Monday, June 24, 2024

Two-time political candidate files pro se suit against New Hanover officials for mask policy

New Hanover County officers block the entrance to the board of education center at a heated meeting in early October. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– A familiar face in political spheres, David Perry has filed a pro se lawsuit against each member of the New Hanover County Board of Education, the board of education itself, the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Ed McMahon. 

Perry filed his suit without legal representation, explaining his group, the Republican Liberty Caucus, was not in the financial position to file collectively. The caucus describes itself as “​​the conscience of the New Hanover County Republican Party” on its website. 

“I am a Software Engineer and not a lawyer!” he wrote in a blog post announcing the suit. “I cannot guarantee success. All I can guarantee is that I, along with all the other members of the New Hanover RLC, will keep up the fight for your liberty, and the liberty of your children.”

Perry ran two unsuccessful bids for House District 19 as a Libertarian in 2018 and as a Republican in 2020.

In the blog post, Perry wrote he would have preferred to have sued the officials as a group, but due to the lack of funds and the potential inability for the group to prove it had standing, he filed it individually Thursday. He did not immediately return a request to comment. 

RELATED: Heightened security continues at New Hanover County school board meetings in wake of fiery protests

Perry’s petition for declaratory judgment and relief seeks a judicial review of the school board’s requirement that attendees wear masks in public meetings. He asserts it may violate the state Open Meetings Law and the First Amendment. 

Because of the allegedly infringing actions of the local officials, Perry asks that the board of education’s actions from the past 45 days be nullified. 

Members of the public who “adamantly refuse to comply with mask mandates should not lose their fundamental right to equally assemble and petition the very same government bodies that are responsible for creating these mask mandates,” Perry wrote in his filling. 

At the school board meeting earlier this month, no opportunity to present comments live and in-person was provided for members who choose not to wear masks, he wrote, given that masks are required to enter the building, pursuant to a health board rule that passed in August. 

Perry cites “news reports” in claiming approximately 10 people without masks “entered the meeting, and then were quickly thrown out of the meeting for not wearing a mask.” 

Lt. Jerry Brewer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said he was only aware of one man who may have been removed from the meeting. The man attempted to go inside maskless and deputies denied him entry, Brewer explained. He then incited the crowd to try and get through the deputies, Brewer said, and was told he would be arrested for inciting a riot before leaving the premises. 

“He was rousing the crowd up and trying to bust through the deputies,” Brewer said. 

Last month, several maskless school board meeting attendees were ushered by deputies out of the building but they were not detained. 

The mask policy (which Perry describes as the school board’s in his suit, but in actuality is the county health board’s) has deprived him and hundreds of like-minded supporters of their right to attend public meetings; “any person is entitled” to attend meetings of public bodies, per state statute. 

In addition to in-person gatherings, school board meetings are also streamed on the district’s YouTube channel. 

Forcing anti-mask residents to watch the meetings online “created a ‘separate, inferior, and unequal’ scheme of public participation” that violates their constitutional rights to assembly and petition, Perry wrote. 

The school board’s avoidance of providing an alternative measure of attendance via proof of a vaccination card “demonstrates that the restriction is not narrowly tailored,” he wrote.

In addition to the petition for declaratory judgment, Perry also filed for a preliminary injunction against the same parties in an attempt to more quickly get the officials to stop the practice. On its own accord, the school board has passed a mask policy for students which Perry’s preliminary injunction targets. He claims the board’s mask policy has contributed to lost learning among students.

Even absent of the school board’s mask policy for its schools, the district would still be compelled to follow the county health board’s mandate.

The board of education will host two special meetings Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

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