PETA claims UTA officers stifled activists' free speech during circus

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 6:09 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — PETA filed a lawsuit against two Utah Transit Authority police officers Wednesday, claiming they stopped activists from handing out anti-circus fliers at a TRAX station.

Animal rights activists Jeremy Beckham and Jessica Johnson were talking to people and distributing literature on the rail platform north of EnergySolutions Arena in September during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance. They say UTA officers Jordan Hamilton and Connor Macke told them they were violating UTA ordinances and threatened to cite them for trespassing if they didn't leave.

Beckham, a PETA employee, and Johnson, a PETA volunteer, left the platform. Both live in Salt Lake County.

The lawsuit, which does not name UTA, contends the officers violated the activists' free-speech rights, noting a UTA ordinance permits "public speaking" and the "distribution of non-commercial written materials" at transit facilities. It seeks an injunction to ensure the activity is allowed.

"The UTA officers had no legal right to force these activists to stop politely speaking out against Ringling Bros. circus, which routinely beats and whips the animals it forces to perform in its shows," said PETA director Delcianna Winders. "Without an injunction, we have no guarantee that our right to free speech will be protected."

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit, adding neither the transit authority nor the officers have received formal notification of the complaint.

Carpenter pointed to sections in the ordinance that are exceptions to rules allowing public speaking and passing out fliers. Those activities, according to the ordinance, must not occur in the transit right-of-way or impede passengers or rail service.

UTA, he said, considers the platform part of the right-of-way.

"Our officers are required to enforce UTA ordinances and Utah law," he said.

The lawsuit contends Beckham and Johnson did not disrupt, impede or interfere with transit services, the movement of passengers or UTA employees, or public safety.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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