On Uvalde Shooting 1-Year Anniversary, a Free-Speech Lawsuit Threat | Dallas Observer


Uvalde CISD Threatened with Free Speech Lawsuit

Uvalde parent Adam Martinez, whose son survived the Robb Elementary School shooting last May 24.
Uvalde parent Adam Martinez, whose son survived the Robb Elementary School shooting last May 24. Photo courtesy of Nycole Knoxx
Adam Martinez’s son hid under a school desk for around 45 minutes as the shooting unfolded on May 24 of last year. His child, who attended Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, knew several of the kids who were murdered that day.

“And so, he still is traumatized,” Martinez said. “He won't sleep in his own bed.”

With two children in the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, Martinez has become an advocate for improved safety following the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. But when Martinez raised concerns over a new Uvalde CISD police hire in February, he was banned from district property and school board meetings for two years.

Now, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is demanding that the ban be lifted. Earlier this week, the free speech advocacy organization sent the district a letter telling it to remove its “unconstitutional ban” by Monday or face a lawsuit.

As a Uvalde CISD parent, Martinez said it’s a strange feeling to get blocked from setting foot on district property. It also means he’s barred from attending his nephew’s graduation ceremony next week.

“Sometimes you feel cheated,” Martinez said. “I say that because it's been very unfair. I mean, they went against my rights.”

In an email to the Observer, a spokesperson for Uvalde CISD said the administration is aware of and has received FIRE's demand letter. She didn't respond to specific questions about the letter or whether the district will lift Martinez's ban.

In the wake of last year’s massacre, Uvalde officials attracted fierce criticism over the police response. Officers reportedly waited more than an hour to end the shooting after the slaughter began.

The district subsequently suspended its entire police department and fired the police chief while working to find qualified officers, FIRE noted in a news release.

Martinez has criticized officials' efforts to remake Uvalde CISD's police force, according to the release. He spearheaded the launch of an advocacy group that mounted fundraisers to aid Uvalde shooting victims and assisted with medical and funeral expenses.

In February, Martinez learned the district had hired someone whom the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office “had deemed ineligible for rehire,” according to FIRE. So, the dad raised concerns about the move to Uvalde CISD Police Chief Josh Gutierrez during a school board meeting that month.

“I've never had any type of record or been arrested for anything, and for them to treat me that way, it's embarrassing.” – Adam Martinez, Uvalde CISD parent

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FIRE points to video from the meeting as proof that Martinez’s side conversation with Gutierrez stayed quiet and didn't disrupt the meeting. Martinez was told to sit down but continued to talk to Gutierrez anyway.

Next, Martinez and his family were asked to exit the meeting. He then received a formal criminal trespass warning prohibiting him from all Uvalde CISD campuses and property for two years.

Since the Uvalde shooting, Martinez has been fighting for improved school safety, but now, he said, he’s the one who’s being painted as a threat.

“I've never had any type of record or been arrested for anything, and for them to treat me that way, it's embarrassing,” Martinez said. “I don't let it get to me because I know that they're wrong, and people know who I really am.

“A lot of the community members have been in support of what I'm doing, but not everybody knows,” he continued. “And so all they hear is that, ‘Oh, you had a criminal trespass warning.’ So it just makes my reputation look bad.”
Josh Bleisch, an attorney with FIRE, explained that school districts can’t bar people from public property just because officials don’t agree with what's being said. It’s well established that parents and other citizens have the right to attend open meetings and to criticize their government.

To Bleisch, it’s understandable that Martinez would be focused on Uvalde's safety.

“For him to bring his concerns directly to the source, but then be banned for doing so, we think that's pretty egregious [and] pretty ridiculous,” Bleisch said. “And we're happy to help him try to vindicate those First Amendment rights.”

The ban from district property is a “completely disproportionate” punishment for something that shouldn’t be punished in the first place, he added. FIRE hopes to hear back soon from the district with news that they’ve reversed course.

Martinez pointed out that his case isn’t the only one in which officials have attempted to squelch free speech. Still, he said, not everyone is as lucky in finding the legal muscle to back them up.

“I just ask that people keep that in mind, and try to stand up more because I'm not alone in this,” he said. “I'm glad that I do have somebody to represent me, but a lot of them don't, and so these cases go unheard. And the only way we can fix that is by speaking up.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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