The Illuminator projected “Koch = Climate Chaos” on the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 9, 2014. (image via Occupy Museums)

The Illuminator projected “Koch = Climate Chaos” on the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 9, 2014. (image via Occupy Museums)

This week Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle, and Yates McKee, members of the Illuminator Art Collective, filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York alleging false arrest and improper seizure of Illuminator Collective property by the New York Police Department’s Central Park Precinct.

On September 9, 2014, members of the Illuminator Art Collective were arrested outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the inauguration of the David H. Koch Plaza. All three members who filed the civil suit were arrested during the evening protest by members of the NYPD’s Central Park Precinct, and they were released four hours later, though the police kept the Illuminator Collective’s projector as “arrest evidence” for an additional two months and 10 days. Depew, Earle, and McKee were charged at the time of their arrest for “Unlawful Posting of Advertisements,” a charge that was later dismissed by a Manhattan Criminal Court judge.

In their court filing, the three Illuminator members allege that the unlawful seizure of their property constituted prior restraint on speech. They are being represented by civil rights attorney Samuel B. Cohen of Stecklow Cohen & Thompson.

“[T]he First Amendment was established to ensure that the government could not use its power to restrain speech on the basis of its message, or the identity of the speaker,” Cohen said in a statement. “In this case, Deputy Inspector [Jessica] Corey [of the NYPD Central Park Precinct] apparently did both, unlawfully arresting Illuminator Collective members to stop them from lawfully speaking truth to power, and unlawfully seizing their projector as ‘evidence’ in support of a trumped-up charge to prevent them from engaging in further speech activities within her command.”

The group says the seizure of property stopped members of the Illuminator Art Collective from participating in various planned protest actions, including the People’s Climate March in September 2014.

“We were charged with ‘Illegal Posting of Advertisements,’ which was obviously used as a ploy to remove us from the scene before our message was met by too many eyes,” Earle told Hyperallergic. “If you really dissect that charge, though, you see how nefarious the whole thing really is. The charge stipulates, in a nutshell, that we permanently affixed something to the surface and stood to benefit financially from that action. Obviously neither of these apply to us whatsoever, as we are using video projection and certainly weren’t standing to gain any commercial success from our endeavor … if you look at what David H. Koch was doing that night — permanently inscribing his name on more or less public land, as the Met sits atop Central Park, and doing so obviously benefits him financially, considering he brands his multibillion-dollar company with his own name, ‘Koch Industries.’ He is now using the Met as his advertising space, and somehow we were the ones arrested for illegally posting advertisements. The Met should be ashamed of this classless move to rent ad space to a climate denier, and financial father of the Tea Party.”

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.