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Man arrested at library protest

Staff Writer | December 21, 2021 1:09 AM

HAYDEN — Police arrested an armed man who allegedly trespassed while protesting a library program for LGBTQ youths.

Thomas R. Meyer, 67, of Cocolalla, is charged with trespassing and obstructing officers, both misdemeanors.

Rainbow Squad is a Community Library Network program geared toward LGBTQ youths and allies aged 11 to 18. Attendees meet monthly to participate in crafts, games and other activities.

The program recently expanded to include a corresponding session for parents, where they can meet other parents, ask questions and support their children.

In November, attendees were met by a crowd of community members holding homophobic and transphobic signs.

After Post Falls police responded to the November event, program organizers requested that the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office be present for the December meeting, which took place Saturday evening.

The meeting was a private event hosted at the Hayden Library, outside normal operating hours. Registration was required. The building was otherwise closed to the public.

Undersheriff-select Brett Nelson said KCSO’s participation was to ensure the event remained peaceful.

CLN Director Amy Rodda said the libraries adhere to the principles of the First Amendment, emphasizing the importance of safe, civil discourse.

Public libraries are considered limited public forums. That means libraries have the ability to regulate speech and speech-related activities occurring on their property as long as the restrictions are both reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

The library network's rules of conduct prohibit unsafe or disruptive behavior, including behavior that interferes with the free passage of staff or other members of the public.

Demonstrators of any kind must gather 25 feet away from the entryway. They must not block the fire lane or restrict passage from the parking area to the entryway.

To that end, library staff used orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape to mark an area 25 feet from the entryway.

Between 15 and 20 protesters gathered outside the library, Rodda said Monday.

Steven Hemming, a pastor at Family Worship Center in Hayden, reportedly organized the protest.

Police said the restrictions were “clearly conveyed” to Hemming ahead of time, with the expectation that he would explain the restrictions to his congregation.

Officers said they observed a protester, later identified as Thomas Meyer, walk outside the demonstrators' designated area.

Meyer initially refused to return to the cordoned-off area, according to court documents, but eventually did so.

He then left the designated area again and approached the library’s entrance, police said.

After Meyer refused multiple orders from law enforcement to return to the designated area, police arrested him for trespassing.

Meyer was armed with a loaded handgun and a knife at the time of his arrest, according to court documents.

He is expected to appear in court next month.

If community members have concerns about the library’s programs or collections, Rodda said they can submit comments or complaints to the CLN administration.

Individuals can also share their concerns during the public comment portion of trustee meetings.

These methods are more productive than protesting at a private event for minors, she said.

About 30 youths attended the meeting, Rodda said.

“We actually had a few more kids than we normally do,” she said. “Some families have read about (the program) in the paper and their kids wanted to attend.”

Rodda noted that LGBTQ topics are not discussed during Rainbow Squad meetings.

“These teens are in a supportive environment where they do crafts and games,” she said. “It’s just teens being teens with adult supervision.”