UPDATE: Anti-vaccination Idaho activist arrested after group gathers at closed playground
Ximena Bustillo and Ruth Brown Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
MERIDIAN (Idaho Statesman) — An Idaho anti-vaccination activist was arrested at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian on Tuesday afternoon after police asked families who gathered on a closed playground to leave.
Sara Walton Brady, 40, of Meridian, was non-compliant and refused to leave after being given many opportunities, police said. She was arrested on one count of misdemeanor trespassing. She was booked into Ada County Jail and released.
According to police, as children played on the playground equipment — which had police caution tape around it when they arrived — parents questioned a Meridian Police Department officer about why the playground was closed.
On March 23, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Meridian closed city playgrounds and outdoor exercise equipment, while allowing walking paths to remain open.
Walton Brady is an activist for parental medical rights at the Idaho Statehouse. She runs Idahoans for Vaccine Freedom, a Facebook group, and has been outspoken in the past about parental rights and government-imposed restrictions.
According to a police press release, officers on Tuesday night responded after several calls were made to dispatch. Officers then informed those gathered that the playground structure was closed and that they were welcome to utilize open areas of the park.
After the arrest of Brady, police cordoned off the playground again with caution tape, signifying its closure. Video on Facebook showed some people taking that tape down as well.
Police said metal signage showing that the playground was closed also was removed.
PROTEST CONTINUED AT MERIDIAN CITY HALL
Health Freedom Idaho, a Facebook group, posted a video on Tuesday night of Walton Brady outside City Hall after she was released from custody.
“I’m going to fight this,” Walton Brady said to the crowd through a megaphone. “I was in a public park I pay taxes on.”
She called the government tyrannical and police wrong.
“Please let this inspire you,” she said to the crowd. “Please, let’s continue to band together as freedom lovers, and let’s stop this tyranny that’s occurring. “
“These are very trying times, and the Meridian Police Department supports the public’s right to assemble for peaceful protest. However, the right does not include damaging public property or ignoring closures of city property and facilities,” the police press release said on Tuesday.
Meridian has not been the only city to at least partially close parks. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean announced March 21 that all city playgrounds would be closed. Parks themselves remain open, so that people may walk or bike in them, as long as they practice social distancing.
“This can’t stand. If we allow this type of behavior by our government, the people we employ to work for us. If we let this stand then they will think they can do this in other capacities for the long run,” said Dustin Hurst of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “I don’t care if it is a pandemic or not.”
Last Friday, a woman in Rathdrum was issued a citation for hosting a yard sale, which police said falls under the nonessential businesses banned by Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order.
Violating the order in Idaho is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a county jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.
In the Meridian case, just being outside in a park would not be a violation. Police said the action taken at the playground was a trespassing violation, though.