NM street evangelists, ACLU sue police for violation of civil rights www.privateofficer.com
Now, after eight arrests between them in 17 months, they know all about jail, confrontations with police, the cost of bondsmen and lawyers, and the stress of life in courtrooms.
Their crimes, as alleged by Roswell police, included wrongful use of public sidewalks, disorderly conduct and obstructing officers.
Each arrest occurred because the brothers proselytized about their religion — sometimes loudly — in public places.
All eight cases against them eventually were dismissed by government prosecutors or thrown out by judges, though one initially led to a conviction in municipal court, where a non-attorney presided.
Because they have been arrested so often, the brothers say their finances have been depleted to the point that cannot risk any more trouble.
“We don’t have the money to be bailing out. We shouldn’t have to live in fear of using free speech, but in Roswell, unfortunately, we do,” said Joshua De Los Santos, 25.
Police have arrested him twice for street preaching. His brother Jeremy, 32, has been arrested six times.
This month, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico entered the confrontation. It sued the city of Roswell and nine of its police officers on grounds that they violated the brothers’ right of free speech.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the brothers.
Police Chief Al Solis referred questions about the case to city manager Larry Fry. Fry said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.
The brothers say some of Roswell’s powerful political figures were present for one of their arrests.
On July 1 of last year, the brothers headed to Main Street, where a UFO festival was under way in a museum. The mayor, city manager and a city council member were at the event.
On the street outside, the brothers began to preach. Police moved in. Joshua De Los Santos said he tried to videotape the confrontation, but a police officer took his camera.
Officers told the brothers they had to stay in an area apart from the public gathering. They did not back away, so police arrested them.
Taken to jail and booked, the brothers were scheduled to stand trial for criminal trespass, obstructing an officer and wrongful use of public property.
Roswell’s city attorney later dropped the charges. By then the brothers had spent money for bail and lawyers.
“The police have done a good job of silencing us and taking away our rights,” Joshua De Los Santos said.
Another time, police arrested Joshua De Los Santos outside a rap concert. He said he intended to preach against the explicit lyrics.
By his account, police jailed him, even though he was on a public sidewalk that had not been leased to the concert promoter.
In a third case, Jeremy De Los Santos said police arrested him for preaching in a public area outside Old Paths Baptist Church, where his brother is the pastor and he is a religious instructor.
On the trip to jail, Jeremy De Los Santos said, police put him in the back of a car that had been sprayed with mace or another chemical agent. He claims battery, false arrest and false imprisonment in that case.
The brothers say they are the main targets of Roswell police but not the only ones.
Eleven other arrests for street preaching have been made involving members of Old Paths Baptist Church. Prosecutors dismissed all those charges, too.
Drained financially, the street preachers since “have laid low,” Joshua De Los Santos said.
He admits to a troubled past, but says he turned to religion and became a law-abiding citizen in 2005.
That was the year he pleaded no contest to a fourth-degree felony, shooting at or from a vehicle. He served six months in jail.
Prosecutors dropped a series of other charges, including aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a handgun by someone under 19.
Joshua De Los Santos said the crime was a turning point for him. He embraced the gospel. He said it put him on the path of being a law-abiding citizen committed to helping others.
The state restored his right to vote after he served his sentence. At the same time, he claims, police have trampled his right of free speech.
Jeremy De Los Santos works as a butcher in a meat market. But like his brother, he said, he believes he should spread the word of God on the streets of his city.
In their lawsuit, the brothers say Jesus Christ inspired them. He took his message to “open air,” where he spoke plainly to the common man.
Jeremy De Los Santos said he believed the arrests were personal, even part of a vendetta by those with power.
Not all police officers are at fault, he said. On some occasions, when people complained about his preaching in public places, police arrived and decided he simply was exercising his constitutional rights. They left him alone.
“Some officers believe in the Constitution,” he said.
But other times, the brothers say, police would size them up as they preached, phone the city attorney’s staff for advice, then arrest them on charges that were sure to be dismissed later.
In their lawsuit, the De Los Santos brothers argue that this is a textbook case. They say public expression of ideas cannot be prohibited merely because those ideas offend some of the listeners.