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Local business owners sue Greenwood officials, alleging free speech retaliation

Tuesday, September 20, 2022, 7:43 pm News Flash Archive

Two local business people, Marion ("Skipper") Grantham and his wife Barbara Grantham have filed a lawsuit accusing two Greenwood officials of retaliating against them for political criticism of Mayor Carolyn McAdams.

The lawsuit was filed in Leflore County Circuit Court on July 15, 2022 and assigned to Judge Margaret Carey-McCray. The Granthams are suing the City of Greenwood, Mayor McAdams, and Betty Stigler, Director of Community Development for the city. Both McAdams and Stigler are sued in their individual and official capacities.

But today, the city removed the case to federal court. Judge Michael Mills has been assigned the handling of the case.

Barbara Grantham owns the Delta Boutique and Gifts store located at 201 Howard Street in downtown Greenwood. The Granthams have been running the store since 2016.

Delta Boutique and Gifts store on Howard Street

According to the complaint, the Granthams routinely displayed some of their merchandise along the sidewalk next to their building for the first five years of their operation, without any complaint or objection by the city. The Granthams claim that this is a common practice by other shops in area.

But things began to turn sour in late 2019 when, according to the lawsuit, Mayor McAdams appointed Jody Bradley as police chief:

Plaintiff, Marion Grantham, was publicly vocally critical of the appointment of Bradley to the position of Greenwood Chief of Police, because while he had been a Warden within the Correctional Facility, he had never been a law enforcement officer, and did not meet the Mississippi statutory certification requirements to serve as a Law Enforcement Officer. Mr. Bradley further, failed to obtain the necessary law enforcement certification during a period of nearly a year that he remained in said position before he was removed from the position because of his failure to have the required law enforcement certification.

Following Bradley's removal, Defendant McAdams and the Greenwood City Council, then appointed Mr. Bradley to the previously non-existent position of "Executive Director" of the Greenwood Police Department in December, 2020, a move which was also publicly criticized by Plaintiff, Marion Grantham.

In February 2021, the Granthams added a line of Mexican Pottery to their offerings, displaying some of these items with others along the edge of the sidewalk next to their building. It was just over a month later that the dispute arose:

On March 22, 2021, Defendant, Betty Stigler, the Director of Community Development, for the City of Greenwood, sent one of the employees from her Office to tell the plaintiffs that they could not display their Pottery items on the sidewalk. Plaintiff Marion Grantham called Defendant Stigler to inquire about her messenger's instructions concerning the pottery being displayed. He additionally pointed out businesses all over the City of Greenwood, had similar displays on the sidewalk and none of them were being required to remove them from the sidewalk. He further requested a copy from her of any existing ordinance(s) of the City which prohibited businesses having sidewalk displays.

Ms. Stigler never produced a copy of any ordinance to him, and hung up on him, but about forty-five (45) minutes following his phone conversation with her, multiple Greenwood police units came to the Plaintiffs business premises to inform Mr. Grantham, that the Mayor's office had sent them to write Plaintiff Barbara Grantham a ticket for improper parking. Said officers then proceeded to write only a ticket for Plaintiff Barbara Grantham's vehicle, and completely ignored four (4) other vehicles parked in exactly the same manner as Plaintiff Barbara Grantham's vehicle.... Mr. Grantham asked why his wife's vehicle was the only one being cited for the alleged improper parking. The police officers told him that they were directed only to write his wife a ticket.

According to the Granthams, the new police chief, Terrence Craft, was also present at the time of this ticketing incident:

Police Chief Terrance Craft was also present while, the ticket was being written for Defendant Barbara Grantham's vehicle. When Plaintiff, Marion Grantham asked him why his wife's vehicle was the only one ticketed, Chief Craft also responded that they were "only called to write her vehicle". Defendant, Marion Grantham then accused Chief Craft, of discrimination against his wife, and at that time one of the other vehicles was ticketed, but the owners of the remaining three (3) vehicles were allowed to drive away without any citation. Chief Craft, then took the ticket written to Barbara Grantham saying "let me see what I can do."

The complaint doesn't make clear whether the ticket was ever prosecuted, or whether it was dismissed.

The Granthams claim that the harassment about the pottery display continued:

Police cruisers continued to drive by the Grantham's business premises for the purpose of insuring that the pottery displays were removed from the sidewalk. Not a single other business in Greenwood was required to move displays inside their respective business premises, on March 22, 2021 and none have been required to do so since.

The lawsuit alleges the following causes of action:

The acts and actions of the Defendants, in limiting enforcement of the purported ordinances banning sidewalk displays and defining improper parking solely to the plaintiffs business premises, constitutes, selective prosecution of the Plaintiffs, for the purpose of punishing plaintiffs for exercising their free speech rights, rather than the legitimate purpose of enforcing the laws.

The acts and actions of the defendants herein were undertaken for the purpose of silencing the Plaintiffs rather than any legitimate law enforcement purpose, and the defendants are therefore guilty of the tort of intentional interference with the plaintiffs business as a result of such improper and illegal acts.

The acts and actions of the defendants, in selectively choosing and singling out the Plaintiffs for prosecution pursuant to purported ordinances of the City of Greenwood, violates the Plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection under the law and their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and the defendants actions were undertaken for that purpose rather than for any legitimate law enforcement purpose.

The Granthams claim that the city's discriminatory action against their store has caused them to lose $5,000 per month since March 2021, and they are demanding that the court award them damages to recoup those losses.

The complaint finishes up with a plea that the court order:

... such damages to continue to accrue until such time as the Defendants either enforce the purported ordinance in an even handed manner upon all Greenwood business, or repeal the purported ordinance rather than continuing it to be enforced in a manner which punishes only the plaintiffs and their business.

The Taxpayers Channel reached out to both Mayor McAdams and Betty Stigler for reaction. Mayor McAdams declined to comment on "pending litigation," and Ms. Stigler has not yet responded to our questions.

The Granthams are represented by James H. Powell, III of Grenada. The defendants are represented by Phelps, Dunbar of Jackson, which is the city's liability coverage defense firm.

The city asserts that it is entitled to remove the case to federal court because the Granthams have claimed that their constitutional rights were violated by the city and its officials.

The lawsuit may be seen here: Grantham et al. vs. City of Greenwood, McAdams, and Stigler

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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