Gilbert residents kicked out of council meeting while holding signs taking legal action

Residents say Mayor Peterson violated their rights to free speech
Three people kicked out of the meeting filed a notice of claim against the Town of Gilbert, seeking an apology from the mayor.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 10:11 PM MST|Updated: Oct. 20, 2022 at 10:17 PM MST
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GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There is controversy surrounding actions at a Gilbert town council meeting. Mayor Brigette Peterson asked police to remove three people who were holding signs directed at her. The people kicked out of the meeting said she violated their First Amendment rights.

“She saw a sign that said stop lying, she let her position get to her head,” said Brandon Ryff, one of the people kicked out of the meeting.

On Sep. 20, Ryff said he saw a woman holding a sign that said, “stop lying.” He alleges that Peterson asked the police to remove the sign. That is when he and a friend stepped in. “We told her we would hold signs along with her. She shouldn’t be scared to hold her sign,” said Ryff.

Ryff said they were holding them in the back of the room quietly. Then during public comment, his friend Ryan Handelsman spoke out. “I see rules that prohibit disorderly conduct, clapping or threats but I don’t see anything about silently holding signs. This seems to be a First Amendment free speech, attempting to silence us and violate our rights,” said Handelsman.

Fifteen minutes later, Peterson asked Gilbert police officers to remove Ryff, Handelsman and Joanne Terry. “Remove the people from the back of the room, please, those three people holding up signs,” said Peterson.

Ryff said they left peacefully but believe Peterson silenced them and stripped away their rights to free speech. Civil rights attorney Elizabeth Tate said if people were disruptive, it would warrant kicking them out. “If they are making a distraction, if they are endangering, inciting a riot, then those would all be legitimate reasons why a person would be expelled from a meeting like that,” said Tate.

But Ryff said that was not the case. Ryff, Handelsman and Terry are now taking legal action and filed a notice of claim against the Town of Gilbert. They are asking Peterson to make a public apology and take First Amendment training classes. “What I am not interested in is money, it’s protecting our rights as citizens,” said Ryff.

Arizona’s Family reached out to the Town of Gilbert. A spokesperson would not comment on the incident but said the claim is under review.