A Long Beach man is suing city and police officials for $25 million on claims his free speech was violated over citations he's received for flying pro-Trump and anti-Biden flags at his home and on his car.
Michael Wasserman, 62, has since 2017 flown a cadre of flags from his vehicle and balcony, which faces the boardwalk, showing support for former President Donald Trump. Since November, he also has flown a flag on his balcony and car that have an obscenity against President Joe Biden.
Long Beach officials said Thursday they had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.
Long Beach Police gave Wasserman a $200 ticket in March, citing three flags on his car: a Trump 2024 flag, an American flag and a thin blue line flag. Police had previously asked him to remove the flags, but he had refused. He temporarily moved the Biden flag from his car to his balcony.
Wasserman’s Mineola attorney, Victor Feraru, said his client's First Amendment right to political free speech should be protected. The lawsuit, filed on Monday, names Long Beach Police Commissioner Ronald Walsh, City Manager Donna Gayden and five Long Beach police officers.
"When municipalities act under the color of law to squelch or otherwise stomp out protected speech, it’s dangerous," Feraru said. "He’s saying there’s no price on his free speech. He feels free speech is priceless and they’re trying to punish his free speech and prosecuting laws against him."
City officials have said they could not cite Wasserman for flying a profane anti-Biden flag on his balcony because it was protected free speech on private property.
Long Beach Police released a statement the day Wasserman was cited in March, following multiple complaints from residents, but said a flag on his balcony was protected free speech. Police said they had spoken with Wasserman and tried to appeal to "our sense of community."
"While it is unfortunate that the person flying these flags has chosen to display a flag that utilizes profane language, the use of this language is considered constitutionally protected, especially when it's is utilized as part of a political statement," the statement said.
Wasserman was cited under a city code that says, "no sign shall be erected, affixed or maintained within the perimeter of any public mall or upon any public street or public property."
His attorney argued he should have been protected under an exception for flags that included national flags, organizations or corporations.
Police went to Wasserman’s home a week before issuing the citation and asked him to move the anti-Biden flag from his vehicle to his balcony, "where it would offend passerby less," according to the lawsuit.
Wasserman said he had been spat on and yelled at while driving around with the flags, and that one person threw a handful of coins at his car.
Although he temporarily moved the Biden flag to his balcony, he said he would not remove the other flags unless the city took down all flags from public areas in Long Beach.
"The LBPD officers on the scene informed plaintiff that if plaintiff were flying any other flag besides those supportive of former President Trump and against current President Joe Biden, that the officers would not be visiting his home or vehicles," the lawsuit states.