Protester gets $10K for arrest
Oklahoma City is paying a New Jersey woman $10,000 to settle claims she was unlawfully arrested during a 2014 protest of a satanic “black mass.”
Joan Bell, now 69, was arrested Sept. 21, 2014, after she refused to cease kneeling while praying the rosary on a landing at the top of the north steps of the Civic Center Music Hall. She said she attended the protest of the black mass, a parody of the Catholic Mass, to pray against the “hate crime” occurring inside.
Bell, a longtime activist, sued Oklahoma City and others in September 2016. She claimed her civil rights had been violated. This month, an Oklahoma City federal judge approved the $10,000 judgment.
“She wasn’t doing this to make money,” Bell’s attorney, Brian McCall, told The Oklahoman. “She wanted to get the city to see that the way they had treated her was not correct.”
McCall said Bell is pleased the case reacheda mutual resolution and won't be dragged out any longer. In reaching the settlement, Oklahoma City did not admit liability in the case.
Bell was found guilty in 2015 of disorderly conduct and interfering or obstructing by disobeying a lawful command. She was fined $1,000.
In 2016, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the municipal convictions due to insufficient evidence.
A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if that person intentionally inhibits access to an entrance to a public building. The appeals court found that Bell knelt near an exit with no outer handle, so Bell didn't obstruct access to the Civic Center during the event.
The appeals court also found that because Bell was on public property and not trespassing, the order to leave given by police was not lawful. Because of this, Bell wasn't disobeying a lawful command when she resisted officers by not standing and going “limp” when arrested.
McCall is an attorney with the Legal Clinic at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Bell also was represented by the American Catholic Lawyers Association. Her attorneys represented her for free.
Joan Bell was arrested Sept. 21, 2014, during a protest outside the Civic Center Music Hall.