Charges of disturbing peace in Easthampton dropped against environmental protester

  • Environmental activist Jose Mediavilla of Easthampton gets his message out at the corner of Main and Union Streets on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. FILE PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Environmental activist Jose Mediavilla of Easthampton gets his message out at the corner of Main and Union streets, July 24. FILE PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Environmental activist Jose Mediavilla of Easthampton gets his message out at the corner of Main and Union Streets on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. FILE PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2020 6:39:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — An Easthampton man who had become well-known for protesting environmental abuses has had two charges of disturbing the peace connected with his activism dropped this month after a judge found that his expressions were protected under the First Amendment.

Two charges of disturbing the peace against Jose O. Mediavilla, 38, were dropped on Sept. 4 by Judge Maureen Walsh after a legal back-and-forth in Northampton District Court between the prosecution and Mediavilla’s attorney, Alfred Chamberland, of Easthampton. Prosecutors will not appeal Walsh’s decision, according to Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Andrew Covington.

Mediavilla was charged with disturbing the peace on Aug. 20 last year when police responded to Main Street in Easthampton for a report of a man yelling loudly on a nearby traffic island, according to court documents. Mediavilla had been holding a sign that read “grow food not lawns.”

Police in court documents wrote that they had heard Mediavilla “yelling very loudly about saving the planet and various other things,” though they noted Mediavilla had not been yelling directly at anyone. The original caller had told police that Mediavilla constantly yells outside.

Police arrested Mediavilla the next day for disturbing the peace after they responded to Our Lady’s Child Care Center at 35 Pleasant St. for a person blocking the driveway and causing a disturbance, according to court documents. Police in court documents remarked that they saw Mediavilla walking, holding up a cardboard sign and yelling loudly. Two residents are cited in this police report; one told police that Mediavilla had been “shouting nonsensical speech” at him and that he “felt threatened,” and the other had said Mediavilla was “yelling things” at her and her granddaughter and that they felt scared.

In an attempt to get these charges against Mediavilla dismissed, Chamberland wrote in a brief earlier this year that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges of disturbing the peace filed against his client, and that Mediavilla’s actions were constitutionally protected speech. After the prosecution responded, Judge Walsh decided in June that probable cause existed to support the charges against Mediavilla.

Chamberland filed a motion asking the court to reconsider its decision, writing that the court had failed to apply required legal analysis regarding freedom of speech to Mediavilla’s situation in its decision. He said the state had criminalized Mediavilla’s words because he spoke them too loudly. He also argued that Mediavilla was given no notice as to “what the exact volume level was permissible or prohibited,” which he said was contrary to free speech and due process guarantees. Bill Newman, director of the Western Regional Law Office of the ACLU of Massachusetts, also signed this motion to reconsider and had previously filed a brief in the case.

In response, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Veronice Santana wrote that Mediavilla’s First Amendment rights were neither implicated nor infringed upon when he was charged. She said his unreasonably loud conduct interfered with a business and caused fear and alarm to bystanders. She also wrote that police had gotten 26 complaints about him over the span of four months.

Walsh, in her final decision on the case, wrote that the issue before her “boils down” to whether a private citizen protesting during the day without amplification can be charged with disorderly conduct “for merely speaking in a voice that is too loud.”

In the end, Walsh decided that Mediavilla’s expressions were “constitutionally protected speech that cannot be criminally punished.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Mediavilla said he was “relieved” that the charges were dropped. He said that the decision “is justice,” and said that he was “doing what I had a right to do.”

In a statement, Chamberland said he was “proud” to have worked with Newman, saying that the two were able to protect not only Mediavilla’s rights, but also “the liberties and privileges guaranteed to every individual by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

“Mr. Mediavilla has a passionate commitment to saving the environment and stopping destructive climate change,” Chamberland wrote. “He remains committed to spreading the word and educating the public about this important issue.”

In a statement, Covington said that the commonwealth “respects” the court’s ruling. Covington said the state is now focused on two other cases against Mediavilla scheduled for jury trials in March and April of next year. In one, he is charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, among other charges; in the other, he is charged with witness intimidation. Chamberland said he is representing Mediavilla in these matters.

Michael Connors can be reached at
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