Animal Rights Activist Gets $15,000 Settlement

In 2009, Edward Coffin was arrested on a public sidewalk outside of a Whole Foods in Philadelphia for handing out leaflets that promoted veganism.

In December, a complaint was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Coffin claiming that he was illegally arrested, and that the incident was not an “anamoly but rather part of a pattern by Philadelphia uniformed police of ignoring the First Amendment rights of protestors.”

According to the complaint, “After Coffin refused his request to leave, the store’s manager called the police. Responding to the call, Officer Dominick Cole told Coffin he was not allowed to leaflet in “a business district.” When Coffin informed the officer he was on a public sidewalk and allowed to leaflet, he was handcuffed and marched down the street in full public view to the police mini-station a block away.”

Coffin was then charged with leafleting without a permit under an ordinance that requires a permit for parades and assemblies, but that ordinance only applies to groups of 75 people or more. Instead of taking the issue to court, the city will pay Coffin $15,000.

“The money is appreciated, but my ultimate goal was to get better First Amendment training for Philadelphia police officers,” said Coffin. “I think I’ve made some progress, but it’s still a major problem.”

According to the ACLU, “police department management has failed to adequately train its officers about the right to leaflet without a permit or discipline officers who violate demonstrators’ rights.”

“I was wrongfully arrested for doing nothing more than partaking in First Amendment activity, protected by the Constitution,” said Coffin. “I fear that situations such as this definitely have a chilling effect on other activists, who might now think twice before engaging in lawful, peaceful activities.”

“The problem is not resolved by this settlement,” said Paul Messing, an attorney for the ACLU. “We will continue to talk to the city about necessary changes in Police Department procedures to ensure that fundamental First Amendment rights are being protected.”

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Jo L.
jo L.3 years ago

Doesn't it strike anyone as odd that this happened in front of a Whole Foods Market? Our Whole Foods Market is all about organics & vegetarian alternatives. Why would the manager of the store want to discourage someone promoting the products he's selling? Odd.

Barry Appleby
Barry Appleby3 years ago

American institutions such as the police and the Federal and State governments have no respect for the Constitution, nor does a large segment of the population of the USA. The Espionage act from 1917 criminalized First Amendment rights and was deemed OK by the Supreme Court. It is still in force and has been suggested as a justification for imprisoning Assange even though he is not a US citizen. The constitutional rights of the Japanese Americans were infringed in WW2 by the policies of internment, segregation lasted almost 100 years before being ruled unconstitutional, and in the post 9/11 era legislation such as the Patriot Act and the NDAA etc. Practices such as torture and indefinite detention without trial as well as the use of drones to kill people in foreign countries also unconstitutional. Furthermore, this has engendered such a climate of fear that it seems to me that the US and the British media are afraid to report on citizen casualties of the war against terrorism that is currently being fought in Afghanistan, The constitutions of the USSR and the Russian Federation are supposed to guarantee many civil rights but in actual fact they are merely paper tigers. The increasing use of the police to protect interest dear to the heart of the party currently in power in the UK, such as the Olympics and the growing militarization of society where the role of the military in policing and combating terrorism is another worrying trend on both sides of the herring pond. I wou

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Edward was within his rights. I am glad he is getting a settlement from the city, but he should never have been arrested in the first place. I hope their police dept learns from this.

Leisa Bailey
Leisa Bailey3 years ago

Good for him to inform publicly his views, great article!

colleen p.
colleen p.3 years ago

so the guy wasn't handing out papers that were the vegan-animal Lib version of a Jack Chick tract?

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.3 years ago

Glad he won his suit! Maybe things will get better in Philly from his example.

Waltraud U.
Waltraud U.3 years ago

GOOD LUCK FOR THEM - Thank you !

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Darla G.
Darla G.3 years ago

He never should have been arrested. He was on a public sidewalk and he wasn't creating any type of disturbance.

Chad A.
Chad Anderson3 years ago

I am not the sort who has ever gotten arrested to make a point, though I wish I were and I really respect folks like Ed Coffin who do.