You Are What You Wear: Missouri Police Arrest Man for Wearing Police Tee Shirt in Bar

193586052Adam C. Weinstein, a firefighter, may want to go with a a simple NYFD tee shirt next time. Weinstein was outside a bar in 2006 when he felt hot, so he took off his sweater. Underneath was a tee shirt with “POLICE” on the back. A Belleville, Missouri Police officer Jeff Vernatti arrested Weinstein for impersonating a police officer. Weinstein is now suing.

Fashion Carabinieri Vernatti demanded to see Weinstein’s police credentials. He says that when he told the officer that he had no such credentials, Vernatti became physically and verbally abusive. While he was later released after his arrest, the officer made him take the tee shirt off and given a ticket — the ticket was later dismissed.

It is not clear what Vernatti does when the Band Police comes to town with their tee shirts.5oct50

Weinstein bought two shirts for himself and his wife from a uniform store in St. Louis while buying supplies for firefighting.

This is not Vernatti’s first appearance as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. In 2005, he and the city were sued for allegedly tasering a man — a lawsuit that was settled by the city.

Putting aside Vernatti lack of appreciation for the first amendment, it would appear that he has some other issues that raise questions of his fitness. For a small city, this litigation must be pretty costly — far more expensive than an enhanced selection and training program for officers.

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10 thoughts on “You Are What You Wear: Missouri Police Arrest Man for Wearing Police Tee Shirt in Bar”

  1. Just a small clarification… Belleville is a city in southwest illinois, not missouri.

  2. OK then – thanks for that info, Michael. It does sound like Vernatti behaved badly and should be sternly reprimanded.

  3. The applicable statute in Missouri:

    It’s MRS 575.120. 1, “false impersonation.” It criminalizes falsely representing oneself “to be a public servant with purpose to induce another to submit to his or her pretended official authority or to rely upon his or her pretended official acts.”

    You have to not only dress like a cop to break the law, you have to ACT like one too.

  4. waynebro,

    I’m no expert on the matter either, and I believe the laws in question are all local and vary in detail from state to state. I was merely pointing out that the issue wasn’t quite as clear cut as it made out to be.

  5. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means but I’m fairly confident in saying that to be guilty of impersonating a police officer there would have to be a visible intent to deceive a victim in order to commit some sort of crime or influence some sort of authority or intimidation over the victim. People dress as police officers all the time for various reasons. Strippers, costume parties, actors, etc and it is not considered a crime because there is no intent to deceive and coerce for gain. This guy was simply wearing a tee shirt.

  6. No Jonalan I disagree.

    He wasn’t impersonating a police officer. He was wearing a T-Shirt that said “Police” on it. Those shirts are sold everywhere. In fact, just walk along the DC Mall on any given summer afternoon and you can buy all sorts of stuff from the “Van Vendors” that say police, FBI, etc on it.

    You can buy hats, shirts, jackets, sweat pants, etc, all that say police or FBI, etc on them.

    If it were a crime you’d think at least one of the myriad of law enforcement agencies patrolling the mall grounds would have at least “said something” to one of the hundreds of vendors selling such merchandise on the side of the street.

  7. This case is not quite as clear cut as it is being presented as being. The shirt in question seems to have been a proper uniform police shirt and some units are moving towards t-shirt as uniform wear at some times. Can you wear other parts of a police uniform legally? That’s an actual question, since I’m a little vague on this.

    The 1st Amendment does not grant the right to impersonate a police officer, therefor there is some room for questions about this incident.

  8. rafflaw:

    If the government (and people and corporations, in general) acted intelligently and compassionately we’d be out of a job!

  9. This is another amazing example of stupidity on the part of police. What do they think happened to the First Amendment? I know the Constitution has been battered under the Bush regime, but the last time I checked, the Frist Amendment hasn’t been rescinded. I had a similar situation in McHenry County, Illinois a few years ago. I referred the case of a teenager who had been wearing a T-shirt that the police did not like. They made the kid take the shirt off and hand it over to them under the fear of being arrested. Needless to say, more intelligent heads corrected the situation, but not without some initial support the police officer attempts. It would have saved the city so much money to just train the police officers a little better.

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