New York Settles Case Of The Arrest Of Two Protesters For Insulting Police

215px-NypdpatchNew York city has reportedly agreed to pay two Occupy Wall Street protesters $52,000 for their arrest in 2013 after flipping off two New York City police officers on a Queens subway train. The arrests of Nicholas Thommen, 21, and Channing Creage, 26, clearly violated the first amendment and lacked probable cause of any crime. The question is not the settlement but, again, the absence of any indication of discipline of these officers for knowingly violating the constitutional rights of citizens.

Few people are sympathetic with these two men who also allegedly shouted that all police are “f—— rapists.” However, they were arrested for disorderly conduct for insulting police, which is well established as not a basis for such a charge.

My concern is that officers can knowingly arrest people on invalid grounds just to punish them — forcing them to go to jail, be charged, and secure lawyers. It can easily cost thousands of dollars and even cost people their jobs. Yet, when these stories of settlements come out, there is rarely any mention of the firing or disciplining of the officers involved. The City simply said that the settlement was in the best interest of the city. What is in the best interest of the city is some level of deterrent for officers conducting clearly invalid arrests that violate free speech rights of citizens.

I find what these men allegedly said to be deeply offensive. While I have both sued and defended law enforcement officers, I have never lost a deep sense of appreciation for what they do every day for all of us. However, the use of police powers to punish critics or chill free speech is something that no free society can tolerate.

What do you think?

35 thoughts on “New York Settles Case Of The Arrest Of Two Protesters For Insulting Police”

  1. Issac writes, “There has to be some level of respect afforded to the police. . . .”

    I don’t want Pleasantville.

    Police should get the respect that any person gets, nothing more and nothing less. Police are just employees of the city or county, and it’s time they’re recognized in this light rather than selective enforcers. They’re not the arbiters of free speech, and unlawful detention is a BIG DEAL.

  2. “If these cops lack the maturity and professionalism to handle seeing a middle finger without reacting like schoolyard bullies, perhaps we’d be better off if they applied their education and skill set somewhere else besides law enforcement.”

    Well said, Fiver. They’re the ones trained to keep their cool and defuse situations instead of escalate them. They abused the power of their office and should lose their positions for it. We have more than enough civilian thugs, we don’t need ones wearing blue uniforms too.

  3. PS: You state: “knowingly violating the constitutional rights of citizens.” Well, I’m not convinced the average cop even knows what the hell those rights are. The charge of “disorderly conduct” seems to give cops the right to arrest anyone they do not like. Period. And, as you note, perhaps rarely are cops ever punished for arresting people on such a nebulous charge. What can be done about this, besides mere expression of “concern,” you fail to mention.

  4. Okay boys and girls, it seems as if a little example might be in order.

    Why is it illegal to shout, in a crowded theater, FIRE, when no such fire exists? Why isn’t that considered free speech and given the appropriate protections afforded said speech? Why? It’s really quite simple. Because the word is both false AND dangerous due to the existing conditions at the time that it was uttered. False, because there was no fire at the time of the declaration, and dangerous, because the ensuing panic in a crowded, enclosed place could, potentially, yield to injuries or deaths. It is well-established that there is no freedom of speech in that instance.

    Now, compare it to the situation where the Occupy Wall Street creatures–in an enclosed and, presumably, crowded subway car, with no means of escape and hurtling down the tracks–begin to scream and yell that the police onboard are f’ing rapists. Do the people stuck in that train, who are easily comparable to those stuck in a movie theater, know that those wild accusations are false? That they, the passengers, are, in fact, not in danger, as proclaimed by the two lunatics? Why place the burden to discern the legitimacy of the pronouncements upon the passengers? No such burden to do so is placed upon those in the crowded movie theater, where they are not expected to ferret out the truth of the declaration about a fire. Why assume that the passengers on that enclosed subway car are in any greater position to discern a false alarm than those situated in a movie theater? In BOTH situations, the accusations are blatantly false and potentially dangerous. Why is no one, especially JT, even mentioning that? Because it’s too much fun to bash the police? Unbelievable. A legal blog and no one even dares to raise the POSSIBILITY that there was no freedom of speech due to public safety issues. In my opinion, constantly assuming that the police must always be in the wrong, that they always act outside of the scope of their authority and that we, as a society, should crucify those with the unenviable job of maintaining a state of calm instead of chaos and anarchy, are, in fact, the true threat to our precious and tenuous freedoms.

  5. Good point made on cops punishing people they don’t like! That happened to me at Walden Pond in Concord, MA. I had a non-violent verbal dispute there with a park ranger. Then I left the park. Soon a cop pulled me over on the highway. The ranger had called him. Angry, I cussed aloud, though not at the cop. “Go ahead, arrest me! I didn’t do anything wrong!” I said. So, he then put cuffs on me, took my little recording device, saying I didn’t have a right to record him, then had my car towed, and put me in a Concord jail cell for the day after reading my Miranda rights. In his arrest report, he lied that I had been disturbing some onlookers. Well, there were no onlookers at all! Besides, is verbal disturbance of onlookers a crime? Of course, the cop knew he had to somehow justify what he’d done to me. Several months later, I went to court. The public prosecutor wanted me in jail and fined. The cop was in the audience, getting time and a half salary! Well, at least, the judge had the good sense to dismiss the case, arguing the court had better things to do, though she did not have the good sense to wonder why I’d been arrested and incarcerated, why the prosecutor wanted me in jail and fined, and why I was punished by the cop ($100 towing fee).

