WILDWOOD, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- The City of Wildwood has agreed to settle a lawsuit for $295,000 that accused it of depriving a city council candidate of his first amendment rights. The lawsuit was filed by Tony Salvatore over his treatment during a campaign in 2018.

News 4 first reported in October of 2018 about the troubles Salvatore experienced during his campaign. He said that on a number of occasions, officers with the Wildwood precinct of the St. Louis County Police Department were called out and forced him to stop campaigning.

"It's totally intimidation and tyranny, you can't have this in a free society," said Salvatore. 

He said he was told that he was in violation of an ordinance that prohibits individuals from holding a political sign while protesting on a public sidewalk. But the ordinance that police referenced prohibited so-called "living signs" in commercial and industrial areas and had no connection to political campaigning.

"If you can't hold a campaign sign in public to defeat your political opponent, the people who are in power, you don't have a democracy," said Tom Applewhite, one of Salvatore's attorneys. 

Court documents involving the lawsuit reveal that Salvatore's opponent, incumbent Ray Manton, sent an email to the city administrator making note of Salvatore's campaign method of standing on public sidewalks holding a sign and accused him of campaigning illegally. The email also contained this phrase, "This tactic does put my campaign at a serious disadvantage, regarding publicity."

When Salvatore tried to request copies of emails and text messages between city officials, under the Missouri Sunshine Act, to prove their was a conspiracy against him at city hall, his attorneys said he ran into roadblocks.

"There were records that were being destroyed, there were records not being turned over. And they were actually seeking to charge thousands of dollars for basic Sunshine request records," said Christian Misner, another attorney of Salvatore's.

In the lawsuit, the City of Wildwood does not admit it did anything wrong. Mayor Jim Bowlin said the city's insurance company advised them to settle the lawsuit.

"Insurance companies are going to look at the cost of trial which had yet to happen, the likely appeal and the cost of that and make an economic assessment," said Bowlin.

Bowlin pointed out that the insurance company would make the $295,000 payment to Salvatore and it would not involve any taxpayer dollars.

"It is one of the largest first amendment monetary settlements in the Midwest that's ever been achieved without physical injury," said Applewhite.

Included in the settlement, is a requirement that the city post a statement on its website for the remainder of 2021 that the city pledges to protect the first amendment rights of candidates and citizens. Several city leaders are also required to receive training on the first amendment and the Missouri Sunshine Act law.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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