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Mo. PD Barred From Ticketing Headlight Flashers

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- A federal judge on Monday temporarily barred Ellisville from pulling over or ticketing drivers who use their headlights to warn others of speed traps.

In a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey said that punishing drivers for warning others is a likely First Amendment violation.

The suit was filed last April by the ACLU on behalf of Ellisville resident Michael J. Elli, who was pulled over and cited on Nov. 17, 2012 after he passed a speed trap and began warning other drivers by flashing his headlights.

Elli appeared in municipal court and was told that he standard punishment for the offense was a $1,000 fine,. When he said he wanted to plead not guilty, the judge "became agitated and asked Plaintiff if he had ever heard of 'obstruction of justice,'" Elli's complaint says.

The case was dropped before Elli's next court date however.

Autrey's ruling says that the officer "did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that Plaintiff had violated any law" and that it is not illegal to warn drivers "because a speed trap is ahead and discovery

or apprehension is impending."

"After filing suit, the ACLU was contacted by many other individuals complaining of similar policies by other municipalities," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a prepared statement. "It is important that law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions take note of this federal court decision and the ACLU-MO's commitment to free speech."

Peter Dunne, a lawyer representing Ellisville, said, "It wont have any practical effect on police operations in the city of Ellisville because for the past nine months we haven't been enforcing this ordinance in this way anyway."

Dunne disputed the lawsuit's claims about the judge's statements at the hearing.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service