Baldwin Park businessman sues city over fines for ‘jackass’ signs mocking Councilman Ricardo Pacheco – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

A Baldwin Park building owner has filed a lawsuit challenging $12,400 in city fines slapped on him for hanging two banners portraying controversial City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco as a corrupt “jackass.”

Robert Ehlers and the Baldwin Park Free Speech Coalition filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging the fines are political retribution and violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.

“Plaintiffs allege that they have been subject to adverse treatment because they oppose rampant corruption by city officials,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs have a constitutional right to engage in speech critical of councilman Pacheco without fear of reprisal.”

Ehlers declined Friday to comment on the suit. Pacheco and Baldwin Park Chief Executive Officer Shannon Yauchzee could not be reached for comment.

Censorship not tolerated

However, Paul Cook, a Baldwin Park activist and attorney who is representing Ehler, said the complaint puts city officials on notice that efforts to silence free speech won’t be tolerated.

“This lawsuit is about protecting the people’s democratic right to openly and freely criticize our elected officials without censorship,” he said.

In March, Ehlers hung two identical banners measuring about 6 feet wide and 12 feet long on a pair of commercial buildings he owns at Ramona Boulevard and Puente Avenue.

The signs caricature Pacheco as a “jackass,” label him a “liar,” “bully,” “fraud,” “abuser” and “corrupt,” and urge voters not to reelect him in 2020.

Discrimination against police chief

Ehlers hung the banners in response to a March jury verdict that found Pacheco responsible for racial and sexual discrimination against former Baldwin Park Police Chief Lili Hadsell, who was awarded $7 million in damages.

During trial, Hadsell testified that she battled gender discrimination from within, specifically from then-Capt. Michael Taylor, in a mostly male police force reluctant to adopt her ideas of working closer with Baldwin Park residents, according to media reports.

Taylor currently serves as a board member and Pacheco is a former assistant general manager for the embattled West Valley Water District in Rialto. In addition, the pair also are accused in a lawsuit of engaging in a bribery and kickback scheme at the water district that has cost ratepayers about $1 million.

Ehlers’ complaint alleges that within weeks after the banners were hung, Baldwin Park officials began issuing citations for violating the city’s sign ordinance by not seeking permits. His initial fine of $200 has grown to more than $1,200 and Baldwin Park is threatening to file liens against Ehlers’ propertities with the state Franchise Tax Board, according to the lawsuit, which says he is being singled out by the city.

“The city routinely permits the display of business signs that substantially exceed the dimensions set out in the municipal code,” the complaint says. “It also turns a blind eye to businesses that display more than one banner on the same property.

“The distinction between Mr. Ehlers’ banners and the other non-compliant banners, murals and billboards is the content of the speech. The city’s ordinance and the application of it by city officials elevates commercial speech over other speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

Although fines from the city continue to climb, Ehlers has no intention of removing the banners, according to Greg Tuttle, another Baldwin Park activist who designed the signs. “He intends to keep them up … so that people remember not to vote for Pacheco,” Tuttle said.

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