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Lawyer Lee Merritt arrested at McKinney protest, said he was a legal observer

WFAA-TV Dallas-Ft. Worth 3/27/2023 WFAA Staff

Civil rights lawyer and activist Lee Merritt was arrested over the weekend during a protest in North Texas, according to the McKinney Police Department.

On Sunday just after 4 p.m., McKinney police officers were dispatched to a report of around 20 people, including several children, blocking U. S. Highway 380 westbound at Community.

Several more calls continued to come into the department's 911 call center about a large group of protesters blocking U. S. Highway 380, according to police. Officers followed the protestors for several minutes, blocking traffic for them from Town Crossing to Wisteria Way while reportedly asking them to not block the roadway. Protesters told officers they wanted to be arrested, police said.

In a statement, McKinney police said officers gave about 10 minutes of warnings as protesters continued to block the road. Three people were arrested for failing to follow lawful orders to leave the roadway. The others did move, and vehicles were then able to proceed along U.S. Highway 380 once again.

”It’s the first time in 40 years that I’ve ever been arrested,” Merritt said after being released from Collin County Jail on Monday.

Merritt said he was a legal observer and was walking along the sidewalk during the protest. He said he only walked on the road after speaking with one officer and agreeing to advise the protesters arrests could happen.

“At no point was I actually in the road, until I let the officer know that I was leading the legal team and that I would advise the protesters that were now being arrested. The only reason I entered the road, at the permission of the officer, was to announce that arrests would be made. Then I became one of the arrests,” Merritt said.

Lee Merritt is the founder of The Merritt Law Firm. The business' website says his law firm, "represents victims of police brutality, official corruption, corporate discrimination and hate based crimes all over the country."

Merritt's practice is based out of Philadelphia and is licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but his federal practice allows him to represent clients in all 50 states.

Merritt has represented families in multiple North Texas cases, including those involving Marvin Scott III and Atatiana Jefferson as well.

Along with the other two people arrested, Merritt was charged with "Obstructing a Highway/Passageway," which is considered as a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. Merritt was in possession of a firearm at the time of his arrest and is also charged with "Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon," police say.

Members of the protest group said they were marching to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Scott. The 26-year-old man died while in custody at the Collin County Jail In 2021. Family members said Scott was strangled by a group of jail officers.

LaChay Batts is Scott’s sister, a protest organizer, and she was among those arrested on Sunday.

”It’s very disturbing, especially considering that they’ve escorted us in the past. More disturbing when I got there. Officers asked me was it worth it. I said hell yeah it was worth it,” Batts said.

A freelance photographer named Shelby Tauber was also arrested during the protest.

Marvin Scott III’s family and supporters said they won’t let the arrests become a distraction as they continue protesting for justice. The family filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the officers involved in the man’s death. That case will soon go to trial.

Merritt added he was in the presence of law enforcement leaders from across Collin County one day before the arrests. Merritt said he spoke with several police chiefs during the NAACP of Collin County’s Freedom Fund banquet, where he accepted an award.

“To be clear, McKinney Police Department is sending a bad signal to the McKinney community. It’s a Sixth Amendment violation. Everyone has a right to counsel, and that counsel shouldn’t be criminalized for showing up to support,” Merritt said.

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