Reverend Billy Talen has filed a notice of intent to sue the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for $500,000, accusing the agency of falsely alleging in the media that he attacked police officers during a January 6 demonstration at Grand Central Terminal.
The professional protester and activist was speaking at a 24-hour demonstration inside the busy transit hub when police officers interrupted his sermon and began clearing away placards that had been placed on the floor in honor of victims of police brutality. Talen admonished them for their behavior in his signature “sermonizing” style.
If you cut to 1:11 into the video, you’ll see police begin to pick up the placards:
Soon after, he and another protester were arrested and spent the night in the Manhattan Detention Complex. In a statement issued to the Voice the next day, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the two were arrested after they “got physical” with police.
“We had to make the first arrests since the protests began,” he said. “We can’t and won’t tolerate attacks on our police.”
But Talen maintains that he did not get physical with the officers. And despite the implication, Talen was never charged with any form of assault or violent crime. Instead, he was charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct. Talen’s attorneys, Wylie Stecklow and Samuel Cohen, are seeking dismissal of the criminal charges leveled against Talen.
“It is unusual that the MTA is claiming Reverend Billy put hands on the police and the charges Billy is facing [have] nothing to do with assaulting an officer,” says Stecklow.
The notice of intent alleges libel, slander, false arrest, false imprisonment, First Amendment retaliation, and defamation. Talen filed the claim on January 22 and now has 90 days to move forward with the suit.
Talen initially responded to the allegations with a video titled “Radical Forgiveness in Grand Slander Station.” The video shows him walking through and sharing his side of the story.
“The feeling of being robbed of my work, life identity…the fiction! I know how to do this, I’m trained in nonviolence,” says Talen. “City spokespersons whose salaries I pay for with my taxes…they think they can just say anything about anybody and get away with it.”
Stecklow says that thanks to the MTA’s comments, Talen will be forever labeled as dangerous by law enforcement agencies.
“Now you have officers who are going to look at Reverend Billy as somebody who might be violent,” says Stecklow. “A police officer might not know him because he only knows what the MTA put out there.”