Cop Abuses Bad Cyberbullying Law To Arrest Man For Calling Him A Pedophile To His Face

from the wrap-your-mind-around-that-for-a-bit dept

Legislators like pushing cyberbullying/cyberharassment bills, but seldom seem to consider how their badly/broadly-written laws will be abused. Like many legislators pushing cyber legislation, New Jersey politician David Norcross just wanted to help the children.

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) said the bill is tailored specifically to protect children, closing a loophole in state law that prevents people from being criminally prosecuted for online harassment of minors.

“There have been cases of cyber harassment across the country that have taken a tragic turn, and ended in the loss of life,” Norcross, who co-sponsored the bill with state Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson), said. “We have to make sure that our state laws reflect the reality that children are being harassed and bullied every day on the Internet. That means making sure those who engage in this conduct can be held accountable under the law.”

The bill would ban people from using electronic devices and social media to threaten to injure or commit any crime against a person or his property, or send obscene material to or about someone.

So much for the “specific tailoring.” Norcross wanted to protect kids from bullies, but instead it’s “protecting” a cop from a local man with a long history of colorful speech and law enforcement interactions.

They’ve busted him for smoking pot, running a business past curfew, and not keeping his restaurant’s kitchen clean enough.

On Friday, however, it was Ed Forchion’s mouth that got him slapped in handcuffs, freedom of speech notwithstanding.

Days after Forchion stood outside his eatery and pot temple shouting “f— the police!” and calling one of the police officers a “pedophile,” NJ Weedman was charged with cyber-harassment and disorderly conduct.

The cyber-harassment charge, according to a copy of the complaint filed by Officer Herbert Flowers, was based on a Facebook and YouTube video of the confrontation in which Forchion is heard telling Flowers he’s a pedophile, while the disorderly conduct was for Forchion’s F-bombs against police “in public and social media forum.”

F-bombs are protected speech, so even the “disorderly conduct” charge is largely baseless. But the use of the cyberharassment law — which carries a possible penalty of 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine — is completely ridiculous. If Forchion committed no crime by calling Officer Flowers a pedophile in person, no crime was committed simply because this confrontation was recorded (by a third party) and posted to YouTube (also, apparently by a third party).

This is simply a bad law being abused because that’s what bad laws — no matter how well-intentioned — allow people like Officer Flowers to do.

Officer Herbert Flowers has a history of subjectively interpreting Constitutional rights. He may have been upset by Forchion’s F-bombs, but that doesn’t explain his decision to punish Forchion for using his First Amendment rights. But Flowers has been down this road before.

Here’s the conclusion reached by the New Jersey Appeals Court, at the tail end of a six-year legal battle.

[W]e conclude that a reasonable police officer in 2006 could not have believed he had the absolute right to preclude Ramos from videotaping any gang activities or any interaction of the police with gang members for the purposes of making a documentary film on that topic.

The unreasonable police officer was none other than Herbert Flowers.

Ramos is a documentary filmmaker. In 2006, he was working on a project about the emergence of gangs in Trenton. Flowers is a police officer employed by the Trenton Police Department. Ramos contends that he had five encounters with the Trenton Police during the time he was filming the activities of various members of the “Sex Money Murder” Bloods sect, one of the largest Bloods gang units in Trenton. Three of the encounters involved Flowers. He alleges that Flowers’ actions during those three encounters interfered with his constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, as well as his right to be free from unlawful police search and seizure.

One of those encounters:

On July 6, 2006, the Trenton police responded to a call from the Trenton Public Library to investigate a meeting being held by known gang members on its premises. One of Ramos’s sources gave him a tip that he should go to the library to film the events as they unfolded. Once Ramos arrived at the library, Flowers told him he was interfering with a police investigation, adding: “I am sick of you already, I am sick of seeing you, I do not want to hear you anymore, you are not allowed here anymore.” Ramos asserts that Flowers grabbed his video camera and put it in his car. Flowers then told Ramos: “If I see you again … I am locking you up and I don’t care what for … you better not let me see you again … watch what happens.”

The filmmaker was charged with multiple violations after his arrest by Flowers. Only one charge stuck (obstructing a sidewalk), which was downgraded to a mere city ordinance violation.

Flowers is using a badly-written law meant to close statutory loopholes that prevented adults from being charged for harassing minors via social media to punish an adult for saying mean things to him to his face. Because Flowers didn’t arrest Forchion on the spot, this means he had to go looking for “evidence” of Forchion’s supposed “cyberharassment,” which the officer somehow feels is a better statutory match for verbal abuse he experienced in person. Sure, Flowers could try to sue Forchion for defamation, but that takes time and Flowers’ own cash. Flowers would rather have taxpayers finance his vendetta and see Flowers face a possible $10,000 fine and a stretch in jail than walk away from the disorderly conduct charge he likely won’t be able to make stick.

