Confrontation leads to arrest at Watertown city council meeting

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 7:27 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A confrontational night at Watertown city council Monday leads to the arrest of a man who is frequently at odds with city officials.

Donnie Barrigar speaks regularly at council meetings, typically about flat earth conspiracy theories.

As in past instances, Mayor Jeff Smith told Barrigar to stick to city business.

After a back and forth, council took a recess. Watertown city police told Barrigar he could stay and watch the meeting, but could not speak again.

When the meeting resumed, Barrigar got back up to the microphone, leading to another argument between him and the mayor.

Here’s part of the exchange.

“How do you have a redress of grievance if the microphone is taken away from somebody? The first amendment gives us the right to redress of grievance,” Barrigar said.

“You’re out of order,” Smith said. “Okay, we’re going to recess here. I’m going to ask Mister Barrigar to leave. If you don’t leave, you’re going to be removed for trespassing. I tried to give you another chance. You can sit and watch the meeting if you like, but you’ve lost privilege of the floor.”

Shortly after that exchange Barrigar was arrested for trespassing and led out in handcuffs.

Watertown police said he would be processed and released with an appearance ticket.

Smith spoke about the interruption after the meeting.

“Those are things that we have to go through here as elected officials,” he said. “We try to handle it as professionally as we can, with the least interruption to the public.”

Barrigar has had an antagonistic relationship with the city council for about a year.

Last June, he recorded himself ripping down the LGBTQ+ pride flag from outside city hall.

For that, he was charged with a misdemeanor, third-degree criminal tampering. A trial had been set for April to hear that charge, but it was postponed until June 1.

When the dust settled and the meeting resumed the council unanimously passed a resolution to cut privilege of the floor to three minutes.

Previously there had been an unwritten rule that limited speakers to five minutes.

The new, official rule allows a speaker to request more time at the mayor’s discretion and prohibits a speaker who is running for office from using privilege of the floor as a political platform for their campaign.

The council is also recommending that Parks and Recreation reduce its fee for the Bravo Italiano Festival this year.

Watertown’s contract with festival organizers calls for a $3,500 charge to use the arena.

Those organizers asked for the fee to be dropped to $2,500 this year after the pandemic cancelled the event in 2020.

Parks and Recreation staff wanted to keep the cost the same, but council reasoned if COVID restricted festival attendance, a one-time fee change would be okay.

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