A gun-rights activist has filed a lawsuit against Lexington after selectmen, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, withdrew his permit for a rally that he had planned for the Battle Green on April 19.
The suit, filed by Billerica resident Stephen Redfern in Middlesex Superior Court, says the town’s selectmen violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly when they voted to pull his permit for the rally on the anniversary of the events celebrated on Patriots Day, marking the start of the Revolutionary War.
In March, selectmen granted the permit to Redfern, who was then affiliated with Gun Rights Across America. But the day after the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260, the board held an emergency meeting and voted to pull the permit, and place a moratorium on gatherings on the Battle Green until May 1, in the interest of public safety.
Neither Redfern nor his lawyer could be reached for comment last week.
Lexington Police Chief Mark Corr has said he had recommended the moratorium after consulting with the FBI and State Police, who advised against allowing the rally to proceed in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.
Kevin Batt, a lawyer with the firm Anderson & Kreiger, representing the town, said the main reason selectmen pulled the permit was because if a problem did arise, the police chief might not have access to backup resources, including regional police support from the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, because so many officers were focused on the Marathon investigation.
Batt said selectmen could not have known on Tuesday that on Friday, when the rally was to be held, a massive manhunt would be underway in connection to the Marathon bombings, and a number of communities, including neighboring Waltham, would be on lockdown.
“It proved to be a fairly prescient call, as far as the availability of law enforcement to help with possible problems that could happen with the gun rights rally, so I think that is the reason why selectmen voted as they did,” Batt said.
Eric Reed, the founder of Gun Rights Across America and a Texas resident, said that given the extenuating circumstances caused by the Marathon bombings and the manhunt for the culprits, he was not surprised by Lexington selectmen’s decision to withdraw the permit for the rally.
“It was a terrible, terrible situation,” Reed said. “We obviously feel very bad, very bad about what happened, but I agreed with the Board of Selectmen’s decision under those circumstances.”
Reed said that Redfern went “rogue” on Gun Rights Across America in pressing to go forward with the rally anyway. Reed said the organization broke with Redfern over the issue a couple of days after the Marathon, and has no part in his suit against the town.
On April 18, Redfern and his lawyer, Blake Filippi, filed the lawsuit against Lexington as well as a motion seeking an emergency injunction to override the selectmen’s decision. Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kenneth V. Desmond Jr. denied the motion in an order dated April 19, according to court records.
Dozens of people still attempted to rally on the Battle Green on April 19 . Lexington police officers diverted them to the lawn in front of the Lexington Visitors Center, Corr said.
In his lawsuit against the town, Redfern said there had been no credible evidence or even allegations of a specific threat against the rally. The suit also said that Redfern did not have enough time to prepare for the emergency meeting selectmen held about the permit for the rally, and that Redfern had paid more than $1,300 for a police detail and for the town’s Department of Public Works to set up a podium for the event. He had also spent $7,000 on logistics and airline tickets for numerous presenters for the rally, according to his lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that selectmen violated Lexington bylaws by pulling the permit for the rally, and it is seeking an award of costs and attorney fees and whatever other relief the court deems just.