Cleveland Metroparks' policies regulating free-speech activities are unconstitutional, lawsuit says


CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Rocky River woman has sued the Cleveland Metroparks Board of Commissioners, saying the Metroparks’ restrictive rules on free speech are unconstitutional and that park rangers harassed her while she collected signatures Thursday at the Edgewater Live concert series.

The Metroparks require anyone who wants to engage in “First Amendment activities” to apply for and receive permission, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. Anyone granted permission is only allowed to be in certain areas at each of the Metropark sites, even though the parks are public.

The suit says Alison Abdul-Kareem did not get a permit — and has no intention of doing so in the future — when she sought to collect signatures from patrons of Edgewater Live on Thursday on Cleveland’s West Side. The signatures were in the hopes of placing a measure on November’s ballot asking Cleveland whether marijuana possession should be decriminalized.

Abdul-Kareem says she positioned herself near the Edgewater Beach House. She did not harass anybody, the lawsuit says.

Metropark rangers stopped Abdul-Kareem twice as she tried to collect signatures, according to the lawsuit. During the first instance, park rangers demanded that Abdul-Kareem cease her activities and leave. While they told her she would not be arrested if she continued, she was stopped a few minutes later and surrounded by park rangers.

Eventually, the rangers left her alone, the lawsuit says.

The Metroparks only allows people who want to engage in free-speech activities to do so at Edgewater “within one picnic area described as ‘Upper Edgewater – Near Statue,'” the lawsuit says.

“Had Abdul-Kareem stationed herself in the designated First Amendment Activity area, she would not have had access to the audience she was trying to reach,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, which also lists 15 unnamed park rangers as defendants, says the Metroparks officials violated Abdul-Karrem’s First and 14th Amendment rights. It asks for a federal judge to declare Metroparks’ policies unconstitutional.

Abdul-Kareem is also asking a federal judge to bar the Metroparks from enforcing its policies and to prohibit the rangers from harassing her while the lawsuit is pending.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster.

Metroparks spokeswoman Jacqueline Gerling said in an emailed statement that “Cleveland Metroparks respects and values first amendment rights and activities. We just received notification of the lawsuit this afternoon and it is under review.”

Click here to read the lawsuit on a mobile device.



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