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Federal judge rules in favor of Brandon Pryor for the second time after alleged free speech violation

Last fall, DPS banned Pryor from its property. A judge ordered the ban to be lifted in December and maintained that decision on Tuesday.

DENVER — A federal judge has now ruled in favor of Brandon Pryor twice, after Denver Public Schools (DPS) banned him from district property last fall. 

Pryor said the school district was trying to silence him for being critical of DPS and its leadership, which he said is dangerous.  

"It gives them the green light to treat everyone like this," he said. "It’s shameful to try to silence someone that is fighting for the betterment of community, the betterment of this system and what’s right."

Pryor is a co-founder of the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy and was a volunteer football coach for the Far Northeast Warriors.

Back in October, DPS accused him of being "abusive, bullying, threatening..." and then banned him from district property. That prompted Pryor to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, citing violations of his free speech rights.  

"The only thing I am a threat to is this oppressive system that has been harming our communities for centuries," said Pryor.

Judge John L. Kane ruled against DPS in December, ordering the school district to lift the ban, after Pryor filed a preliminary injunction. DPS then filed a motion to stay, or a motion that would allow the school district to continue banning Pryor from its property. 

"To me, it all adds up to more retaliation," said Pryor. "It’s like they [DPS] don’t even care what Judge Kane’s order said and lifting the ban and telling them they can’t retaliate against me. It’s like they’re completely tone deaf."

On Tuesday, Judge Kane ordered once again that Pryor cannot be banned from DPS property. 

"Defendants’ Motion to Stay (ECF No. 46) does not persuade me to alter my previous evaluation of the facts and applicable law. Their obtuse arguments show a complete failure to comprehend my Order and a derogation of their responsibilities to the public and DPS staff. For substantially the same reasons that I granted the Preliminary Injunction, I deny Defendants’ Motion to Stay," wrote Judge Kane, in a 14-page order. "Defendants now contend they are likely to succeed in their appeal of the Order granting the Preliminary Injunction for two main reasons. First, they insist my assessment of the evidence was improperly focused. Second, they claim the Preliminary Injunction is overly vague and ambiguous. They are wrong in both respects."

Judge Kane went on to say DPS' past conduct caused him to question the school district's ability to "abide by their constitutional obligations."

9NEWS legal analyst Whitney Traylor said Judge Kane's order directed at DPS is harsh, direct and critical. 

"If I were on the receiving end of this... I would be humbled," said Traylor. "A lot of what they were trying to ban Brandon Pryor for was based on comments he made on Facebook and it was comments about the STEAM Academy and how the board had made a decision to move it a certain distance away that was going to harm the current students. This is really what the First Amendment is about, is the ability to criticize, particularly, public officials."

The lawsuit hasn't gone to trial yet, but Traylor said DPS has already seen significant losses in court. 

"That's essentially what the court said, is that there weren't any individual threats and DPS can continue to maintain a safe environment, but there was no need to ban him," said Traylor. "These federal lawsuits take time, if it doesn’t settle, I bet it would be a year or two before we see trial."

DPS declined to do an on-camera interview, and instead sent this statement:

"Denver Public Schools disagree with the plaintiff's allegations and the Orders of the District Court. We intend to continue litigating before the District Court and the Court of Appeals."

"I just don't see a strong basis for appeal," said Traylor. 

Traylor said the ability to criticize public officials is a crucial part of our democracy. 

"If these allegations are true, and if the school did retaliate, that is highly dangerous because then it’s a matter of a few individuals who say, 'I disagree with this person criticizing me. I’m going to shut them down,'" said Traylor. 

Pryor said he's won't stop fighting for his community. 

"It’s not my job to create a place of comfort for these oppressors... That doesn’t help get things changed," said Pryor. "Our communities are hurting and I want the people in control to feel some of that." 

Pryor said his original complaint has been amended to add in additional named defendants, which now include DPS Board of Education member Auon'tai Anderson and general counsel for DPS Aaron Thompson. 

Earlier this year, Anderson filed a temporary restraining order against Pryor. A judge denied a permanent restraining order, citing there wasn't enough evidence for one. 

The lawsuit also names Superintendent Alex Marrero and Deputy Superintendent Tony Smith. 


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