Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson is taking legal action against Battle Ground Mayor Mike Dalesandro, filing a tort claim against the mayor and the City of Battle Ground, according to a notice from Gibson’s lawyer.
On Nov. 4, Angus Lee, an attorney representing Gibson, sent a notice of the tort claim to the city’s risk manager, according to the notice. The notice claims that Dalesandro had blocked Gibson on Facebook, eliminating his ability to comment on posts made by the mayor on the website. That blocking, the tort claim argued, was a violation of Gibson’s free speech rights under the U.S. and Washington state constitutions.
The notice argued that Dalesandro did so as a way to influence the 2019 municipal election “so that (Dalesandro) could make statements while silencing his critics” like Gibson. It cited court cases where public figures’ blocking of individuals on accounts they used for “official purposes” was a violation of the First Amendment.
In an email containing the notice of the tort claim, Gibson said the mayor went on a “deceptive campaign to spread misinformation about Patriot Prayer and any candidate trying to unseat establishment city council members.”
Two candidates, Shauna Walters and Joshua VanGelder, have had the backing of the group based in part on opposition of the gun control laws made by Initiative 1639, which passed last year.
As of press deadline, Walters was poised to win her election race over fellow council newcomer Neil Butler. Incumbent Philip Johnson had a lead over VanGelder.
A tort claim such as the one Gibson’s attorney has filed generally precedes a lawsuit. The tort is seeking $100,000 and attorney’s fees as well as injunctive relief.
In an interview with The Reflector Nov. 8, Dalesandro said he had seen the claim and confirmed he had blocked Gibson and others earlier this year. He said his decision to block them was based on comments by users he felt were “demeaning” and “mean-spirited,” adding that some may have violated Facebook’s own rules on commenting, though he didn’t end up reporting any of them.
“They were indecent comments, if you will; mean, bullying-type comments directed toward people,” Dalesandro said, adding they weren’t regarding government policy. He said he eventually unblocked Gibson less than two months after the initial restriction.
Dalesandro declined to comment on specifics of how he and the city intend to respond to the tort claim and potential lawsuit.
“If we get to a point where it does go further all I’ll say is I look forward to having that opportunity for the truth to come out,” Dalesandro said.
The claim against Dalesandro was not the only legal action Gibson announced this week. Also on Nov. 4, he announced a formal complaint against a Seattle business that he argued refused service to him due to his religious and political beliefs, adding city ordinances prevented that kind of discrimination. On Nov. 7, he announced a cease and desist demand against Burgerville Workers Union representative Emmett Schlenz over claims of defamation the representative was alleged to have made about Gibson and Patriot Prayer in a press release.