John Merrifield, the comedian who's being sued over fake "antifa" events that prompted a real police response, is asking the court to strike the lawsuit.
Attorney Andrew Bizer, who is representing Merrifield, on Tuesday filed a special motion to strike the lawsuit in Lafayette Parish's 15th Judicial District Court. Bizer called the lawsuit "frivolous and unconstitutional" and petitioned the court to dismiss it under Louisiana's anti-SLAPP law, which protects speakers and publishers against malicious or meritless lawsuits that arise to infringe on a person’s right of petition or free speech.
"As a form of satire and political commentary, Mr. Merrifield created two overtly ridiculous Facebook events that are covered by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," Bizer wrote in the court document. "The respective descriptions of the fake events were written in a satirical and hyperbolic manner."
Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory announced two weeks ago that the city-parish government was suing Merrifield for "hoaxes" that have cost taxpayers a considerable amount as law enforcement investigate and respond to each. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 31, is seeking an unspecified amount from Merrifield for damages of less than $75,000.
"Lafayette's lawsuit is long on the facts, but short on the law," Bizer wrote in a Tuesday morning news release.
Bizer said there are multiple problems with the lawsuit, including the city-parish citing a criminal law that doesn't apply since Merrifield is being sued in civil court for monetary damages.
“Any first year law student could tell that this is frivolous lawsuit, filed solely to suppress Mr. Merrifield’s Constitutionally-protected speech," Bizer said in a prepared statement. "You can’t sue someone for money damages and only cite 'theories of negligence' and a criminal statute. That’s not how it works. Mayor Guillory and the lawyers he hired know this and yet still had the audacity to file it. We are confident that the Court will agree.”
Merrifield, 29, had two reasons for creating the events, according to Tuesday's filing. The first was to raise awareness over society's increasing reliance on social media for news and information. The second was to bring attention to the "disparate police response" to a call for a peaceful rally of individuals who the police have determined are problematic.
"Mr. Merrifield's attempt to spark public dialogue worked," Bizer wrote in his motion. "Many individuals in the Lafayette area believed that the fake peaceful political events were real. The Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government investigated and determined that the events were a 'hoax.' Despite learning of the fake nature of the events, Lafayette deployed an overwhelming police presence to sit in empty parking lots."
Merrifield's first satirical event, "ANTIFA takes River Ranch," was posted in July, before protests against police brutality and racial inequality hit so close to home. The fake event had "its intended effect" by prompting a counter protest event by the Right Side Millennial, according to the city's lawsuit.
Even after Lafayette leaders debunked the July event, the hoax continued to be believed and spread, the lawsuit states, so the city-parish government "was forced to take responsive action" to protect people and property out of fear that armed protesters and antifa-inspired agitators would appear.
Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is an umbrella description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.
Merrifield created another fake event, "ANTIFA Takes Acadiana Mall," in August. The mall closed early the day the event was scheduled to happen, and more than 30 police units were in the parking lot at the start time for the Facebook event.
"We will always take these threats seriously," Guillory said during a radio segment the week he filed the lawsuit. "But we're not just going to respond and say, 'OK, thank you,' you know, 'Let us pay all this overtime from the taxpayers.' Heck no. We will stop at no cost — or we will stop at no measure — to recoup the cost that taxpayers have to pay for this kind of stuff."
When Merrifield learned of the lawsuit earlier this month, he said the police response to his satirical events demonstrated Guillory's priorities to protect the city's more affluent south side over the north side. In a Tuesday statement, Merrifield took another crack at Guillory's tenure as mayor-president.
“The City of Lafayette and Mayor-President Guillory are understandably embarrassed after taking a fake event posted by a comedy page seriously...twice," Merrifield wrote. "However, what LCG and Mr. Guillory should really be ashamed of is how they closed their doors to our neighbors seeking hurricane relief, how they attempted to defund recreation centers in poor communities, how multiple LPD officers couldn’t detain one man without shooting him in the back, couldn’t respond peacefully to those protesting Trayford Pellerin’s murder, and couldn’t detain a teen without assaulting him while two officers held him down. If anything, the excessive responses to the fake events posted by my meme page are just more examples in a long list of excessive responses. Be better.”
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