    Most citizens do not really know what their rights are. Most colleges do not even teach courses on basic citizen rights. But the real, the biggest problem by far, is the evident gulf separating de jura and de facto citizen rights…

    G. Tod Slone,
    Founding Editor (1998)
    The American Dissident, a 501c3 Nonprofit Journal of Literature, Democracy, and Dissidence
    217 Commerce Rd.
    Barnstable, MA 02630

  6. This, again, is where reality meets ideology. The two who were arrested, perhaps, disturbed the peace by initiating an altercation between themselves and the police. There has to be some level of respect afforded to the police. Where that level is to be found is the question. Absolute adherence to a quasi religious document without taking the circumstance into play is almost as dangerous as the police over reacting.

    Perhaps, there should have been a fine for a very low level infraction based on profanity, disrespect, disturbing the peace, etc. Tickets could have been issued and they would have stood as a history of who these brave citizens were. The US is not that evolved socially nor is it at a level of peace with itself to be able to afford its citizens the freedom to yell profanities or fire other gestures at the police, those that are there to protect them.

    It’s good that this is in discussion, however, there can be nothing that should be left to a sacred document without being discussed first.

  7. Where is the limit on free speech?

    How about: “ukFay you honky!”
    -“Your mom is a untCay you jerkoff!”
    -“Go back to Long Island!”
    -“Dead cops lives don’t matter!”
    -“Can I sell you a joint?”
    -“Hotsie, Totsie, I smell a Nazi.”

  8. The First Amendment is under attack in this country. This is just one small example. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president is on record favoring an amendment to restrict First Amendment rights. Students are punished for violating speech codes at universities, so many of which have tiny “free speech zones” on campus. There is a disgusting video of Yale students signing a petition for an amendment to repeal the First Amendment. Lois Lerner used her position at the IRS to muzzle many of the president’s political opponents. It’s hopeless.

  9. “…the absence of any indication of discipline of these officers for knowingly violating the constitutional rights of citizens.”

    JT, just because YOU haven’t seen any indication of discipline does not mean some form of discipline wasn’t administered. As you noted, the Police typically do a remarkable job. I’m surprised these two nincompoops didn’t accidentally hit there head getting into the squad car. Darn it.

  10. Each sets its own spin on it. The victims were wrong but not illegal. The cops were right, but not legal.

  11. The taste of boot leather seems quite popular here this morning.

    If these cops lack the maturity and professionalism to handle seeing a middle finger without reacting like schoolyard bullies, perhaps we’d be better off if they applied their education and skill set somewhere else besides law enforcement.

    We pay law enforcement far better in salary and benefits than mall security, bar bouncers, or street thugs. We deserve better; we’re paying for it. Maybe we should at least try to get our money’s worth (and save the money we pay out for the damage bad cops cause) by firing clowns like this and hiring some smart, brave, educated, professional people to do the job.

    Most folks would get rather peeved paying for steak and getting baloney. Others are so enamored of the uniform the baloney is wearing they’ll swear it’s steak no matter what.

  12. Why not an arrest for using profane language in public? Many cities have statutes prohibiting obscene utterances in public. When I lived in Cincinnati, a husband and wife got into an argument in a restaurant and used the “f” word and other obscenities. Both were arrested. BTW, if I can get $52,000 for saying a dirty word to an NYC police officer, it sounds like a great deal.

  13. Years ago…a police officer arrested a man for epithets of foul order. At court the judge reprimanded the officer as the man exercised his free speech. On his way out of the court the officer, who had been chastised, flipped the bird at the judge. Contempt of court.

    I thought the manner of the judge’s behavior was contemptible. Now what about this free speech issue?

  14. Just give them $52,000 worth of delousing powder. It may not be enough, but it’s a start.

  15. Oh, yeah, and, as per JT, why didn’t the police officers lose their jobs? No mention of firing the police officers involved! For shame!

  16. Let’s see if I can set the scene–picture this–a hot, crowded subway train, and two demented and stinky Occupy Wall street loons–fresh from an area containing disease-ridden, unsanitary and filthy tents, which has been plagued by numerous reports of rapes being committed by the infamous peaceful, justice-loving protesters, themselves–scream, like howler monkeys, while on that subway car, that the police, on that very train, are f’ing rapists, thereby confusing and frightening passengers–who have no clue that said accusations are false–into believing that they are trapped, in a moving and locked subway car, with dangerous rapists. What could possibly go wrong here, right? Result? Why, the two demented loons are the victims, of course, entitled to an apology for their subsequent arrests and deserving of restitution for their perceived Constitutional violations. Yeah. Seems about right for New York City. Carry on.

  17. “A fine would have been just, but no more.” No, it would have been as unjust as any other punishment. Do you not understand that the Constitution, the highest law in the land, protects not just speech that is agreeable to you but also offends or upsets you? That is the whole point of the First Amendment.

  18. ” The use of police powers to punish critics or chill free speech is something that no free society can tolerate. “

    The US is not a free society JT, something that you have not noticed.

  19. They insulted a police officer, using foul language. I don’t think it would indicate any mover toward fascism to require a citizen to refrain from such manners in addressing a police officer. A fine would have been just, but no more.

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