This is why we warn against the unintended consequences of laws like these. It’s not because we don’t care about bullied kids. It’s because adults — especially those in positions of power — will abuse them to stifle speech. Rather than simply ignore the personal attack, Flowers chose to treat it as a criminal offense. The end result is that Forchion, a.k.a. “NJ Weedman” — a person who runs a “pot temple” he apparently feels is beyond the reach of state regulation — is now the least ridiculous participant in this confrontation.

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Comments on “Cop Abuses Bad Cyberbullying Law To Arrest Man For Calling Him A Pedophile To His Face”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I have big problems with this. Just because someone posts a video online of you engaging in some behavior doesn’t make it a cybercrime, such as cyberbullying.

Before something can be considered cyberbullying, you must personally post something online, harassing another person, such as a posted comment or remark. Posting a video is not cyberbullying.

Additionally, you cannot be charged for cyberbullying if someone else posts it, of which you have no knowledge of it being posted at the time it was posted. Sounds like overstepping by the authorities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Can we just stop this?

The officer is NOT abusing the fucking law! The law was written this way ON PURPOSE! This is how politicians work boys and girls. They get your stupid asses to vote for them, then tell you a sob story about protecting the kids and write the laws so that they can fuck YOU up!

The officer is doing his job and quite well from the the looks of it. If those folks really did not like it they would find a way to get rid of the officer.

I think I am very far past the point of all of this, people are stupid and we keep voting in people that keep stabbing us in the damn back with these laws! We know it, they know, and no one is doing anything about it!

Except you folks writing the Articles here at TD. We now have the Trump vs Hillary campaigns from the looks of it and neither of those assholes give a fuck about citizens, liberties, or rights and completely support the Police State.

Its going to be fun to sit and watch all of those Black Lives Matter folks vote in the very people that are okay with killing them!

Good Times, call me when the cockroaches are the dominant species… o wait they already are, we just call most of them humans right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You fail to get anything that post said.

This is the problem with most people, pure ignorance. It will not be abuse until the politicians that created that law come down on the officer(s) abusing it in this fashion or until the people vote that asshole out and put someone in that will change it. If the officer uses the law to arrest and the DA uses it to prosecute and the Judge allows the case then guess what asshole? It’s not abuse but design!

Manufacturers of weapons did design firearms to kill, easily in fact, however they will openly say that they intend the use of the weapon to be in self defense and will take actions and spend money to promote that within the limits of their abilities. The politicians that crafted and voted for this piece of shit law have the power to remedy the abuse but do not.

Just another child on the internet not getting it… AT ALL!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Since you can’t read, let’s get the relevant quote again shall we:

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) said the bill is tailored specifically to protect children, closing a loophole in state law that prevents people from being criminally prosecuted for online harassment of minors.

Since this specific officer is not a minor, he IS ABUSING the law. End of story.

It really shows how stupidity comes in many forms. your post has demonstrated this admirably. This officer has no clue other than he is “the boss” and will go out of his way to show everyone that he is :the boss”.

You are obviously a “bush” lawyer.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Well it is nice that they keep this officer employed to show them the downside of the bills they pass, when put into the hands of those who will find ways to use them to exercise control over others.

What are a few settlements paid out of the coffers on behalf on an officer abusing laws to have super powers, when we can have an example of unchecked power to refer to.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Oh my stars!

Bullying seems to be quite a lot like pornography these days. Certain people think it’s better restricted by the government than parents, is somehow worse when online, and they have a hell of a time describing what does or doesn’t constitute it. But they still “know it when they see it” and are more than willing to try fixing a problem they don’t understand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Get The First Amendment Right

Not sure who did.

Perhaps there might be a system for determining whether slander occurred and then deal with it in a civil manner, we could call it something like “civil court” where things that are not criminal in nature are given review … nahhh, that would never work.

Seegras (profile) says:

falsifying facts because of puritanism

This is what the article on NJ 105 writes:
shouting “f— the police!”
It’s obviously false, their reporting is lying, because the man was actually shouting “fuck the police”.

Since when is it okay to falsify your reports in order to satisfy some puritan moral standards about what kind of words you should use?

Of course you can censor yourself and say “f- the police”, but it’s entirely different when you’re reporting about something. Because then you’re simply lying.

The video has been tampered with as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s funny how so many of these “anti-discomfort” laws, from the physical (anti-stalking laws) to the internet (cyber-bullying laws) to the various privacy laws, all eventually end up being used to “protect” government officials from people they judge annoying (or worse, a detriment to their careers).

The main problem is that the more laws that are on the books (however well-intentioned) the more weapons that are available to punish people who dare to challenge government authority. We need laws against legal authorities who misuse laws to target people who are only exercising their rights as free citizens.

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