ROSWELL, NM—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the City of Roswell, NM, alleging that police officers repeatedly violated the First Amendment free speech rights of two local street preachers, Joshua and Jeremy De Los Santos. Joshua and Jeremy are brothers and members of the Old Paths Baptist Church in Roswell, where Joshua is the pastor. Both believe they have a duty to boldly preach the Gospel in public, and both regularly do so in publicly owned spaces. However, the Roswell Police Department (RPD) has arrested both brothers multiple times for expressing their sincerely held religious beliefs in public, as is their right under the First Amendment.
“Our right to express our religious beliefs is among the most precious of American freedoms,” says ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Freedom of speech and religion means that any person can express any religious belief, no matter how unpopular, in public without fear of arrest or government harassment. Today, the ACLU is standing with the De Los Santos brothers to affirm and defend this right in Roswell.”
In the past two years, Roswell police officers have arrested Jeremy De Los Santos five times for preaching in public and arrested Joshua twice for the same activity. In every case, the charges against the plaintiffs were dismissed by a court of law.
The De Los Santos brothers allege that the Roswell police falsely arrested them without probable cause for exercising their First Amendment right to Free Speech on public property. The brothers also claim that RPD confiscated phones, cameras, camcorders and a bullhorn, some of which have not yet been returned.
Jeremy De Los Santos also claims that RPD officers used excessive force on two occasions. On September 24, 2010, RPD arrested Jeremy for preaching outside in the church parking lot. Before placing Jeremy in the squad car for transport to the local detention facility, an officer sprayed pepper spray or a similar chemical agent in the back seat, making it difficult for Jeremy to breathe. On Memorial Day, 2011, RPD officers again arrested Jeremy as he attempted to preach at a public event held in a park. After RPD booked Jeremy into jail, they handcuffed him behind his back and shackled him to the wall in a painful stress position.
“The Roswell Police Department’s mission is to serve and protect everyone in their community, even the people they disagree with,” says ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Ed Macy. “Arresting people for publicly preaching their religious beliefs tramples on the Constitutional guarantees that the Roswell Police Department officers took an oath to uphold.”
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Edwin Macy and ACLU-NM Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives.
A copy of the complaint can be found here: De Los Santos v Roswell
CONTACT: Micah McCoy, (505) 266-5915 x1003 or [email protected]