Free Speech

Man Arrested for Public Signs Wins Settlement From Sheriff's Office and Spurs Reform

Holding a sign in a public park should not cause an arrest.


When Robin Hordon, 73, brought his political signs to a Fourth of July celebration at a local public park, he landed himself a night in jail—and was held at $50,000 bail. Nearly two years later, he has not only secured a hefty settlement for violations of his constitutional rights but also inspired meaningful police reform.

Hordon is an artist and activist known for displaying his homemade political signs throughout the community of Kingston, Washington. According to the local newspaper, he endeavors to inspire conversation and dubs his activism "civil informationing," championing causes like feminism, anti-militarism, and environmentalism (as well as the occasional September 11 conspiracy theory).

In 2019, he brought some of his signs to a public outdoor Fourth of July concert at Mike Wallace Park. The largest poster measured approximately 6 feet across. One side read "Protect Democracy Vote," and the other simply "Save Earth."

Hordon was asked to remove the signs by the harbormaster, because the largest sign partially blocked the sidewalk. There were no complaints from concertgoers. When Hordon refused to put away his display, the police were called.

When Kitsap County deputies arrived, Hordon still refused to relinquish the signs. He expressed his desire to hear the band, and, according to a deputy's notes "said he was exercising his first Amendment rights and that [the police] were wrong."

The sheriff's deputies proceeded to arrest Hordon for obstruction of a police officer, and he was permanently banned from the public park. He then spent one night in the county jail; despite his clean record, bail was set at $50,000. Unable to pay, Hordon was released by a judge the following morning.

When he went back to the park twice over the following two weeks, supposedly to take photos for his legal defense, he was arrested again for violating his permanent banishment. Hordon spent another night in jail and was then charged with three counts of second-degree communal trespass—one for refusing to remove his signs and two for returning to the park.

Following his second release, Hordon brought a lawsuit to the district court claiming his constitutional rights were violated by the port that manages the park and the sheriff's office that jailed him twice, held him on unreasonable bail, and denied him due process by indefinitely banning him from a public park.

Hordon told the Kitsap Sun he sued in defense of civil liberties and the First Amendment. "If our society cannot uphold political free speech in a public park," he said, "then our society, our government is in trouble." 

The settlement was finalized this May. Hordon was awarded $250,000 in damages from the county and an additional $150,000 from the Port of Kingston. "They dug their own financial hole," he told the local paper, "I'm not thinking 'cha-ching.'"

What matters more to him is the reform that resulted from his lawsuit. Kitsap County Police instated new rules that prevent officers from setting unreasonably high bail. Additionally, they revised trespassing laws to afford due process and allow for petitions of banishments.

Kitsap County sheriff's deputies and criminal prosecutors have also agreed to attend free speech training, which is most meaningful to Hordon. "Why I do what I do is to improve democracy, without question," he said. "I was standing up for making the Constitution work."

NEXT: Bill Barr Gets Away With Busting Heads in Lafayette Square Because He’s a Fed

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  1. Holding a sign in a public park should not cause an arrest.

    A bit disingenuous. There are always boundary issues. This protestor appears to have violated them. The police went on to handle in poorly in a number of different ways. But in the end, there’s no unlimited right to bring whatever size signs you want into whatever public space you want.

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    2. Yeah, I wish there was more detail than “partially blocking the sidewalk” here. Are we talking “the sign encroached on the sidewalk by 1 mm” or “the sign blocked half the sidewalk”.

      Though, hell, it’s Washington, where apparently concrete barricades blocking a public street are “free speech”, so who the fuck knows.

    3. While you might be able to make a case on the size of the sign, as there are hazards involved, having a sign on public property, regardless of message or timing is protected speech.

  2. What if the signs were racist?

    1. Who cares? It’s still protected speech. If you don’t like the message, feel free to move along.

  3. What if the activist is holding a sign with hate speech on it?

    1. The same police still have the same duty to protect the pre-political right to speech.

      If they don’t or won’t they should be prosecuted, convicted, fined and imprisoned under title 18 sections 241 and 242 of the US Federal code.

    2. Define hate speech. There is no such thing, and it is still protected speech.

  4. Hordon was asked to remove the signs by the harbormaster, because the largest sign partially blocked the sidewalk. There were no complaints from concertgoers.

    Had he brought a tent, a barbecue grill, several stolen mountain bikes and a small meth lab, the police wouldn’t have been allowed to touch him.

  5. Too bad we are a Constitutional Republic and not a democracy. His speech was free and factually wrong. Save the Earth? Fine give that a try.

    1. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet, nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine; the people are fucked!

      George Carlin

  6. There were no complaints from concertgoers.

    Considering the content of those signs I should hope not.

    1. Seriously. It’s not as if he were really stirring up a hornets’ nest with those. So brave. Not.

  7. Kitsap County Police instated new rules that prevent officers from setting unreasonably high bail.

    How does Kitsap justify letting their cops set the bail amount? Is this a normal thing?

    1. Isn’t there already a sort of national rule that prevents unreasonably high (or excessive) bail from being set? It sounds vaguely familiar.

      1. When was the last time someone actually prevailed on 8th Amendment grounds?

          1. Just realizing I provided no context so this might be mistaken as some sort of scam link.

            Reason has also reported on this case. Cops took a guys Land Rover in a Civil Asset Forfeiture case over a bag of dope and the judge ruled that the cops had exceeded the limits and returned the guy’s vehicle.

            It took forever unfortunately but the guy got his car back.

  8. Looks like the constitution still works.

    1. It works well for that message but a Trump sign probably would have lost. The Constitution only seems to be working one way these days.

  9. Kitsap County Police instated new rules that prevent officers from setting unreasonably high bail.”

    “We set the bail.”

    ” Pay us the bail.”
    What could go wrong?

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