A 46-year-old man who held up a sign containing racist images as a black Los Angeles City Council member presided over a meeting has escaped prosecution, with officials calling the controversy a free speech issue.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles announced Thursday they won’t prosecute Wayne Spindler for holding up a card with the image of what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan member holding up a sign“Herb=(N-word)” as  City Council President Herb Wesson​ presided over a meeting, reports said Thursday.

Police in Los Angeles arrested Spindler, who is white, May 11, two days after the incident, charging him with issuing a criminal threat against Wesson, the first black president of the City Council. 

District Attorney Jackie Lacey, however, decided not to prosecute Spindler, who had long been known as an adversary of the Los Angeles City Council because of Spindler's First Amendment rights and the “unusual facts” in the case, according to a statement from her office, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

“After much legal analysis and careful consideration, the known evidence appears insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Spindler crossed the sometimes nebulous line between constitutionally protected speech and punishable ‘true threat,’” said the statement.

Other drawings on the card included a burning cross and a man hanging from a tree, which are both images widely associated with the klan.

After his arrest, city lawyers issued a restraining order preventing Spindler from going anywhere near Wesson’s home, vehicle or office, and labeled his actions a hate crime. Wesson viewed the card as a threat to him and his family because it embodied a dangerous viewpoint from an era when black Americans were violently targeted.  RTX1GE6N Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrates with City Council members Herb Wesson, Nury Martinez, and Mike Bonin after he signed an ordinance raising the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 from the current $9 in Los Angeles, June 13, 2015. Photo: Reuters

Spindler welcomed Lacey’s decision. He said his drawings were not racist, that he merely was trying to depict the ways in which political corruption was ruining the city. He said his sketch of the man hanging from a tree represented Water and Power customers after a hike in prices. 

The U.S. has seen a significant rise in hate crimes since the presidential election in November, with 1,094 reported Nov. 9-Dec. 12, the Southern Law Center reported Dec. 16.