Maybe you heard: A couple of weeks ago, Dallas police began cracking down on vendors at Dealey Plaza selling maps, magazines, books and other conspiracy-theory whatnots. Deputy Police Chief Vince Golbeck said some folks down there were cussing at and spitting on visitors to the Kennedy assassination site, and "that's not the image we want portrayed."
But Robert Groden hardly fits that description: He's among the best-known and most revered of all the conspiracy theorists. He's served as staff photographic consultant to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Consulted on Oliver Stone's JFK. Wrote a number of books on the assassination you've probably heard of, chief among them High Treason: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy & the Case for Conspiracy.
And, for almost nine hours on June 13, Groden sat in Lew Sterrett after DPD arrested him for selling his magazine JFK The Case for Conspiracy at Dealey Plaza without a permit -- even though the city does not offer permits to sell books, DVDs or magazines at Dealey Plaza. Groden was eventually charged with a Class C misdemeanor and released.
Today, he filed a federal suit against the city, claiming, among other things, DPD violated his First Amendment rights and falsely imprisoned him.
"If they can do it to me," Groden tells Unfair Park, "they can do it to anyone."
He's also claiming malicious prosecution. The complaint follows. City officials had not yet seen the suit when I asked for a comment.
This, incidentally, is not the first run-in Groden's had with Dallas police.
We first wrote about this in 1997, when Dealey Plaza vendors were under siege by DPD -- and the Sixth Floor Museum had plans to "manage Dealey Plaza," in the words of Jeff West, then the executive director of the museum. Said West, "We have had complaints from visitors about being harassed, accosted and just confused by who these vendors are."
But then, suddenly, police stopped bothering vendors, and it was back to business as usual -- until 2003, when, Groden says, he received 80 citations that were all eventually dismissed. It was, he says, "a case of harassment," nothing less.
Back then, he says, he was prepared to file a lawsuit like the one dropped off in court today by Fort Worth attorney Alex Tandy. But, he says, the City Attorney's Office "made an agreement: If I dropped the suit, they'd leave me alone, and for seven years there hasn't been a complaint or a run-in. Now, there are homeless guys who harass the visitors, but the police know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. But they lied. They broke the agreement."
City attorneys maintain Dealey Plaza is under control of the Park and Recreation Department, and that Section 32.10 of the Dallas City Code makes it illegal to sell merch at the assassination site. It says, in whole:
It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale any food, drinks, confections, merchandise or services in areas under the control of the park board unless such person has a written agreement or a permit issued from the office of the park board permitting the sale of such items. Application for such agreements or permits shall be made to the office of the park board.
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City attorneys say that Groden can sell his magazine "adjacent to the outside perimeter of the park or on other public property." But once he steps foot in Dealey Plaza proper, he'll be subject to citation and arrest. Yet Groden says in his complaint when he tried to sell his material from the parking lot, he was also threatened with arrest if he didn't leave pronto.
Attorney Bradley Kizzia, who has represented Groden in the past, disagrees with the city's reading of the ordinance. He sent an e-mail to Assistant City Attorney Jackie Middlebrooks only today, in which he wrote:
We will just have to agree to disagree about the City's dubious allocation of limited police resources to ticket, arrest, and incarcerate JFK assassination researchers in Dealey Plaza. I do not think that the ordinance purportedly relied upon by the City is applicable or otherwise legally enforceable against Mr. Groden's exercise of his First Amendment rights in Dealey Plaza.
As you probably know, Mr. Groden has previously requested but has been denied a permit by the City on the stated grounds that there are no such permits. In fact, as you acknowledged on June 18, no one has ever been issued a permit by the City to sell books, newspapers, or DVDs in Dealey Plaza. The effect of this Catch-22 established by the City is to effectively prevent the sale at the site of the assassination of President Kennedy of any publications that offer evidence of a conspiracy behind the assassination. In my humble [opinion], this is not constitutionally permissible. Moreover, I certainly don't think that arresting and incarcerating authors such as Mr. Groden is an appropriate tactic for the City to take under the circumstances. But since the City apparently refuses to discuss some reasonable compromise, it appears that the legal system will now decide what is right and what is wrong in this matter.
More to come in the morning. Till then, the lawsuit's all yours.