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Crying ‘free speech’, armed Obama protester’s arrest at Alaska State Fair sparks outrage

By Stephen C. Webster
Saturday, August 28, 2010 15:23 EDT
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A man named Sidney Hill, sporting a bushy, white beard and a big sign invoking the impeachment of President Obama, showed up at the Alaska State Fair on Thursday, prepared to engage in a vocal protest.

From video that surfaced on the Internet a day later, it appears he got more than he bargained for.

In the 10-minute clip, Hill, a supporter of fringe presidential candidate Lyndon Larouche, can be seen holding his sign and cheering at the large crowd, “Impeach Obama!” and “Who wants to impeach Obama and save America?”

Two security guards are hovering over his shoulders at the beginning of the video, then one turns to the cameraman and says, “Could you turn that off?”

“Nope,” the cameraman replies.

“This is public access!”, Hill shouts at the guards. “What are you, deaf? Did you get hit in the head too many times? FREE SPEECH!”

“He’s right!” someone jeers. One of the private security employees pulls out a phone. It’s not long thereafter that they take action to put the man on the ground.

He screams for onlookers to help, but nobody steps out. The cameraman reminds private security that they’re being filmed.

At one point, an unidentified state trooper intervenes on the guards’ behalf, trying to keep the crowd away from the two men as they smother the old protester.

Guards later said they found a loaded pistol in the man’s possession. While in the video Hill did not once appear to be wielding a weapon, Cmdr. Tom Remaley of the Palmer Police Department told the Mat-Su Frontiersman that Hill admitted he had a loaded weapon on him.

Alaska State Fair marketing director Dean Phipps said the fairgrounds are private property and the fair reserves the right to ask political protesters to leave.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reported:

Sidney Hill is familiar to local residents as the gentleman who spends most of his days on the corner of the Palmer-Wasilla and Glenn highways with his large “Impeach Obama” sign. When he brought that banner to the first day of the fair, he drew a crowd.

An altercation with fair security, caught on a more than nine-minute video and posted on YouTube, led to his arrest on charges of fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and trespassing, said Cmdr. Tom Remaley of the Palmer Police Department. The video has also sparked criticism that state fair security personnel used excessive force in detaining Hill.

From watching the video, Remaley said he doesn’t feel the force used was excessive.

“I don’t know why security wanted him to leave, but he was yelling that he had his right to free speech,” Remaley said. “He also had a handgun on him, and they took him into custody. There were trying to get him on the ground and felt the gun.”

Officials at the Florida State Fairground maintained that their private property rights superseded the man’s constitutional right to free speech, and that other political protesters would be asked to leave as well.

“We not only have the right to (limit protests), we have a responsibility as well,” a part official told the Frontiersman.

Alaska CBS affiliate KTVA 11 added:

“He wasn’t yelling, shouting or screaming,” said Brian Standfill, a witness who videotaped the arrest. “He wasn’t heckling the crowd and moments later security personnel from the state fair approached him and asked him to leave.”

[...]

Something his wife says is simply unfair for someone who was practicing his freedom of speech.

“He was just exercising just that, his freedom of speech,” said Erin Hill. “They let him in with the banner that’s in your face and then turned around and tried to stop him after they let him after he paid admission.”

In an update by the Anchorage Daily News, a marketing director to the state fair attributed an “unwritten policy” of not allowing people to spread political messages unless they’ve paid a fee to rent a booth like other exhibitors.

Hill’s attorney, according to KTVA, still maintains that his client was “assaulted” by the guards.

“The security guards assaulted him, it’s clearly on the video of them taking him down for no apparent reason other than him holding the sign,” he’s quoted as saying. “People walk around that place all the time with banners signs, clothing.”

He was taken into custody by police after the incident. A judge opted against seeing him charged with assault, but Hill does face a count of trespassing and disorderly conduct. He was freed on $250 bail, according to reports.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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