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N4T Investigators: War of Words

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A battle has been brewing downtown after a Tucson man and the non-profit he leads sent a notice of claim to the city and some of its leaders over a war of words. 

Defamation and a conspiracy were just two of the accusations in a notice of claim sent to the city and some of its top officials. 

Tim Cesolini is the president and director of Tucson Back the Blue Line. 

In July, he applied for a permit to paint a blue line in support of the police on a city street. The city granted the permit but revoked it the same day. Both Mayor Romero and City Attorney Mike Rankin expressed concerns about the permit.

The mayor said Cesolini was, "An individual with known ties to white supremacist ideology" and, "requests from white supremacists have no place on our city streets".

Rankin advised the city that no permits to paint city streets should be granted to private applicants. 

The entire Notice of Claim can be read here:

In the notice of claim, Cesolini and the nonprofit maintained that they have no ties to racism or white supremacy. 

Their lawyer said in-part, "Mayor Romero's statements had already unleashed substantial damage upon Mr. Cesoloni's reputation. In the six weeks since Romero's wanton aggression, Mr. Cesolini and his family have faced repeated threats..." and that the Mayor's statements, "...defamed them; placed them in a false light; intentionally inflicted emotional distress; and restricted their constitutionally protected speech. Mayor Romero was ‘aided and abetted’ in a civil conspiracy supported by the city council and city manager.” 

Also, in the notice of claim, City manager Mike Ortega for what they said was his support of the Mayor's allegedly false claims by revoking the permit. 

And Tucson City Councilwoman Nikki Lee for what they said was her response, supporting the Mayor's allegedly false claims. Lee posted it to the city's website after she was accused of supporting the permit and white supremacy. 

Her full post can be read below:

On July 1, 2020, I was made aware - via a constituent call to the Ward 4 office - of a group called “Tucson Back the Blue” that had sent multiple inquiries to city officials with no response.  Their request was to get permission and permits to safely paint a single blue line in front of the Main Police Station on Stone Ave. to illustrate their support of Tucson police officers who are in the line of duty.  After receiving no response from any of their inquiries, they reached out to my office because we have a reputation for being responsive.  My staff, with my support, forwarded the questions of the constituent to the City Manager and Transportation Director - which is our job - and asked that the correct department respond to him with the information he had requested.  Within hours, the Transportation Department had contacted him and gave him information regarding the permit process.

Unfortunately, in doing my job of being a responsive local government official and escalating constituent concerns/questions, I have been accused of supporting white supremacists and white supremacy organizations.  I am disgusted at this allegation, and equally disgusted at the continued tactics at play to divide our community for the sole purpose of pushing political agendas forward. 

I remember when I was first stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  I was often thanked for my service while out in the Tucson community in uniform.  Many of those who thanked me didn’t support the Global War on Terrorism, or the US military’s presence in Afghanistan or Iraq, but they stood by the troops offering their support.  They saw us as people.  People from a very small segment of America’s population who stepped up and took an oath to protect and defend our country and our constitution.  A small segment of our population who signed up to die - if necessary - so that others have the great freedoms that we have as Americans. 

It is possible to support our Black community and support police officers at the same time.  It is possible to acknowledge the racism that exists in so many of our American systems and institutions while appreciating the willingness that women and men have to step into a career with no guarantee they will come home alive after their shift.  It is possible to demand change while supporting the very people whom we demand the change from. 

An antiquated approach - like divide and conquer - will not work today if we seek meaningful change.  The only way we can successfully approach these complex issues is by viewing the challenges from all sides and making sure all voices in our community are truly heard.  In order to get through these challenging times we must unite as a community and work toward comprehensive solutions that include everyone.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators reached out to those named in the claim in an email.

A spokesperson for Lee's office replied, "Once a legal notice of intent is filed we ask you to direct all inquiries to City Attorney Mike Rankin. He is copied on this email."

A spokesperson for the City Manager's office replied, "I just wanted to reach out on behalf of Mr. Ortega and advise that he had received your email and that per the guidance in Mr. Rankin’s email below he cannot comment on this claim other than to advise that he is aware of the City receiving notice of the claim."

Rankin replied, "Since a claim is a precursor to a lawsuit, it’s not something I can comment on beyond confirming that we’ve received the notice of claim. As with other claims, we will review it as provided under Arizona statute, which gives us 60 days for review."

A spokesperson for the Mayor's office issued the following statement, "I believe this is a politically-motivated claim intended to distract and gain media attention. My focus is on the many real issues facing our city, including continuing the fight against COVID-19 and protecting public health."

Cesolini and Tucson Back the Blue Line have asked for $8,050,000 in damages from the City.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest details as they become available.

If you have a story you'd like for us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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