Three K-State students detained at capitol building name three statehouse authorities in lawsuit

A banner stating there is blood on the hands of Republican leadership for refusing to vote on Medicaid expansion hangs in the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka on March 27. The House passed a bill in favor of Medicaid expansion, which the state Senate has yet to vote on. (Courtesy photo Katie Sullivan)

In a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the three Kansas State University students detained at the state capitol on March 27 for unfurling banners in support of Medicaid expansion are suing three state administrators.

The students — Jonathan Cole, senior in mechanical engineering; Katie Sullivan, senior in social sciences; and Nate Faflick, senior in family studies and human services — are just three of the five individuals involved in the hanging of the “blood on their hands” banners calling out Republican legislators, but were the only ones detained by Capitol Police. Thea Perry and Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan were involved, but were not detained.

The students were banned from the statehouse for a year, but the ban was lifted the next day, March 28.

The case, Cole v. Goossen et al., names Duane Goossen, secretary of administration; Tom Day, legislative administrative services director; and Sherman Jones, superintendent of Kansas Highway Patrol, as the defendants.

The case itself does not pertain solely to the punitive action, but to the policy that resulted in the detention.

“This case is about Kansas’s scheme of rules and practices that collectively suppress virtually every method of speech and expression at the Kansas Statehouse building,” the complaint document reads. “Official rules and regulations adopted by the Department of Administration and enforced by the Kansas Capitol Police impose prior restraints on assembly and speech by limiting the right to protest to people who have the support of an elected official, pass the Secretary of Administration’s standardless [sic] approval test, and wish to speak about an issue or event that is not spontaneous.

“…[The Defendants’] standardless policy permitting Capitol Police to impose indefinite premises bans on members of the public for Statehouse policy violations, regardless of the severity of the violation, is vague, overbroad, and unconstitutionally suppresses core petitioning activities without due process of law,” the document continues.

The complaint document also says the suit is related to the so-called arbitrary retaliation the students faced from their actions.

“The Capitol Police detained Plaintiffs beyond what was necessary to identify them, releasing them only when a concerned bypasser intervened on their behalf,” the document reads.

In a statement made via text, Cole said he felt he was “punished unjustly” while he was trying to defend some of “Kansas’ most vulnerable” populations.

“These rules are a major barrier to my ability as a citizen and are totally prohibitive to my First Amendment rights,” Cole said. “I can’t bring in signage or even something like a pride flag, much less a banner calling for KanCare Expansion.”

Cole said the goal is ultimately to have the policies that limit freedom of expression overturned and “replaced” with new rules that don’t inhibit First Amendment rights in the Statehouse. He said he also wants a formal apology from the Kansas Highway Patrol which has a branch called Troop K, which is one of the arms of the Capitol Police.

“We’re hoping that in the future the Statehouse doesn’t impose unnecessary restrictions that suppress political expression,” Faflick said. “The building belongs to the people of Kansas — and people should have the right to make their voices heard in political decisions that influence the livelihood of the state.”

Faflick said while the lawsuit is focused on preventing future “unnecessary restrictions” aimed at suppressing “political expression,” everything cumulatively — the display of the signs in the capitol and now the suit — is aimed at bringing light to Medicaid.

“We also hope to keep the focus on medicaid expansion, and how it is a federally funded program,” Faflick said. “The lack of leadership from our legislators is wasteful of taxpayer money and wasteful to the state and its people.”

Samir Arif, public information officer for the Kansas Department of Administration, said the department would make “no comment of any kind” due to pending litigation.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.