KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of a Kansas man is challenging the city of Grain Valley's practice of pulling over drivers who flash their headlights at oncoming traffic as a warning to slow down. The ACLU is seeking to deem a Grain Valley city ordinance unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman, Jr., who was ticketed by a Grain Valley police officer on August 24, 2014 for allegedly "interfering with radar by flashing headlights at oncoming motorists to warn them of an officer conducting radar," according to court documents. His citation said he was in violation of Grain Valley ordinance 320.050, which states:
It shall be unlawful for any person to interfere in any manner with the operation of radar or any other device or method used to check, test, gauge or determine the speed of motor vehicles within the City limits or to post any sign or notice that any speed checks are being conducted.
The ticket was dismissed during an October court appearance where a prosecutor cited Elli v. City of Ellisville, Mo. The ACLU says it secured that permanent injunction against Ellisville from U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey that bars officers from pulling over drivers for communicating with their headlights.
Count III of the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Grain Valley's ordinance on the basis of the first amendment, stating that the ordinance criminalizes drivers for communicating to others that a speed check is being conducted.
"Flashing headlights is a message that is widely understood, even by new drivers. The government cannot ticket drivers who have done nothing more than exercise their right to communicate with other drivers," ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman stated in a press release.
Counts I and II of the lawsuit also allege that Jarman's first and fourth amendment rights were violated when the officer pulled him over for flashing his headlights and then detained him for 30 minutes without probable cause.
"Under the circumstances here, the way it was applied to our client, is unconstitutional because he's being cited because he was expressing himself. That's what he was doing, sending a message," ACLU staff attorney Gillian Wilcox told FOX 4's Katie Banks on Wednesday.
The lawsuit seeks to declare the city ordinance unconstitutional and have an injunction granted to prevent others from being pulled over or ticketed due to flashing their headlights. Jarman also wants to be awarded attorneys' fees.
"We think in this case, that hopefully a court will declare what they're doing unconstitutional and that will send a message to other cities and other police departments that if they have similar policies, those would also be unconstitutional and they should stop the practice," Wilcox said.
FOX 4 reached out to the mayor of Grain Valley and the city administrator, both who said they were reviewing the lawsuit and couldn't comment on Wednesday. We also reached to the police chief who did not return our calls and Jarman, who declined to be interviewed.