Man alleges Baytown threatened him with fines, jail over anti-RLC campaign

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | Sep 10, 2012

HOUSTON - A Baytown man has filed suit against the city and one of its inspectors in response to what he believes is a violation of his constitutional rights.

Court papers filed Sept. 6 in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division say Byron Schirmbeck's campaign against Baytown's red light camera system had been met with threats of fines and possible jail time. Schirmbeck alleges city sign inspector Debbie Sherman is behind the intimidation.

The original petition shows the 41-year-old Schirmbeck began his efforts to have Baytown dismantle its RLC system nearly four years ago, and his research asserted the cameras caused more accidents and injuries as opposed to preventing them.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was emboldened by a number of residents who disapproved of the RLC program because "there already existed a law against running red lights."

He started a voter petition drive, and upon submitting the first batch of signatures in the summer of 2010, a pro-RLC group sued him in Harris County District Court and requested the Harris County District Attorney's Office charge him with a crime to no avail.

Schirmbeck explains the issue was put on the November 2010 ballot and he set out to inform voters about the "dangerous" cameras by holding a sign that read "BAN RED LIGHT CAMERAS VOTE YES PROP 1" at the intersection of Garth Road and W. Baker Road, one of the places with a red light camera , in late September 2010 only to be confronted by Sherman.

The complainant states the inspector told him he "can't be there" though he was standing on public property.

Sherman went as far as to photograph Schirmbeck holding the sign several times and write him a letter threatening arrest and reprimanding him for holding a sign in the city's right of way, the suit says.

A few emails pertaining to the legality of Schirmbeck's actions were exchanged between the plaintiff and Mayor Stephen DonCarlos and Police Chief Keith Dougherty, both whom apparently had no knowledge, with Schirmbeck receiving a message dated Sept. 25, 2010, stating that holding the sign was legal.

The plaintiff contacted Sherman to share his intentions of protesting and exercising his rights and was continuously told he was in violation of the right of way ordinance.

He asserts Sherman was "carrying out (Mayor Stephen) DonCarlos’ and other Baytown officials plans to keep RLCs in place."

Voters eventually elected to get rid of the cameras "in a landslide."

Schirmbeck consequently sues for loss of liberty and mental anguish. A jury trial is sought.

Attorney Randall L. Kallinen with the Law Office of Randall L. Kallinen PLLC in Houston is representing the complainant.

Case No. 4:12-cv-2644

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