NYCLU Sues NYPD on Behalf of Baseball Fan Ejected From Yankees Stadium During ‘God Bless America’

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April 15, 2009 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD on behalf of a Queens man who was ejected from the old Yankee Stadium last August after trying to use the restroom during “God Bless America.”

The lawsuit maintains that Bradford Campeau-Laurion, a 30-year-old lifelong baseball fan and resident of Astoria, was the victim of religious and political discrimination on Aug. 26, 2008 when police officers forcibly restrained and ejected him from Yankee Stadium after he tried to walk past an officer during the playing of “God Bless America.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD on behalf of a Queens man who was ejected from the old Yankee Stadium last August after trying to use the restroom during “God Bless America.”

The lawsuit maintains that Bradford Campeau-Laurion, a 30-year-old lifelong baseball fan and resident of Astoria, was the victim of religious and political discrimination on Aug. 26, 2008 when police officers forcibly restrained and ejected him from Yankee Stadium after he tried to walk past an officer during the playing of “God Bless America.”

“The role of police officers is to enforce the law,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “New York’s finest have no business arresting someone for trying to go to the bathroom at a politically incorrect moment. That is an abuse of authority and a violation of the constitutional principles that our country is founded on.”

The lawsuit asserts that Campeau-Laurion’s constitutional rights were violated under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments. Defendants are NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYPD, the New York Yankees Partnership, the City of New York and the two police officers who participated in Campeau-Laurion’s ejection.

Campeau-Laurion, the director of Web productions for a media company, attended the Aug. 26 Yankees-Red Sox game with a friend, who had a ticket package for 11 games at Yankee Stadium during the 2008 season. Campeau-Laurion had attended several of these games with his friend.

Campeau-Laurion quietly watched the game, ate a bag of peanuts and drank two beers. He decided to use the restroom at the start of the seventh-inning stretch – a period when fans often choose to use the restroom. He got up and made his way down the aisle as “God Bless America” began playing. A police officer blocked his path and indicated that he could not leave during the song. Campeau-Laurion explained that he needed to use the restroom and was not concerned about “God Bless America.” Then he attempted to walk past the officer.

Before Campeau-Laurion could take a step, the police officer grabbed his right arm and twisted it behind his back. A second officer twisted Campeau-Laurion’s left arm behind his back, and the two officers then marched him down several ramps to the stadium’s exit with his arms pinned behind his back. The officers refused to ease their grip, even though Campeau-Laurion was not resisting them.

The encounter ended with one of the officers telling Campeau-Laurion to leave the country if he didn’t like it.

“I don’t have an issue with ‘God Bless America,’” said Campeau-Laurion, who has purchased tickets for 24 Yankees games this season. “I don’t have an issue with the Yankees playing the song. My issue is with the Yankees forcing people to stay in their seats and participate in it. Forcing people to participate in an act of patriotism really devalues the freedom our country fought for in the first place.”

The Yankees began playing “God Bless America” during games following 9/11, as did all Major League Baseball teams. Unlike most teams, the Yankees also instituted a policy of seeking to prevent fans from moving during the playing of the song. It did so to promote patriotism amongst those attending Yankees games.

In addition to challenging the NYPD for ejecting Campeau-Laurion, the lawsuit also challenges the New York Yankees’ policy of restricting spectators’ movement during “God Bless America.” NYPD officers play an active role in enforcing the policy.

The officers who ejected Campeau-Laurion were likely working at Yankee Stadium through the NYPD’s “Paid Detail” program, which enables private companies to hire uniformed police officers to work security at their venues. Officers participating in the program are required to wear their full NYPD uniform, including department-issued firearm, handcuffs and pepper spray.

“Neither the NYPD nor the Yankees can compel spectators to engage in acts of political or religious expression,” said Christopher Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director and lead counsel on the case. “Yankee Stadium is a place for baseball, not NYPD-enforced patriotism.”

Also serving as counsel on the case are NYU Civil Rights Clinic students Erica Cande and Jessica Oliff, as well as NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg.