For the white-topped, Dauber-clutching Bingo set, Austin Whaley, 18, was a notorious outlaw and brigand. During a game of Bingo in Covington, Kentucky, Whaley was arrested for the prank of calling out Bingo . . . and he was not even playing. Yes, thrill crimes had come to Covington and this roaming gang of youths left a room in shock and disgust. Fortunately, Park Hills Police Sgt. Richard Webster was present and arrested the Bingo Bandit. Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus then handed down a sentence that left the boy speechless, well partially speechless.
Whaley was charged with second-degree disorderly conduct for crying out Bingo. One could easily fashion a defense that yelling out such a word does not even fit disorderly conduct and was merely a joke. The law itself is written in an ambiguous fashion that characterizes this type of charge:
525.060 Disorderly conduct in the second degree.
(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct in the second degree when in a public place and with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or wantonly creating a risk thereof, he:
(a) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior;
(b) Makes unreasonable noise;
(c) Refuses to obey an official order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, hazard, or other emergency; or
(d) Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose.
Presumably, this fell under making “unreasonable noise” even though words are not generally construed as “noise.” I would hope that it is not creating an “hazardous or phyiscally offensive condition” among the Bingoists. I am not sure how bad the organized youth crime is in Covington, but I would have thought that a call to their parents would have sufficed in most cases. He is lucky he was not found in an alley covered in scooter tire marks and little red dots.
Yet, Whaley was either found guilty or pleaded guilty and Grothaus ordered Whaley not to say the word Bingo for six months.
I am afraid that I am unsure of the basis for the arrest. Webster was working security that night and seems to have a vague notion of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ decision in Schenck v. United States: “Just like you can’t run into a theater and yell ‘fire’ when it’s not on fire, you can’t run into a crowded bingo hall and yell ‘bingo’ when there isn’t one.”
I supposed yelling Bingo in a room of geriatrics in a hall can be analogized but generally does not produce stampeding deaths or public panic. Beyond a case of vapors or swearing about “kids today,” it is a fairly harmless prank that even Webster admitted only delayed the game by a couple minutes.
As for Grothaus’ sentence, it is another case of a novel sentencing, though it is harmless in comparison to some that we have discussed. I have previously written about the dangers of such “novel” sentencing in judges using their courtrooms for entertainment or self-aggrandizement. In this case, Grothaus’s ability to banish words from the lexicon of citizens is doubtful, but I doubt any one will object.