Woman arrested for swearing at police wins in court
4:51 pm, May 3rd, 2013
A judge dropped disorderly conduct charges against a woman arrested for cursing at police, according to Cynthia Counts, one of her defense attorneys.
Counts called the decision by Cobb County State Court Judge Melodie Clayton a “First Amendment victory.” Counts delivered that news to the Daily Report in an email with this subject line: You can say “F— the police” without violating the law.”
According to Counts, Amy Barnes admits to making obscene statements Easter Sunday 2012, when she saw two Cobb County police officers questioning a burglary suspect about 7 p.m. on Austell Road. As she was riding by on her bicycle, Barnes said, among other things, “F— the police,” and “police suck,” Counts said, calling the statements “a protest of police abuse.”
“Upon hearing her statements, the officers left the suspect to pursue Ms. Barnes, who they stopped and arrested,” said Counts. The burglary suspect got away. Barnes was arrested and taken to jail, charged with one count of disorderly conduct under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-39(a)(4), which bars “without provocation” the use of “obscene and vulgar and profane language in the presence of a person under the age of 14 years which threatens an immediate breach of the peace.”
The police justified this charge by alleging that a child was present when Barnes made her statement, Counts said.
“After hearing testimony from two officers and viewing a video of the incident taken from a camera in one of the officer’s cars, the judge concluded that the officers simply took issue with what Barnes had said and were determined to arrest her,” Counts said.
Clayton also concluded that the alleged presence of the child was “inconclusive” and “irrelevant,” because, “the mere presence of children does not transform the defendant’s statements into ‘fighting words.’”
“Her criticism of the police was certainly caustic, but criticizing the police and other public officials is a basic right,” Counts said. “Certainly, the police cannot arrest someone for disrespecting them by the use of a curse word.”
Ken Hodges and Alex Bartko of Rafuse, Hill and Hodges also defended Barnes, saying her “First Amendment rights were clearly violated by the arrest and prosecution.”
Hodges, a former prosecutor, said, “It is a travesty that Ms. Barnes spent 23 hours in jail, including six hours in solitary confinement. She should also not have had to spend the last year awaiting vindication. The officers should have thicker skin. There was no reason to arrest a woman on a bicycle who presented no threat.”