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Victory in Court for Moscow, ID Churchgoers Wrongfully Arrested in 2020

Written by: Jacques Law Office

Churchgoers Receive $300K Settlement for Wrongful Arrest

The City of Moscow has agreed to pay $300,000 in a wrongful arrest lawsuit filed by church members Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet. The three were engaged in a “psalm sing” outside Moscow City Hall when they were arrested for allegedly violating the city’s mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Attorney Michael Jacques of Jacques Law was able to get the initial charges dismissed after the three Christ Church members were arrested for reportedly violating the city’s public health emergency order. Attorney Jacques argued that the city violated the trio’s First Amendment Rights. 

Court Victory for Church Members

In March 2021, shortly after the charges were dismissed, Attorney Jacques and others filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Moscow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. As reported by the Idaho State Journal, a settlement was recently reached in the civil lawsuit filed by the three churchgoers after the Judge denied the city’s motion for summary judgment and ordered it to reach an out-of-court agreement.

The civil lawsuit alleged that the city had violated the First Amendment rights of the three who were arrested during a religious gathering in 2020. While a public health emergency order had been issued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an exemption includes activities protected by the state and federal constitutions, including religious activity. The settlement will come from the city’s liability insurance provider and Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, according to KREM 2.

Background from Thomas More Society News:

On September 23, 2020, Gabriel Rench, and Sean and Rachel Bohnet were arrested while participating in a “Psalm Sing” sponsored by Christ Church in the Moscow City Hall parking lot. Although the church conducts the song and prayer event each month, this particular one was held outside city hall to protest the extension of a COVID-19 mask mandate issued by Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert. The plaintiffs were not wearing masks, and because there were more than 200 people in attendance, were unable to socially distance.

Rench and the Bohnets were arrested, while two others were cited for violating the face mask/social distancing order. The Bohnets were also charged with resisting arrest and obstructing law enforcement officers. Rench and the Bohnets were forced to hire defense counsel, incurring legal fees and costs. The trio pled “not guilty.” Months later, the Moscow prosecuting attorney moved to dismiss the charges. He revealed to the court that, while city codes allow the mayor to issue public health emergency orders, exemptions, unless specifically prohibited, include “any and all expressive and associative activity protected by the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions, including speech, press, assembly, and/or religious activity.”

The lawsuit asserts that Rench and the Bohnets were arrested even though law enforcement officers were aware of the First Amendment protections under the mayor’s emergency order. In addition, the Bohnets are challenging the constitutionality of Idaho state law, § 18-703, under which they were charged for not identifying themselves while engaged in the religious protest at Moscow’s city hall. The Bohnets’ constitutional challenge is under the Fourth Amendment (unlawful search and seizure) and the First Amendment (compelled speech) ”

“The city violated its own ordinance when law enforcement wrongly arrested Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Michael Jacques. He added that law enforcement officers “demonstrated reckless indifference to the defendants’ First Amendment rights.”

Michael Jacques, Special Counsel:

“These worshippers had participated in a church sing in the past under the same mask ordinance without any issues and were exercising their freedom as Americans to worship as the Constitution allows,” Jacques explained. “However, the city was so eager to make an example of Christ Church’s opposition to its restrictive COVID rules that the officers failed to follow the mandatory exemptions listed in the city ordinance. A motto of government in prosecuting its citizens is that ‘ignorance of the law is no defense,’ and when they recklessly deprive its citizens of their freedoms, ignorance will not be a defense for the government.”

Sean Bohnet described the surrealness of being incarcerated maskless in a small cell alongside Rench.

“We thought a city that would premeditatively break the law in order to detain and jail those lawfully not wearing masks would at least offer one to incarcerated people,” shared Bohnet. “However, we were in good company. Staff at the jail occasionally had no issue with letting their faces freely shine too.”

Jacques noted that charges were dismissed only after the plaintiffs had already incurred the humiliation of being arrested and charged attorney fees.

“The lives of Mr. Rench and the Bohnets were disrupted not only by the inappropriate actions of law enforcement officers, but also by the city’s prosecuting attorney and other officials who did not immediately act to negate their unlawful detainment,” declared Jacques.

Read full complaint here > Moscow-ID-FED-Complaint.

Read full story here > Thomas More Society News

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