DENHAM SPRINGS — The case of the unconventional holiday lights has been settled, city and American Civil Liberties Union attorneys said Friday afternoon.
While some people were putting up festive lighting displays depicting sleighs and reindeer in November, Sarah Childs riled some neighbors by erecting on her roof a display of an extended middle finger.
The city will not take action against her for the display, according to the settlement which was reached in principle Friday, attorneys said.
Childs said she put the display up because she was upset with some of the people who live on her street.
After a Denham Springs police officer arrived at her house to make inquiries about her roof display, Childs said, he threatened her with criminal action if she didn’t remove the lights.
She temporarily took the lights down rather than risk having to pay a fine of $300 or $400, she said at the time.
The ACLU Foundation of Louisiana filed suit on her behalf in federal court in Baton Rouge.
Childs put up her lights again Dec. 14, this time depicting a pair of hands extending middle fingers.
She said neighbors reacted by filing complaints that led to municipal citations being issued against her for allegedly “obstructing the flow of traffic,” “disturbing the peace” and “simple assault.” The assault citation involved a song about the dispute that neighbors said included obscenities directed at them.
U.S. District Judge James J. Brady heard testimony Monday on Childs’ request for a preliminary injunction forbidding authorities to interfere with her right to display the fingers display.
At that time, her attorney said Childs intended to keep the display on her roof.
That hearing was scheduled to resume next week, but the attorney for the city sent a letter to the judge Friday saying the hearing is no longer necessary.
“The parties request that the court enter a 60-day dismissal order and will be filing a joint motion to dismiss” the case of Sarah Childs v. City of Denham Springs, according to the letter signed by attorney Scott Huffstetler.
ACLU attorney Justin P. Harrison confirmed Friday afternoon that a settlement had been reached.
“Our client’s First Amendment rights were vindicated,” Harrison said, but he declined to give details.
Huffstetler said the city’s insurance company will pay a part of the ACLU’s attorney fees, but will make no payment to Childs, who is also known as Sarah Henderson.
The city assured Childs that there will be no action taken against her solely for the light display, but maintains authority to respond to neighborhood complaints for other reasons, Huffstetler said.
He said the city maintains it did nothing to violate Childs’ right to freedom of speech.