The Lafayette Consolidated Government, with Mayor-President Josh Guillory at the lead, continues to move forward with its lawsuit against a comedian who created fake antifa events over the summer that prompted a real police response.
LCG responded Friday in court filings to John Merrifield's motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
"A defendant can only utilize a special motion to strike if the speech at issue is protected by the First Amendment," LCG wrote in its opposition to strike the lawsuit. "Merrifield's actions are not protected by the First Amendment. Merrifield published false statements that antifa, a group known to commit 'domestic terrorist violence' was coming to 'takeover' parts of Lafayette."
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.
Guillory announced in early September 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 the comedian for damages of less than $75,000.
In mid-September, Merrifield and his attorney, Andrew Bizer, asked the court to strike the "frivolous and unconstitutional" lawsuit.
Merrifield has argued that the satirical antifa Facebook events were meant to raise awareness over society's increasing reliance on social media for information and to reveal the "disparate police response" to a peaceful rally of individuals who law enforcement have determined are problematic.
Merrifield's first satirical event, "ANTIFA takes River Ranch," was posted to Facebook in July, before protests against police brutality and racial inequality hit so close to home.
Even after Lafayette leaders debunked Merrifield's 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.
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.
Jamie Angelle, LCG's chief communications officer, said in a deposition that he's since been tasked with monitoring Merrifield's online presence, including his personal social media profiles, CajUUUnMemes page, podcast appearances and interviews with radio, print and television outlets.
Chris Muffoletto, general manager of Ruffino's on the River, and Nikki Nugier, general manager of the Acadiana Mall, also discussed public concern over Merrifield's events in depositions.
Muffoletto said some restaurant employees expressed concerns and customers even canceled their reservations scheduled for July 11, the same day Merrifield's first event was scheduled.
Nugier was alerted to Merrifield's second satirical event by mall tenants. After speaking with corporate management, law enforcement and department store managers, Nugier said the mall closed early Aug. 29 ahead of the start time of the Facebook event.
It wasn't just the fake antifa events themselves but the fear of armed counter protesters that prompted a police response, according to a deposition by Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan.
The Police Department received "numerous concerned phone calls from the public, including phone calls from members of the public stating they would defend Lafayette from antifa," Morgan said.
Merrifield is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 2 before Judge Edward B. Broussard.