Cop Justified in Arrest of Panhandling Fireman

     CHICAGO (CN) – A former fireman who was arrested while using a big rubber boot to solicit charitable donations cannot sue the police, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Officer Dennis Mushol with the Chicago Police Department first encountered John Tebbens in October 2005 as Tebbens stood at a busy intersection soliciting donations for his charity, Helping Children of Abuse.
     Mushol says Tebbens was using a fireman’s black boot as a collection container and proffered a firefighter’s identification card when Mushol began questioning him.
     Unable to confirm that Tebbens was a fireman injured in the line of duty, as he allegedly claimed, Mushol recorded all the information to further investigate. The Office of Emergency Management Communications allegedly told Mushol later that it appeared that Tebbens had been fired and that Tebbens was not permitted to carry an active firefighter identification card.
     Tebbens on the other hand claimed that his card was a souvenir and that Mushol misinterpreted it as an ID card.
     When Mushol saw Tebbens again seven months later, he made an arrest, and Tebbens was charged with theft of a firefighter’s ID card. Tebbens agreed to a supervision order that prohibited him from holding himself out as a city firefighter and collecting donations with a fireman’s boot.
     A year later, Mushol again saw Tebbens on the street asking for donations with a boot similar to a fireman’s boot. Mushol arrested him for violating the court’s supervision order and charged Tebbens with false impersonation of a firefighter and possession of a fictitious license.
     After all the charges were dropped, Tebbens sued Mushol and Chicago for false arrest.
     A federal judge granted the defendants summary judgment, however, after finding that Mushol had probable cause to make the arrest.
     The 7th Circuit affirmed Thursday.
     Illinois law does not cover Mushol’s actions for violations of supervision orders, but the Fourth Amendment permits officers to make arrests “when they have probable cause to believe that an individual has committed or is committing an act which constitutes an offense under state law, regardless of whether state law authorizes an arrest for that particular offense,” according to the 27-page ruling (italics in original).
     “Determining whether probable cause existed involved the interpretation of Mr. Tebbens’s supervision order,” Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote for a three-member panel. “The order stated that Mr. Tebbens was prohibited from ‘hold[ing] himself out’ as a member of the CFD [Chicago Fire Department] and soliciting ‘in the name of’ the CFD. Officer Mushol interpreted this to mean that Mr. Tebbens was not permitted to solicit donations ‘in any[ ]way with any type of equipment that might resemble or lead people to believe that he might be a firefighter.’ We believe that Officer Mushol’s interpretation is not unreasonable under the circumstances.”

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