ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico student who walked down a “skirmish line” of police officers who were in riot gear during a protest, greeting each with an extended middle finger while providing a verbal translation, has filed a lawsuit saying he was knocked down and injured by one of the officers, and that his gesture and language were protected speech.
Plaintiff Trenton Ward, a senior at UNM majoring in political science, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in state District Court in Santa Fe.
State Police officer Alejendro Romero, the officer who allegedly knocked him down, is named as a defendant. Also named as defendants are State Police Sgt. Joel Gonzalez and John Doe officers 1 through 3, all of whom, according to the lawsuit, supervised or trained Romero.
The lawsuit stems from a Jan. 27, 2017, visit to the campus by Milo Yiannaopoulos, during his self-described “Dangerous Faggot Tour” of colleges and universities. Yiannaopoulos is portrayed in the lawsuit as a “right-wing provocateur known for criticizing feminism, social justice, political correctness and illegal immigration.”
The visit, sponsored by UNM College Republicans, drew up to 600 people inside the Student Union Building, while several hundred protesters gathered outside, many chanting slogans and carrying signs.
A large multiagency law enforcement presence monitored the situation, including the line of State Police officers in full riot gear. Ward claims in the lawsuit to have witnessed officers use tear gas and push an elderly man to the ground. That’s what motivated Ward to walk the skirmish line, “giving the finger” to the officers, along with the verbal curse.
Romero allegedly stepped outside the skirmish line and struck Ward in the middle of his back with a baton. Romero and other officers “struck him again, pushed him to the ground and arrested him,” the lawsuit says.
Ward’s hands were zip-tied and he was placed in a prisoner transport van for the next seven to eight hours before being booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center and charged with assault upon a police officer. Ward was released the next morning.
He appeared on April 18 in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, where Judge Vidalia Chavez dismissed the charge “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.
“Mr. Ward’s speech, although impudent, is nevertheless protected by Article II, Section 17 of the New Mexico Constitution,” according to the lawsuit filed by attorneys David H. Urias and Jeremy D. Farris.
Further, Romero’s conduct constitutes assault and battery upon Ward; while Gonzales and John Doe officers 1 through 3 failed to adequately train and supervise Romero, it says.
The lawsuit asks for unspecified compensatory damages for “past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish,” and reasonable costs, attorney’s fees and other relief deemed proper by the court.