The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has won a First Amendment case against the city of Providence. A federal judge has found the city violated a woman’s free speech rights when they tried to prevent her from leafleting a political event.
On February 2, 2010 Providence resident Judith Reilly was distributing flyers critical of then-mayor David Cicilline at an event Cicilline was attending. Providence police moved her across the street, citing the need to keep sidewalks free in the event of an emergency. Reilly went to the American Civil Liberties Union for help and she won her lawsuit. U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled that police violated her free speech rights when they prevented her from reaching her intended targets. Attorney Richard Sinapi represented Reilly: "The message to the city was what we’d been asking them from the very beginning, is that you need to train your police officers," Sinapi says, "so they understand that the right to engage in expressive activity on public sidewalks, streets and parks in the city is of paramount importance and significance." The court left for further proceedings the question of whether three named police officers and former Providence police chief Dean Esserman could be held individually liable for violating Reilly’s First Amendment rights.