Feb 12, 2020 7:00 AM

Judge: Detective had probable cause to make arrest at Kansas City Library

Posted Feb 12, 2020 7:00 AM

KANSAS CITY  (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out a free-speech lawsuit against a former police detective filed by a man who was arrested while questioning a speaker at the Kansas City Public Library in 2016.

Chief Judge Beth Phillips ruled that Brent Parsons, a Kansas City Police detective at that time, had probable cause to arrest Jeremy Rothe-Kushel. The judge said Parsons also had qualified immunity from civil action.

Rothe-Kushel, of Lawrence, Kansas, was arrested on May 9, 2016, as he questioned Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross. Rothe-Kushel alleged in his lawsuit that his right to free speech was violated by the arrest.

A video of the incident shows Ross answering one of Rothe-Kushel’s questions. When Rothe-Kushel tries to ask another question, a private security guard grabs his arm, followed by Parsons, who was off duty and working for a private firm at the event.

In her order issued in January, Phillips said Rothe-Kushel argued with Ross after his question was answered and continued speaking after a guard told him he was “done" and another person approached the microphone to ask a question.

When Parsons determined Rothe-Kushel should be arrested, Rothe-Kushel pushed back and refused to “give up his hands,” according to police.

Rothe-Kushel was issued citations for trespassing and obstructing or resisting an officer. The citations were ultimately dismissed.

On Tuesday, Rothe-Kushel, 41, said he believed he was arrested and charged because of his political views.

“I believe that this has to do with the rights of all Americans protected under virtually all of the First Amendment,” he said. “This had to do with speech rights, press rights, assembly rights, even religious conscience rights.”

In her order, the judge said Rothe-Kushel said Ross' right to ask questions was “not limitless.”

“He could not ask so many questions that other audience members were deprived of the opportunity,” she wrote, “and he had no right to argue with Ambassador Ross.”

Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, was also arrested when he tried to intervene. He was charged in Kansas City Municipal Court and later found not guilty of obstruction, interfering with an arrest and assaulting a police officer.

Sgt. Jake Becchina, a Kansas City Police Department spokesman, said the department said could not comment because the plaintiff could appeal. In past statements, police stood by the arrests.