Arrest for Mouthing Off May Cost U.S. Park Police
(CN) - Federal park officers who arrested an Occupy D.C. activist for swearing in a public park must face civil rights claims for damages, a federal judge ruled.
The complaint alleges that Anthony Michael Patterson had been protesting with Occupy D.C. in McPherson Square on Jan. 8, 2012, when three teenagers entered the park carrying signs that supported the Tea Party Movement.
Patterson said he then looked into the sky and declared, "Ah, this is fucking bullshit."
Although the statement was "not directed at anyone in particular," and was made at a "normal conversational volume" without any threat of violence, several officers with the U.S. Park Police approached him seconds later, according to the complaint.
Patterson allegedly asked, "I can't say fuck?" and was given a second warning, to which he react: "That's fucking bullshit."
Sgt. Todd Reid then ordered Officers Jennifer Lemke and Matthew Cooney to arrest Patterson for disorderly conduct, according to the complaint.
At the police station, the sergeant allegedly said: "Mr. Patterson, you are right. Profanity is protected under freedom of speech. But when you use profanity it causes a hostile environment for the police."
After the government dropped disorderly the charges a month later, Patterson sued three officers and the U.S. government.
Officer Lemke contended that Patterson yelled "fuck white people" and shouted "fuck" several times even after Sgt. Reid told him to stop.
Patterson nevertheless denied having yelled "fuck white people."
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson refused to toss the claims against the individual defendants.
No officer would reasonably find cause to arrest Patterson for disorderly conduct, and there is no proof that his speech incited violence to justify his arrest for disorderly conduct, according to the ruling.
"The complaint alleges that the Tea Party supporters did not react to Patterson's statements at all, and certainly not in any way that would cause a reasonable officer to conclude that there was any real threat of a violent reaction," Jackson wrote.