Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, arrested Sunday by McKinney police for obstructing a highway/passageway and carrying a gun during the commission of that crime, said after a conversation with an officer, he understood he could enter the road and therefore should not have been arrested or charged with a gun crime.
Merritt said he was there in a legal capacity, walking on the sidewalk while some protesters obstructed traffic on US 380 in McKinney. He said he spoke with a nearby officer, then entered the road to inform the protest organizer, Lachay Batts, that the arrests were imminent.
“The officer and I spoke. I didn’t ask for permission to enter the street. It was implied based on our conversation after I described my role and intent to warn protesters of arrest,” Merritt told The Dallas Morning News.
That’s when Merritt said he left the sidewalk.
“I ran ahead of the protest using the sidewalk until I caught up with Lachay in the front,” Merritt said. “I entered the street and told Miss Batts the officers did plan to make arrests. That was the only time I entered the road.”
Lee Merritt, civil rights attorney, was Sunday by McKinney police officers for obstructing a highway/passageway and carrying a gun.
McKinney Police Department said there would be no other comment about Merritt’s arrest beyond the news release.
On video he shared with TheNewsMerritt, 40, is seen leaving the sidewalk, running up to an individual holding a megaphone, believed to be Batts, before being intercepted by an officer and placed in handcuffs around 4 pm
All charges are misdemeanors.
Merritt said he was legally carrying his firearm in an open display holster, and he brought it to the protest because he carries it everywhere he goes. Merritt added that the group of protesters had been met by violent counter-protesters in the past, so carrying the firearm was also a “form of de-escalation.”
“I’m not a felon in the state of Texas, and I have every right to carry as long as I’m not carrying in the commission of a crime,” Merritt said. “I understand that they brought the charges against me with the belief that I was committing a crime, but I believe that the evidence will bear out that they were wrong about that.”
Batts, 30, and Shelby Tauber, 26, were also arrested in connection with the protest. Tauber is a freelance photographer who has worked for The Dallas Morning News.
Merritt said while his arrest for obstructing the roadway and unlawful carrying of a weapon was “misplaced,” the other protesters were violating the law because they did not have a permit to obstruct US Highway 380. However, Merritt said they should have been given a warning before being arrested.
Merritt said he was responsible for the group of legal observers at the protest who did not participate but were there to write down badge numbers, identify routes and speak with law enforcement if needed.
Police officers gave approximately 10 minutes of warnings from Community Avenue to Meandering Way as the protesters blocked US 380, according to a news release from the department.
“Three protesters were arrested for failing to follow lawful orders to leave the roadway,” the release said. “The others did move out of the roadway.”
However, Merritt said most protesters moved out of the road once the arrests began and he only heard one warning from the police within a three-minute period.
Merritt said he attended the protest on Sunday at the request of Batts, sister of Marvin Scott III, a Black man from McKinney who died in 2021 at the Collin County jail. Scott was pepper-sprayed and put in a spit hood while restrained to a bed. Merritt is the family’s attorney and previously told TheNews that Scott was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death. The group of about 20 demonstrators gathered to march to bring awareness to mental health around the anniversary of Scott’s death.
“I don’t want my issue of this silly arrest to be clouded out by the actual crisis where members of our community, the most vulnerable members of our community, are losing their lives,” Merritt said.
He said he has hired Collin County criminal defense attorney Bridgette Williams and is meeting with the McKinney chief of police later this week.
Merritt was listed in Collin County jail records Monday morning. The Collin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that Merritt was given a personal recognition bond. Upon release, he left for Mississippi to help with hurricane relief work, he said.
Merritt is an advocate for victims of police violence and known nationally for his work, including on cases representing the families of Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Marvin Scott III and Darius Tarver. He also had an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for Texas attorney general in 2022.