Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merritt Arrested After Protest Blocks Highway in McKinney

A McKinney police spokesperson said officers made the arrests after giving “approximately 10 minutes of warnings” to the demonstrators, who included children, to clear the roadway

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A prominent civil rights attorney was among a group of people arrested in McKinney during a demonstration in memory of a Black man who died in a struggle with guards at the Collin County jail.

McKinney Police arrested lawyer Lee Merritt and two others on charges of obstructing a roadway during the Sunday protest over Marvin Scott III's 2021 death in the Collin County jail. Merritt, 40, was also charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon, police said.

Merritt, who's forged a national profile representing the families of people killed by law enforcement officers, told The Associated Press that he was “unlawfully arrested” while he attended the protests as the Scott family's lawyer on U.S. 380. The attorney said he had been legally carrying a firearm at the time of his arrest, which led to the weapons charge.

Merritt was released from jail Monday. Speaking to NBC 5 after his release, Merrit described his night in jail as a "devastating experience."

"I fought really hard coming from South Central, coming from an incarcerated father, coming from a family -- all of my siblings have been incarcerated. I had to work really hard not to go to jail," Merritt said.

The Collin County district attorney's office did not respond to a phone message about whether prosecutors would pursue the charges.

The demonstration came two years after Scott, 26, died during a struggle with jail guards following his arrest on a marijuana possession charge. Scott’s family said he was likely in a mental health crisis at the time of his death and a medical examiner found he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Seven detention officers were fired and another resigned over Scott’s death, which was ruled a homicide, but did not result in criminal charges.

Scott's 30-year-old sister, Lachay Batts, was also among those arrested in the protest. Merritt said being held in the same facility where her brother died was “a really traumatic experience” for Batts.

Batts said she picked the location of Sunday's protest on the highway to be "a peaceful disturbance to get their attention; let them know we haven't forgotten."

A McKinney police spokesperson said officers made the arrests after giving “approximately 10 minutes of warnings” to the demonstrators, who included children, to clear the roadway.

Merritt called the arrests "really bad form" and said he was there as a legal observer.

"McKinney PD is sending a bad signal to the McKinney community," Merritt said. "It's a Sixth Amendment violation. Everyone has a right to council. And that council shouldn't be criminalized for showing up to support.

Merritt said the third person taken into custody was a photojournalist.

Stacy "Lee" Merritt, Shelby Tauber, Lachay Batts.
McKinney Police
Stacy "Lee" Merritt, Shelby Tauber, Lachay Batts.

Batts, who has in the past led protests without incident, acknowledged that organizers of Sunday's protest did not coordinate with police ahead of time.

"It's very disturbing, especially considering that they've escorted us in the past," Batts said. "More disturbing that when I got there, an officer asked, 'was it worth it?' I said, "hell yeah, it was worth it.'"

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