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Anti-mandate protesters target Clark County officials outside homes

Updated November 23, 2021 - 2:10 pm

Protesters opposed to government COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates descended upon the homes of two Clark County commissioners and School Board President Linda Cavazos on Sunday, staging noisy and “scary” demonstrations before dispersing.

County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said an estimated 20 protesters showed up to his home Sunday evening and stayed for roughly two hours.

They were using foul language, holding flags, honking and speaking into bullhorns, he said Monday, recalling one repeated chant: “No mask, no vaxx.”

“The scary thing, it was dark and I couldn’t really see what was going on out there,” Segerblom said.

A similar scene unfolded outside Cavazos’ home in Henderson, with between 30 and 40 demonstrators showing up around 4:30 p.m. and staying for about two hours, Clark County School District Police Lt. Bryan Zink said Monday.

In photos provided by Cavazos, people can be seen carrying American flags, a yellow “Don’t tread on me” flag and a banner reading “Let’s go, Brandon” — a term that has become code for a vulgar insult against President Joe Biden. Another man is draped in what appears to be a Confederate flag.

Cavazos described the presence of the angry protesters similarly to Segerblom, describing the incident as “just scary.”

Cavazos said there were also a couple of young children in the crowd of protestors who were yelling at the house from a sidewalk. She said she felt sad for the children, noting it’s not their fault and they didn’t know what was going on.

Cavazos said a couple of people were caught on her home security camera, including a woman who rang the doorbell and a man who got close to the edge of her driveway.

She said she didn’t consider the event an actual protest because it targeted her home.

“It’s more like bullying,” she said. “It’s more like intimidation. It’s just not OK.”

Protesters also reportedly marched and chanted outside the home of county Commissioner Jim Gibson, though he could not be reached Monday to confirm the accounts.

Group leader denies involvement

An event flyer on the Facebook page for the group Las Vegas Freedom of Choice advertised a “World Wide Freedom Rally” to “rally against politicians” on Sunday, calling for participants to meet at a Walmart in the southeastern valley at 4 p.m. — shortly before demonstrators showed up at the officials’ homes — and await further instructions.

Segerblom forwarded to the Review-Journal a separate notice for an event that does not include an organizing group’s name. But it also requests people meet at the identical Walmart at the same time, encouraging participants to “hold leaders accountable” and “protest at their homes!”

Brandon Burns, the president of Las Vegas Freedom of Choice, denied orchestrating the local event in an email Monday to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I was not the organizer,” he wrote.

A link to the event page was no longer working late Monday.

Las Vegas Freedom of Choice says on its Facebook page that it is neither pro- or anti-vaccine or mask, but instead supports an individual’s right to choose. Burns filed a federal lawsuit in September against the School Board and Superintendent Jesus Jara seeking to overturn a face mask requirement for students.

In August, the County Commission proposed requiring county workers to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if not vaccinated, but that plan has stalled “pending further clarification” from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, county spokeswoman Stacey Welling said Monday. OSHA recently suspended enforcement of a similar plan for large employers after a federal appeals court ordered it to do so.

Segerblom, who is a proponent of vaccines and face masks to counter the pandemic, said he had never seen anything like the demonstration during his nearly two decades in politics. He said he considered going outside to speak to the protesters but instead he decided on “hunkering down” due to it being dark and also being uncertain about who they were.

He said his wife thought she saw people in their backyard, though he did not. There were anti-vaccine flyers left behind in his mailbox, he said.

“I guess in the sense they didn’t attack the house or shoot anyone, it was relatively peaceful,” he said, adding that while he did not feel particularly threatened, he was worried about his neighbors being subjected to the noise.

Segerblom tweeted about the protest Sunday evening, writing at 6:58 p.m. about “noise outside my house” and then later apologizing to his central Las Vegas Valley neighborhood. At 9:42 p.m., he tweeted that, “(I) think they gave up on me,” in reference to the protesters, who he said he had hoped were not moving on to any other commissioner’s or school board trustee’s houses.

Zink said Monday that school district police had a couple of cars in the neighborhood — which he noted is open and nongated — to monitor the crowd.

Cavazos said Monday that she had scheduled a family gathering Sunday evening and only learned that protesters were coming about five minutes before they arrived. That meant she wasn’t able to reach all of her family members to tell them not to come over.

“I was feeling scared for them,” she said.

She said protesters in cars were honking their horns and others were using bullhorns and were out in the middle of the road.

Cavazos said she was instructed by Clark County School District police officers to stay inside with her family.

She the mildest insult she heard was being called a “communist pig.” A couple of people shouted that “we should really burn your house down,” she added.

“I was just very disheartened,” she said, also noting she felt “very anxious” and more concerned for her family and neighbors than herself.

The protest Sunday wasn’t the first time Cavazos reportedly has been the subject of threats. Shortly after the School Board voted in September to approve an employee COVID-19 vaccination mandate, Cavazos told the Review-Journal she had received death threats and “nasty messages.”

School Board Trustee Katie Williams, who has publicly expressed concerns about Cavazos’ leadership, wrote in a Sunday post on Twitter that while she supports the First Amendment and right to peacefully assemble, she didn’t direct anyone to protest.

“I not now, nor have I ever, supported protesting outside of a personal residence of any public figure,” Williams said. “Nor have I ever directed individuals to do so.”

The post did not include any names or reference Cavazos.

In a Monday post on Twitter, Williams wrote: “The amount of rage pointed in my direction says more about y’all than it does about me. While I don’t condone protesting outside of personal homes, the police were present and from what their reports say, the protest was peaceful. No doors breached, no one injured.”

School policies draw criticism

The Clark County School District announced in July that students and employees are required wear face masks indoors at schools and other district facilities unless they have a medical or developmental condition that prohibits them from doing so.

The school district is also bound by a state emergency directive issued in August saying kindergarten through 12th grade students in public and private schools in counties with a population of 100,000 or more, which includes Clark County, must wear a mask while inside school facilities.

Statewide, all school employees must wear a mask, as must all students while riding a school bus.

As for COVID-19 vaccinations, the Clark County School Board voted 5-1 to approve a shot mandate for employees, which allows for religious and medical exemptions.

A school district spokesman said last week, though, that formal negotiations haven’t started with employee unions yet over the mandate, although initial conversations have taken place.

It is unclear if protesters arrived at the homes of other local elected officials. Four of the five other commissioners said no protesters came to their homes on Sunday, while Commissioner William McCurdy II didn’t immediately respond.

Zink said he’s not aware of protests occurring at the homes of other School Board trustees.

Meanwhile, Segerblom said he plans to talk with police and the county’s legal counsel to see if protesters may have crossed a line.

“My only concern is that when it’s dark like that, it’s a little disconcerting,” he said, “but if the First Amendment permits it, what can I say?”

The general rule is that protesters have the right to demonstrate in a public forum, whether the streets or sidewalks are in commercial or residential areas, according to Allen Lichtenstein, a private attorney who previously served for nearly two decades as a lawyer for the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union.

But if it interferes with someone’s own right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes, “That can be problematic,” he said. “It’s really a case by case circumstance.”

Michael Kagan, a UNLV law professor who directs the university’s Immigration Clinic, tweeted on Sunday that the protests were a form of free speech.

“But it’s a type of speech that implies menace, at a moment when overt threats are now routine in public comment at official meetings,” he wrote. “A dangerous, if legal, turn.”

Under state law, it is considered harassment if any person(s) does anything that subjects “the person threatened or any other person to physical confinement or restraint” or that is “intended to substantially harm the person threatened or any other person with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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