Lawsuit filed over GOP caucus arrest

Monday, April 15, 2013 | 5:31 p.m. CDT; updated 5:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 15, 2013

ST. PETERS — The free-speech rights of a Ron Paul delegate were violated when he was arrested outside a Republican caucus in suburban St. Louis last year, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the delegate.

Brent Stafford, 45, of O'Fallon, was part of the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee caucus on March 17, 2012, that grew so testy it was postponed.

The event at the Francis Howell North High School gym dissolved into chaos when supporters of Paul and eventual Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney became upset over a decision to recognize just one nomination for the caucus' chairman, a supporter of then-GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. A ban on audio and video recording devices also stirred anger.

Stafford was arrested outside the gym as he tried to gather other supporters of Paul. He was handcuffed, jailed for three hours and charged with trespassing. He was later acquitted by a St. Peters municipal judge.

"Our country is admired for our First Amendment rights to assemble and speak, so it is especially embarrassing when these fundamental rights are violated on a sidewalk outside of a public caucus convened to select a major party's nominee for president," ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said.

The lawsuit names the city of St. Peters and the arresting officer, Tim Hickey. It seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Messages seeking comment from the city of St. Peters were not returned.

St. Charles County is Missouri's third-largest county and is overwhelmingly Republican. At the time of the caucus, Santorum was waging a strong fight against Romney for the GOP nomination. Paul was a longshot for the nomination but had fervent support.

The county's Republican committee reconvened in April 2012, on the same day Santorum dropped out of the race. Stafford was chosen chairman of that meeting, and attendees overwhelmingly supported Paul, choosing slates of Paul supporters to move onto congressional caucuses and the statewide convention.

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