Chico man sues city, mayor

Man arrested in council chambers argues his freedom of speech was violated

Former Bidwell Park and Playground Commissioner Mark Herrera (pictured) is suing the city of Chico, Mayor Sean Morgan, Deputy Chico Police Chief Matt Madden and Officer Marcelo Escobedo for violating his rights protected by the First and Fourth amendments.

On May 15, Herrera addressed the City Council during a public comment period, offering a satirical speech directed at local community group Chico First and policies often criticized for criminalizing homelessness. (See “Heat from the dais,” Newslines, May 17.)

In a civil complaint filed last Thursday (Oct. 11) in the U.S. Eastern District Court, Herrera argues Morgan “unlawfully imposed a content-based restriction to silence” him. He maintains that he was unlawfully detained and arrested “without probable cause.”

Herrera, who’d taken a break during the council meeting at a local tavern, was held overnight at the Butte County Jail after submitting to a breathalyzer test. He was not charged.

Herrera is demanding a jury trial, damages and attorney’s fees, arguing that he has suffered emotional distress, anxiety, depression and damage to his reputation.

Additionally, he wants an order prohibiting those named from curtailing speech from members of the public during dedicated public comment periods without “content-neutral, narrowly tailored procedures which further a significant governmental interest.”