RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Five local street preachers say they've been repeatedly threatened and silenced by Richmond police officers and are now taking the city and its top cop to court.
A 19 page lawsuit was filed last Friday in Federal court in downtown Richmond. It alleges the men's civil rights were violated during several public events in Richmond, over the last two years.
You may have seen Lee Craft and his friends handing out religious literature and sharing the gospel on sidewalks and street corners during public events in Richmond.
"Our intentions for going out they're not malicious, so we felt like we didn't understand why we were being stopped," said Craft.
Stopped by Richmond police officers, according to the federal civil lawsuit that claims the officers violated the evangelists First Amendment rights.
According to court papers, over the last two years, Craft and four others have been accused of trespassing, threatened with arrest, and or silenced by Richmond cops during First Fridays, The Ukrop's Christmas Parade and the Watermelon Festival.
The documents show Craft was even ticketed for being "loud and disturbing" under city code. He was convicted but the case was dismissed on appeal.
"It was always our understanding that we were able by the First Amendment to share a message," said Craft.
The civil rights action was brought against former City Attorney Norman Sales, former Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe, current Chief Bryan Norwood, a sergeant and four Richmond officers. Craft says ultimately they want the freedom to communicate in a public forum.
"We do believe that it is mandated by God for us to do so; to communicate the message, and we do so in a very public way and we see in the constitution that it is our right to do so," said Craft.
Alliance Defense Fund attorney Steve Taylor is handling the case. His clients are demanding a jury trial. A date hasn't been set.
Richmond police say the department has no comment on pending litigation. We have not heard back from other city officials.