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Idaho city sued over arrests at church singing event


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MOSCOW (AP) — A former Idaho county commissioner candidate and a couple have filed a lawsuit against the city of Moscow alleging their First Amendment rights were violated after they were arrested on accusations of not following coronavirus safety measures last fall at a church singing event in the City Hall parking lot.

Gabriel Rench, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Latah County Commissioner in November, and Sean and Rachel Bohnet filed the lawsuit Wednesday in federal court, The Lewiston Tribune reported Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges Moscow police officers’ “reckless indifference” to their rights resulted in their arrest and detainment.

The lawsuit names the city of Moscow, City Supervisor Gary Riedner, City Attorney Mia Bautista, City Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Warner, Police Chief James Fry and multiple police officers.

Riedner said the city had not yet received the lawsuit as of Wednesday.

“This is a lawsuit in order to make reparations for their wrongful arrests and the fact that they were humiliatingly prosecuted for criminal activity when there was no violation of the law,” said Michael Jacques, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Police cited Rench, the Bohnets and two others for suspicion of violating the city’s public health emergency order at the event on Sept. 23 in the City Hall parking lot.

Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert issued the order requiring face coverings in public when physical distancing could not be maintained with people not in the same household.

Jacques said the singing event was held to protest the order.

All five residents pleaded innocent to the charges and the city dismissed the charges in January because the order did not specifically say it applied to media or religious activities.

The City Council unanimously approved later in the month an ordinance that does not exempt those activities from public health orders.

Rench claimed Wednesday that the council crafted the ordinance to “continually target religious members in our community and continually target political opponents that they disagree with.”

Sean Bohnet said he hopes the lawsuit brings “real justice to our situation.”