Amarillo, Texas — Applause is used to express approval, but clapping got one Amarillo man in trouble with the law. He spoke exclusively with ABC 7 News about the incident at Amarillo city council Tuesday night.
"You can all clap if you want,” said Mayor Ginger Nelson.
It was a statement followed by applause after the Amarillo city council issued a proclamation on child abuse awareness. Minutes later that changed during public comment.
"We are not going to clap,” said Nelson.
She followed that statement with a loud bang of her gavel.
"The reason we don't do that is this is a business meeting,” she said. “We are here to accomplish business. We are here to receive comment. We want to do it in a way that is respectful to everyone. It can be intimidating if people don't agree with your comments."
The mayor instead asked people to silently raise their hands if they agree with a speaker.
When applause broke out again, Kip Billups clapped with others. The mayor gave him the option to stay in the meeting and keep his hands silent or leave. He said nothing in response.
“By your silence, I see you are choosing to be escorted out,” said Nelson.
Two Amarillo police officers pulled up Billups from his seat and removed him from the meeting.
"My understanding was they were going to take me to the door and let me go,” said Billups.
Instead, he was arrested for disrupting a meeting and sent to jail for what he said is expressing his right to free speech.
"I never show up anywhere specifically to get arrested,” said Kip. “I showed up as a patriot and a veteran and as a citizen to express my first amendment rights."
He said he was not being intentionally disruptive, just showing his support for a speaker.
"I can't see how that would cause an environment that would make someone uncomfortable,” he said.
Amarillo attorney Ryan Brown is representing Billups pro bono.
"I've never heard of anything like this. It's pretty outrageous,” said Brown. "She can't allow clapping in some instances and ban it in others."
The city said while the written rules of decorum for city council meetings do not specifically ban clapping, the mayor can set the rules at the start of each meeting.
"She can have her policy, but it's not enforceable. It's illegal,” said Brown.
Now, the courts will decide this clapping controversy.
ABC 7 News reached out to Mayor Ginger Nelson for comment. She was not available.
You can view the full city council meeting where Billups was arrested here.