -- which states that only American constitutional law may be used in American courts.
But as the event was beginning, Allegan Police Chief Rick Hoyer was made aware of a $25 million bounty on Saleem's head.
At the time, Hoyer told 24 Hour News 8 said that when police learned that information, they felt they did not have enough officers to make the event safe. So authorities shut down the event and cleared the auditorium.
Hoyer said that attendees did not want to leave the event at first.
"People in the audience were upset. They were concerned we were trying to censor them," said Hoyer. "We assured them we were not trying to censor them or step on their First Amendment rights."
But Agema told 24 Hour News 8 on the day after the event that there was "no credible threat" at the time.
That sentiment carried over into the lawsuit, which says that no specific threats about the event were received by the police department, the high school or the school district.
Sage; ACT! For America President Elizabeth Griffin, who worked with Sage to organize the event; and Mark Gurley, who paid for Saleem's airfare to Michigan, according to the suit, are all listed as a plaintiffs in the case.
Named as defendants in the suit are Hoyer, an Allegan police sergeant, three police officers, the City of Allegan, the Allegan Public School District, its superintendent Kevin Harness, Principal Jim Mallard, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Dawud Walid of CAIR-Michigan, People for the American Way, and that organization's president Michael Keegan.
The suit alleges that those who shut down the event violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, interfering in the plaintiffs' rights to free speech, freedom of religion and free assembly.
It claims officials had no credible threat to shut down the "free speech" event and that the worries about a bounty were "nothing other than a pretext" to shut down the event.
"Now they're claiming it was because of some sort of threat," Agema's lawyer Erin Mersino told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Monday.
But Mersino said there was no threat and possibly, not even a bounty.
"This discussion of a bounty is something that's completely unverified," said Mersino.
According to the lawsuit -- and Saleem's website -- Saleem's bodyguard Kevin Jones told police that the claims of a bounty couldn't be verified or denied. He said that Saleem had received death threats, but that there had never been an incident at one of Saleem's speaking engagements.
The suit also claims that no one involved in shutting down the event acted "as if there was a credible threat" to Saleem, because they did not remove him from school premises after shutting down the event, did not have an officer in the auditorium, did not evacuate the entire school building, and did not shut down an impromptu relocation to a nearby bowling alley.
The suit also says that the city failed to properly train officers, which it says caused the alleged violation of the plaintiffs' rights.
The suit says that Sage met with Hoyer 10 days before the event to request that two police officers be present. Hoyer, according to the lawsuit, said he would conduct a "Google search" on Saleem to get more information about him, but never did.
The suit claims that failure amounts to a failure "to exercise due diligence of a law enforcement executive to conduct a reasonable inquiry into an actual threat posed by allowing the free speech event to take place as planned."
The lawsuit also states that neither the police department, city, or school district has a policy for shutting similar events, which leaves too much "unfettered discretion" in the hands of individual authorities.
"Personally, I may be wrong, I think the chief of police overstepped his bounds on this one," said Agema in January.
The suit alleges that CAIR, Walid, People for the American Way and Keegan interfered with Sage's contact with the school to rent the room by sending a letter to Harness and Mallard that defamed Saleem and requested that the school "breach its contract" with Sage and stop Saleem from speaking.
Walid told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone on Monday that he
doesn't think that letter made a difference at all.
Walid co-wrote the letter, which warned that Saleem is not the former terrorist he claims to be and that he is smears Islam during his speaking engagements.
"They were bringing an individual who we felt was a fraud," Walid said. "They should be promoting diversity and understanding instead of bringing people who spew misinformation and paint entire minority communities with a broad brush."
That letter also requested that the district prohibit Saleem from ever speaking at the high school again, according to the lawsuit.
The suit asks for compensatory nominal, and punitive damages, as well as legal fees.
24 Hour News 8's Ryan Takeo contributed to this report.
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