Man Sues City After Arrest For Dropping F-Bombs In A Local Restaurant
from the an-expensive-show-of-force dept
Just because something offends a person (or someone is offended on behalf of someone else — more on that in a moment) doesn’t mean it’s illegal. And just because you’re eating a meal in full uniform doesn’t mean you can use your law enforcement powers to magically turn non-criminal acts into criminal ones. (via Legal Juice)
Tye Trujillo was arrested at IHOP, 3546 E. Main St. in Farmington [New Mexico], by three Farmington police officers after allegedly saying the word “F—” several times shortly before midnight on June 11, 2013, according to an arrest report.
The officers — Dennis Ronk, Albert Boognl and Tamara Smith — were eating dinner at the restaurant in full uniform when the offensive language was used, the report states.
Trujillo, 32, was at the restaurant with several friends. A family with three small children were seated near them, the report states.
According to the report, Ronk approached the men and told them that if they said the word one more time, he would arrest them.
Trujillo allegedly used the word again and Ronk followed through on his threat, the report states.
Trujillo was cited for disorderly conduct and was found guilty of violating city code in Farmington Municipal Court on April 10.
Not noted in the coverage of the story, but included in the complaint [pdf link] is this bit of information that indicates the officer wasn’t personally offended, but was acting on behalf of someone he assumed to be offended. From the arrest report:
I noticed a young couple sitting at a table directly behind the male subject’s and there was a family of three small children (approximately 3 to 8 years of age) and two adults sitting near my location.
Officer Ronk tried to gather more
damning darning incriminating evidence to back up his “you must be offended” arrest, but the person he took offense on behalf of provided no help.
After placing Plaintiff into cuffs, Officer Ronk contacted a family, which included young children, who was also patronizing the restaurant at this time and sitting near Plaintiff’s table. One of the female adults at the table told Officer Ronk that she could hear the males using the “f word” but she kept the children busy and did not wish to provide information or get involved in the matter.
And why would she? Presumably she knew that loud swearing in public is something that happens from time to time and, at worst, reflects negatively on the person doing it, but is not actually a criminal act. Officer Ronk painted himself into a corner by issuing a “direct order” (no, really — that’s what it says in the arrest report) to Trujillo to stop saying “Fuck” and backing it up with the threat of an arrest. Trujillo called his bluff, leaving him no choice but to follow through.
Of course, the charges didn’t stick. The judge acquitted the plaintiff of the charges because saying the word “fuck” in a public space — even a public space containing children “approximately 3 to 8 years of age” — does not rise to the level of “disorderly conduct.” The Farmington city code states that disorderly conduct (in terms of speech) must be:
“…obscene, indecent, profane challenging or other words which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction in an average person.”
Seeing as the mother’s immediate reaction was to distract her children rather than punch Trujillo in his foul mouth, it stands to reason that the “average person” would not be “provoked into an immediate violent reaction” by the indiscriminate use of profanity. (On the other hand, directed profanities can provoke “immediate violent reactions” in some police officers, so be aware of that when combining the two.)
Because Officer Ronk couldn’t resist the urge to make a public space “safe” for someone else’s kids, the City of Farmington will likely be handing over a settlement to Trujillo in the near future. And once it does, constituents will be left holding the tab for a very expensive “fuck” they neither asked for nor enjoyed.