COURT HOUSE –– Following the arrests of protesters Steve Lonegan and Seth Grossman during the Governor’s town hall meeting Jan. 19, Middle Township and the township board of education have reconsidered their actions, dropped charges and issued apologies to the men.
Grossman, 58, acting president of the governmental protest group Liberty and Prosperity of Somers Point, was arrested outside Gov. Jon Corzine's town meeting when he attempted to carry a protest sign into Middle Township Performing Arts Center despite a posted warning.
Also arrested at the meeting was the Steven M. Lonegan, 51, former mayor of Bogota, who was also protesting.
Middle Township police arrested them on charges of defiant trespass, a disorderly persons offense, for attempting to violate a posted school policy banning signs inside the facility.
According to police, both individuals were repeatedly warned regarding the school sign policy but refused to comply.
They were arrested outside the facility, transported to police headquarters and released on a summons pending a court hearing.
Below is a press release issued by the township and school board:
It is the policy of Middle Township to permit, support and encourage the exercise of First Amendment tights by all who use its public facilities. Likewise, the Middle Township Board of Education permits, supports, and encourages the exercise of First Amendment rights on school property designated for public use and provided such public use does not interfere with the operation of the school or school functions.
On January 19, 2008, the Governor of the State of New Jersey appeared at a “Town Hall” meeting at the Middle Township Board of Education Performing Arts Center in Cape May Court House New Jersey. Prior to the Governor’s appearance, Board of Education and Township Officials received instructions from the State Police that at no time should any person be allowed to enter the Town Hall meeting with signs, backpacks or packages and that a designated protest zone should be established. Pursuant to those directions on the day of the Governor’s appearance, State personnel posted signs regarding prohibited items in the Town Hall meeting and designated a protest zone.
Steve Lonegan and Seth Grossman were in attendance outside the Governor’s Town Hall meeting. When asked by local school officials to limit their protest to the designated protest area, Lonegan and Grossman refused, and rather insisted upon taking their protest to the doors of the school building. At this time Grossman was arrested because he stated his intention that be would take the sign he was carrying inside the school building where the Governor was to appear and Lonegan was arrested because be refused to limit his protest to the designated protest zone, contrary to the directives given by the State Police.
Local school and municipal officials, upon consultation with counsel, have determined that Lonegan and Mr. Grossman were engaging in constitutionally protected action. Both local school and municipal officials will urge that the municipal prosecutor administratively dismiss these charges and not require Lonegan or Grossman to appear in any court.
The School Board and Township have informed Lonegan and Grossman about the request that the charges be dismissed and offer their sincere apologies for any distress or humiliation the arrests have caused them.