LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Prosecutors dismissed charges Thursday against three gay rights activists arrested this summer for standing silently in matching orange T-shirts in protest of an event at the Kentucky State Fair.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, was among those arrested in August while demonstrating at the Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual Country Ham Breakfast, which draws many of the state's political heavyweights. The Fairness Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union have protested the event for years in opposition to the insurance company's political arm, which opposes same-sex marriage and lobbies for other conservative causes.
Hartman said he felt vindicated that the criminal charges again him were dismissed. A dozen supporters with him chanted in the courthouse hallway, "justice is served." The activists' attorneys say they plan to file a lawsuit saying the arrest was unconstitutional.
Around two dozen activists bought tickets to the breakfast for $28 each, Hartman said. They sat at tables in the back of the event. As the program began, they stood in matching T-shirts that read "no hate in our state." They planned it to make a statement without risking arrest, he said.
Kentucky State Police Sgt. Michael Webb defended the arrests Thursday. He said the Kentucky State Fair Board notified the state police several days before the event that they expected protesters. The board designated an area where the protesters were allowed to gather and set guidelines for activities on the property, which is owned by the state.
Troopers met with the protesters before the event and laid out the parameters, Webb said, and warned them that if they violated them they would be removed.
When the activists stood at the event, troopers handcuffed and arrested them. They charged Hartman with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. Two other activists, Carla Wallace and Sonja De Vries, were also arrested and charged with failure to disperse. Police wrote in their report that the activists "attended a private event" and "stood in protest and did not obey instructions to disperse."
All three spent around four hours in jail.
"They should never have been arrested in the first place," said Ted Shouse, an attorney representing Wallace. "I'm glad the county realized that and dropped this case."
The Jefferson County Attorney's Office asked a judge Thursday to dismiss the charges against all three. Assistant County Attorney J.P. Ward told the judge his office has reviewed video footage of the event, interviewed witnesses and consulted law enforcement. The office concluded it would be unlikely to secure a conviction against them.
"Further, the commonwealth being cognizant that is has not only a duty to prosecute criminal acts, but also to act ethically and fairly with regard to anyone charged with such an act," Ward wrote in his motion to dismiss the case.
The Farm Bureau did not respond to phone messages and emails requests Thursday.
The company distributes a booklet to legislators. The 2015 policy manual, published in December 2014, includes a number of positions the Fairness Campaign and ACLU describe as discriminatory. Among them is a statement that marriage should be recognized only between a man and a woman and its position that state agencies should not provide benefits to domestic partners.