ACLU challenges Grain Valley police for prosecuting drivers who - KCTV5 News


ACLU challenges Grain Valley police for prosecuting drivers who flash headlights

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is challenging the city of Grain Valley's policy of pulling over drivers who use their headlights to send a message to other drivers to slow down and proceed with caution. 

The suit was filed Wednesday on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman, Jr. of Kansas.

According to the ACLU, while driving in Grain Valley on Aug. 24 Jarman saw a speed trap and flashed his headlights to let other drivers know to proceed with caution. He was pulled over by a Grain Valley police officer and issued a ticket for allegedly “interfering with radar” by flashing headlights at oncoming drivers.

"You have a First Amendment right to express yourself in public and the government can't infringe on that right," said American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri staff attorney Gillian Wilcox. “It's a communication everyone understands."

In April, the ACLU of Missouri secured a permanent injunction from U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey against the city of Ellisville, a suburb of St. Louis, for citing drivers who did the same thing.

“Drivers are free to use their First Amendment rights to warn others to drive cautiously and should not be punished for their message,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Traffic laws are made to promote safety, not generate revenue.”

“Flashing headlights is a message that is widely understood, even by new drivers,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The government cannot ticket drivers who have done nothing more than exercise their right to communicate with other drivers.”

Grain Valley City Administrator Ryan Hunt and Mayor Michael Todd said they just learned of the lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday so they weren't ready to comment.

Drivers KCTV5 talked said they didn't see a problem with letting people know they need to slow down and some said getting a ticket for flashing your lights is going too far.

"I think it's ridiculous. If people want to warn others, that's their right to warn others," said driver Julie Binch.

But the city's ordinance is clear. The Grain Valley city code reads "it's unlawful to interfere with radar, other speed checking devices."

Having won the similar lawsuit in Ellisville, Wilcox hopes ordinances like Grain Valley's become a thing of the past.

"We hope that we are successful in this case as well and that we send a message to other police departments that this is not a policy they should be using," she said.

The suit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, Western Division.

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