A Lawsuit Filed By A Franklin Man Alleges That His Arrest And Removal From The Franklin Pride Festival Was Prompted By His Religious Views Concerning Marriage And Sexuality, And Not From Any Violation Of The Law, Or Code Of Conduct Established By The Organizers Of The Event.
Image Credit: Tennessee Stands
The Tennessee Conservative [By Kelly M. Jackson] –
This past summer The Tennessee Conservative reported that a local Middle Tennessee man, 37 year old Joseph Cocchini was arrested in a Franklin public park while attending the annual Franklin Pride Festival.
The reason for Cocchini’s arrest according to reports at the time, as well as live video of the actual arrest caught on cell phone camera, as told to Cocchini by Franklin police who were there in an official capacity, was because he was trespassing.
Cocchini was then removed from the park and taken to Franklin City Police Department where he was booked into jail for the charge of Trespassing, a C misdemeanor in Tennessee.
The criminal hearing for these charges commenced last week, on November 7th, where the judge determined that there was no probable cause for an arrest and therefore the charges were dismissed. You can read more in detail on that story as reported here.
On November 10th, a lawsuit was filed in federal court on Cocchini’s behalf, asserting that because the Franklin Police were acting in an official capacity, or as federal law expresses it, “under the color of law”, Cocchini’s civil rights were therefore violated. Further, this violation was at the behest of organizers for Franklin PRIDE, and not because Cocchini was breaking any laws.
Based on sworn testimony given by the arresting officer at the criminal hearing, Cocchini was removed from the festival because the organizers insisted on it, an order that the officer’s superiors had passed down earlier that morning of June 3rd, when he and his fellow officers were briefed before being deployed to the location of the festival, Harlinsdale Park.
According to the lawsuit, which can be read here, there were people placed throughout the festival whose expressed purpose was to listen and watch for any speech or behavior they viewed as unfriendly to the LGBTQ lifestyle or worldview.
If any one of those people saw or heard something they felt qualified, those attendees were turned in to the organizers, who would then dispatch the Franklin Police officers to have those people removed.
The arresting officer testified that when he approached Cocchini he “had not observed him engage in any type of criminal or wrongful conduct.”
Specifically, when Cocchini was approached by Franklin Police, he was quietly engaged in a conversation with vendors from a local church. The officer’s testimony related that Cocchini had not behaved in a way that would have ordinarily caused officers to engage, but rather they were sent to remove Cocchini because the organizers of the event demanded it.
In the lawsuit filed by Cocchini, he alleges that his arrest and removal was prompted by his religious views concerning marriage and sexuality, and not from any violation of the law, or code of conduct established by the organizers of the event.
Federal law, more specifically, 42 U.S.C. section 1983, provides “an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under color of state law” for civil rights violations.”
When Franklin Police in their official capacity as city employees, arrested and removed Joe Cocchini from a public park for behavior that was not illegal, all at the behest of Franklin Pride organizers, this was a restriction of his constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free exercise of religion.
Also point of fact in the suit is that the arrest was carried out “pursuant to an official policy or practice of the Franklin City Police Department that was in effect at the time” because of the earlier briefing of police by their superiors.
Essentially, based on sworn testimony, the Franklin Police had agreed before the event started, that they would act on behalf of the organizers of the event, rather than simply keep the peace according to the law, which is their sworn duty.
It is for these actions the City of Franklin and its newly re-elected Mayor Ken Moore could be successfully sued for the requested $2,000,000.00 in compensatory damages, which doesn’t include punitive damages or attorney’s fees and costs.
We will continue to cover this story as it develops.
About the Author: Kelly Jackson is a recent escapee from corporate America, and a California refugee to Tennessee. Christ follower, Wife and Mom of three amazing teenagers. She has a BA in Comm from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has a background in law enforcement and human resources. Since the summer of 2020, she has spent any and all free time in the trenches with local grassroots orgs, including Mom’s for Liberty Williamson County and Tennessee Stands as a core member. Outspoken advocate for parents rights, medical freedom, and individual liberty. Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.