An Encino attorney accused of making racist threats against Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, arguing that his free speech and other constitutional rights were violated.
Wayne Spindler, who has frequently appeared at City Hall to criticize city officials, was arrested two days after a May public meeting where he submitted a comment card featuring racially incendiary drawings. The card included drawings of a burning cross and a person hanging from a tree, as well as a racial slur against Wesson, who is black.
At the time, Wesson said he saw the comment card as a potential threat to himself and others, one that echoed an ugly history of racist attacks on the black community. City lawyers obtained a restraining order barring Spindler from coming near Wesson’s home, vehicle or city office, but allowed him to speak at public meetings.
County prosecutors ultimately decided not to prosecute Spindler. A memo released by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s office in December said that although the card was “deeply offensive, morally wrong and socially reprehensible,” there was insufficient evidence to adequately prove that Spindler had crossed the line from protected speech to a “true threat.”
Spindler has denied threatening Wesson. In his lawsuit, Spindler claimed the arrest was a “malicious and illegal” attempt to suppress his free speech.
He argued that the burning cross was meant to symbolize the city being destroyed by corruption and that the person hanging from a tree symbolized the Department of Water and Power “lynching” Angelenos with high rates. Spindler, citing rappers such as Ice-T and the group N.W.A, said the racial slur he used was a way of calling Wesson a “sell-out.”
Spindler also wrote that he had been oppressed as “a white American” by black and Jewish city officials. His lawsuit argued that city rules governing public comment are unconstitutional and that the restraining order was a form of “malicious prosecution.”
“They were manufacturing a way to get me out of City Hall for good,” Spindler said Friday.
Wesson spokeswoman Vanessa Rodriguez declined to discuss the lawsuit, and a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer did not respond to requests for comment.
Los Angeles has been challenged before over how it handles inflammatory speech at public meetings: Three years ago, the city paid $215,000 to settle a lawsuit by a Venice resident who was kicked out of a city commission meeting. The man, who is black, went to the meeting wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and a T-shirt featuring a message with a racial slur.
Federal courts have ruled that people cannot be ejected from council meetings simply for using profanity or hateful speech, though the city can act if someone disrupts a meeting.