For the past eight years, Kurt and Cindy Van Gorden have set up an information booth at the Utah State Fair to distribute literature critical of Mormonism, the religion of most of the state's 1.8 million residents. But after this year's visit, they filed lawsuits against state officials and city police officers who they believe went overboard and harassed them.
Their complaints—which include charges of false arrest, sexual assault, and civil-rights violations—stem from a confrontation with State Fair security on September 14. They allege that the harassment was motivated by Mormon hostility to their literature.
State Fair authorities, however, claim the two evangelists violated a contractual prohibition of photography, due to previous problems. Yet the Christian couple maintains their contract allowed the video monitoring of their exhibit table as a theft deterrent.
When the State Fair president directed the videocamera to be turned off, Cindy Van Gorden started taking snapshots as a dispute unfolded.
The Van Gordens allege that moments later, police and security guards knocked Cindy Van Gorden to the ground and searched inside her blouse for her camera after she refused to relinquish it. Much of the episode was recorded by the wide-angle videocamera on a tripod.
Cindy Van Gorden says she was handcuffed, held incommunicado for nearly an hour, and questioned without having been read her rights. Sgt. Sam Hemmingway of the Salt Lake City Police Department told CT that a criminal investigation targeting State Fair officials and an internal-affairs investigation of the police officers involved are being conducted.
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