Trollin' ain't easy, but is banning John Foddrill, and others like him, unconstitutional?
Published: December 12, 2012
Both Bernard and McManus have declined to discuss the cases with the Current. Bernard refused to answer even general questions about how or why the city might choose to ban a citizen indefinitely.
"A Criminal Trespass Warning letter can be issued in direct response to a threat, threatening behavior, and/or harassment wherein repeated contacts by an individual are made thus creating an environment of fear," McManus wrote in a prepared statement. "Criminal Trespass Warning letters are typically issued when the behaviors previously mentioned are clear and obvious."
But while the courts have ruled government can put reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner of free speech, a recent federal court decision against the City of Austin's criminal trespass policy proves San Antonio's tactics a clear unconstitutional overreach, civil rights watchdogs say.
Foddrill's well-known and sweeping allegations of corruption and mismanagement of city funds didn't materialize out of thin air, and appear to have had at least some basis when he began his fight in 2006. Former Current editor Elaine Wolff (who, now with Plaza de Armas, has written about the city's criminal trespass policy) first gave Foddrill's allegations a full vetting in a 2008 story, examining how Foddrill, while with the city's Information Technology Services Department, tried to blow the whistle on billing irregularities in his department that led him to a multi-million dollar slush fund. Months after notifying supervisors of the problem, Foddrill says he was escorted off the premises, fired over claims of poor job performance. Still, Foddrill clung to the hope that a 2009 whistleblower lawsuit against the city would clear his name and ultimately lead to criminal investigations for all parties involved.
Foddrill never got his wish. And soon after losing his whistleblower suit, Foddrill began firing off lengthy affidavits loaded with allegations that city officials who testified in his whistleblower trial lied under oath. Local FBI, Bexar County Sheriff's and SAPD officials all disregarded his claims.
Then, in July 2009, Foddrill got a call from his family attorney, who was leaving police headquarters downtown. "He said, 'John, they've got a photo of you posted at the front desk,'" Foddrill recalled his attorney saying. Within hours, two SAPD officers showed up on Foddrill's doorstep, hand delivering his criminal trespass notice signed by Chief McManus (who Foddrill routinely refers to in letters, emails, and online comment threads as "McAnus") and City Attorney Bernard.
For a year, Foddrill says, he sent letters to the city asking for an explanation. "I hired an attorney, spent good money asking why, and they still haven't given a reply," he said. Foddrill also filed numerous open records requests with the city, seeking any documents outlining any internal policy or decision that led to his ban. His requests turned up nothing. An open records request the Current filed in mid October requesting similar documents largely came up dry.
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