National ad agency to sue city, APD over SXSW arrests
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A New York-based advertising agency has plans to sue the Austin's Code Compliance Department and the Austin Police after two of their workers were arrested during South by Southwest.
The workers were arrested because they were projected an advertisement onto the side of a building, but nothing in city law prohibits this type of advertisement.
James Freeley with National Media Services Inc. was one of the workers arrested.
"Nobody told me, 'You broke this law and therefore I am now arresting you,'” he said.
Police say Freeley was "detained" for an illegal sign violation. Jail records show he was arrested, fingerprinted, and booked before being released twelve hours later.
While there is no city code specifically banning projections, according to the city, the images are considered off-premise signs, and therefore illegal.
Over the course of several days during South By Southwest, Austin police officers led by code compliance issued several warnings and tickets, but things quickly escalated.
"After they were cited, they were told to turn it off again and they said they would not,” Code Compliance Assistant Division Manager Ron Potts said. “They were told they would be arrested and they chose to be arrested at that point."
Leeza Henderson is a local permit consultant working for the ad company.
"It is ridiculous,” she said. “I think the city made a really bad mistake."
Henderson said after the city threatened to shut down the entire operation, a meeting with city representatives was quickly scheduled.
"We had five different city officials at this meeting and they all approved us and they all said there should not be a problem with projection and that there is nothing in the code for it," she said.
One day before the arrest, the company filed a cease and desist action against the city.
This New York ad agency says they're not done with the fight. Attorneys for the company say they plan to file a civil rights violation lawsuit in federal court.
"There is no doubt that Officers of the Austin Police Department and Code Enforcement violated my clients' Constitutional rights," attorney Carlos Lopez said in a statement. "We will be seeking redress by filing civil rights lawsuits in Federal Court against every culpable Officer and Official."
Charges against those arrested range from prohibited use of a sign to interfering with public duties.