(CN) – The 8th Circuit has reinstated a Springfield, Mo., ordinance allowing police officers to jail a mother for berating them as they arrested her son outside her home.
The ordinance banned people from resisting or obstructing a city officer during an arrest.
A three-judge panel ruled that the code did not violate Robin McDermott’s free-speech rights, pointing out that “the terms used in the ordinance — ‘obstruct’ and ‘resist’ — cover only physical acts or fighting words and do not give officers unfettered discretion to make arrests for mere words that annoy them.”
The appeals court overturned a federal judge’s decision striking down the ordinance as unconstitutional and blocking its enforcement.
Springfield officers arrested McDermott in 1998 for yelling profanities at them from her front porch while they charged her son, Morgan Smith, with drunk driving.
McDermott sued, claiming the ordinance violated her free-speech rights. She claimed that when she yelled at the police she was roughly 30 feet away and did not physically obstruct the police.
“The police informed McDermott that if she did not quiet down and go back inside her residence, she would be arrested and taken to jail,” the court wrote in an earlier opinion allowing the case to move forward. “When McDermott refused to relent, the police made good on their threat.”
The city argued that McDermott’s profanity-fuelled tirade, during which she called an officer an “asshole,” distracted a police dog that was searching the son’s truck for drugs.
But the lower court ruled for McDermott and awarded her $25,000, finding that the city “had not limited its ‘obstruction code’ to fighting words or physical obstruction.”
The 8th Circuit reversed and remanded, ruling that the ordinance is not overbroad.
The circuit court found the ordinance distinguishable from the Supreme Court’s ruling in City of Houston v. Hill, which found a similar Houston ordinance unconstitutional “because it prohibited ‘verbal interruptions’ of officers — speech that could not be criminalized — and was not limited to fighting words or even to obscene or opprobrious language.'”
On his blog, Pro Libertate, William Grigg wrote: “Robin’s ‘resistance’ or ‘obstruction’ consisted of heckling a knot of self-important armed bureaucrats who were acting as petty tyrants by seeking a pretext to expand their DUI-related search.”
“I wasn’t cordial enough for their tastes when they invaded my property,” McDermott told him in late 2009.