BULLHEAD CITY — Business owner Walter Keza said a city council member’s expressions of opposition in July over a political sign displayed outside his business caused him personal and financial trouble.
Keza, owner of The Upholstery Shop on Highway 95 in Bullhead City, filed a notice of claim against the city seeking $50,000 in damages as well as public apologies by Council Member Tami Ring — whom Keza said tried to coerce him to take down the signs — as well as other people he described in a letter to the council and the city attorney as “city executives” for Ring’s demonstration against Keza’s display.
Ring visited Keza’s business but also had someone shoot video of her complaining about Keza’s sign, a video Keza wants removed from wherever she posted it online, particularly Facebook and YouTube.
He also wants her to resign from office. Her term ends in November.
Keza says Ring’s actions have resulted in defamation of his character, “libel, slander and emotional distress.”
One of the signs uses an old photograph of then-city council candidate Waheed Zehri with loved ones. The women in the picture are wearing hijabs, headgear worn by some Muslim women that covers their head, chest and often their entire neck.
Above the photo — taken from Zehri’s Facebook page, Keza explained — was the phrase “Vote No on Waheed Zehri.”
“Shame on you, Walt Keza, shame on you! That’s a disgrace. And that’s hate,” Ring said while being videoed outside his store this past summer. “You cannot tell me that was not meant to show (Zehri) was a Muslim.”
Keza denied that racism was his motivation and insisted his opposition to Zehri being on the city council was purely political. Zehri was elected to the council in August along with incumbents Kathy Bruck and Mark Clark as well as Norma Brummett.
Ring’s accusations have resulted in “death and bodily injury threats” being lodged against him as well as a decline in business as a result, Keza said.
Ring, he said, used her position on the council to get even for derailing her chance at another term. Specifically, Keza characterized Ring’s behavior as retaliation because of him succeeding in having her disqualified from inclusion on August primary election ballot because of deficiencies in her voter petition required for her to seek another term.
He also cited in a letter accompanying his notice of claim to the city that Ring’s actions could be violations of federal civil rights statutes, specifically U.S. Code Title 18, Sections 241 and 242.
The FBI has a section on its website explaining specific civil rights statutes that includes explanations about both sections.
Section 241, Conspiracy Against Rights, states that it’s unlawful to act with someone (in this instance the person shooting the video) to prevent Keza’s right to free expression. Section 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, states that her being a city council member making such accusations meant to infringe on his right to free expression is considered unlawful if she somehow used her council position to carry out the act.
In a phone conversation with Ring on Wednesday, she was adamant about not using her council seat in her criticism of Keza.
“Absolutely not,” Ring replied when asked whether she was retaliating against Keza for his efforts to remove her from the ballot with her criticism of that specific political sign. “I have free speech just as much as he does.”
She also addressed Keza’s accusation that she was using her position with the city to attack him: “I did this as a person. I am a community member here. The city is not responsible.”
Ring said that she wasn’t acting as an advocate for Zehri either, but that Keza had no reason to bring Zehri’s family “into the public arena.”
City Attorney Garn Emery rejected Keza’s claim against the city in a letter dated Tuesday. Here is a portion of it:
“Although elections activities are public in nature, whatever a candidate for public office does personally during those activities does not constitute that person acting under ‘color of authority’ for which the city or its taxpayers would be liable. This same concept applies whether or not the candidate is also a member of the City Council at the time the elections are taking place.”
Keza said he is working with an attorney and is pursuing his legal options.