Supreme Court hears case from woman who was arrested after criticizing local official

 March 18, 2024

The Supreme Court has stepped in to hear arguments over a case that sent shockwaves through a small Texas town. 

According to Fox News, the matter concerns Sylvia Gonzalez, an elderly woman who was elected to city council in Castle Hills, Texas nearly five years ago.

Gonzalez was arrested following call to remove city manager

Gonzalez is fighting for the right to sue several city officials over what she contends was a politically motivated arrest that came in 2019.

The controversy began when Gonzalez began circulating a non-binding petition calling for the removal of Ryan Rapelye, who served as the city's manager.

Following her first city council meeting, Gonzalez was approached by a police officer who said that Castle Hills Mayor JR Trevino wanted to speak with her.

Trevino allegedly demanded to see the petition, which had been introduced in the meeting by a constituent. Two months after she handed over the petition, a warrant was issued for Gonzalez's arrest.

She was accused of violating a state law that prohibits the intentional removal or destruction of government records, something which is usually applied to those who engage in identity theft.

Going to jail was "very scary to an old lady like me"

"I didn't even know what I was accused of," Gonzalez was quoted as telling Fox News. "I'd never been in jail … and it was very scary to an old lady like me."

They wanted to punish me, and they wanted to make sure I went to jail. And they did a good job," she continued, adding that her political career was finished even after the Bexar County District Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute her.

Gonzalez responded by filing a lawsuit in 2020 against Trevino along with Castle Hills Police Chief John Siemens, Special Detective Alexander Wright, and the city.

However, the plaintiffs cited qualified immunity, a legal doctrine under which government officials cannot be sued unless they violate constitutional rights.

Lawyer says qualified immunity should be limited to police officers

Anya Bidwell is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a non-profit group which is helping Gonzalez with her lawsuit.

She argues that qualified immunity should be reserved for police officers who must make "split-second decisions" rather than government officials writ large.

"When it comes to mayors, when it comes to other desk-bound bureaucrats who want to throw their critics in jail, First Amendment comes first, and they should be held accountable for violations of people's constitutional rights," she insisted.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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