ALAMOGORDO, NM – An Alamogordo resident, Matthew Crecelius, will receive $45,000 from Otero County after former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin silenced him and the Otero County Sherriff forcibly removed him from county commission meetings for voicing his opposition to banning books and local election denier efforts.
Crecelius is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and Alexandra Freedman Smith, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.
“I was mocked, yelled at, silenced, and roughly thrown out of public hearings simply because I had a different opinion than the predominant conservative view – namely that the election wasn’t stolen. I was treated like someone who committed a crime,” said Crecelius, a veteran who was a military police officer in the Air Force. “I hope this settlement makes clear that all Otero County residents, regardless of their political background have the right to express their opinions freely without intimidation at county commission meetings.”
On at least three occasions, Crecelius was illegally silenced by the Otero County Commissioners led by Griffin because he disagreed with the commission’s refusal to certify the 2020 election results and its decision to engage in an audit of the results by a firm led by known conspiracy theorists. He also disagreed with efforts to ban books in the school library.
Griffin was later removed from the commission because of his involvement with the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Not only was Crecelius physically removed from meetings by police officers at Griffin’s request when he aired his concerns but also for simply raising his hand to speak. Those who agreed with Griffin were allowed to remain in the meetings and allowed to share their views.
“The government may never suppress or retaliate against opinions it doesn't like,” said Alexandra Freedman Smith, cooperating attorney with ACLU of New Mexico. “In a democracy, people must have the ability to express conflicting and unpopular viewpoints without fear of retaliation. These elected officials violated a basic tenant of our democracy and showed a complete disregard for Mr. Crecelius's constitutional rights.”
Smith continued, “Free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy for a reason. Being able to criticize our government is what makes our country free.”