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.

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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."

Free Speech First Amendment Washington State Police Protests Bill of Rights Civil Liberties Constitution Police Abuse