“Outraging Public Decency”: Australian Convicted After Filming And Mocking Dying Officers In Crash

Supporting free speech is often a difficult task that demands defending the most despised individuals or offensive views in our society. That is certainly the case with Richard Pusey, 42, who became a widely hated figure after he filmed and mocked police officers who were dead or dying on the road after a crash. Pusey has been convicted of the crime of “outraging public decency,” an ambiguous crime that would allow the broad criminalizing of speech. Police officers Lynette Taylor, Glen Humphris, Kevin King and Joshua Prestney lost their lives in the accident.

According the the BBC, police pulled over Pusey, a mortgage broker, in April 2020 for driving his Porsche at 93 miles per hour on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway. When Pusey was urinating behind some bushes, the waiting officers were struck by a truck in an emergency stopping lane.  He then proceeded to take out his phone to film the dying officers and mock them.  Pusey let loose a string of profanity-laden taunts while saying things like “he’s smashed,” “justice,” “absolutely amazing” and “beautiful.” He added “I think everyone got cleaned up” and I guess I’ll be getting a … Uber home, huh.”

The videotape is disgusting and, like most people, I was furious after watching it. The female officer pinned under the truck is believed to have been alive while Pusey celebrated. When a bystander ran up to render aid and asked for Pusey to help, he just said “They’re dead,” and continued filming.

The fact, however, that Pusey did nothing directly to harm the officers. His speech was obnoxious and disgraceful but it was ultimately speech.

In the United States, Pusey would have been protected from criminal charge. Indeed, he would likely be protected from tort liability. Indeed, the leading case in the area involved the failure to render aid.

In the United States, the no duty rule was the basis for the famous ruling in Yania v. Bigan, 397 Pa. 316, 155 A.2d 343 (1959) where a man watched another man drown without taking any efforts to assist him. Even though Bigan dared Yania to jump into the hole full of water, the court found that this made no difference since these taunts were “directed to an adult in full possession of all his mental faculties constitutes actionable negligence is not only without precedent but completely without merit.” On the rule itself, the Court wrote:

Lastly, it is urged that Bigan failed to take the necessary steps to rescue Yania from the water. The mere fact that Bigan saw Yania in a position of peril in the water imposed upon him no legal, although a moral, obligation or duty to go to his rescue unless Bigan was legally responsible, in whole or in part, for placing Yania in the perilous position: Restatement, Torts, § 314. Cf: Restatement, Torts, § 322. The language of this Court in Brown v. French, 104 Pa. 604, 607, 608, is apt: “If it appeared that the deceased, by his own carelessness, contributed in any degree to the accident which caused the loss of his life, the defendants ought not to have been held to answer for the consequences resulting from that accident. … He voluntarily placed himself in the way of danger, and his death was the result of his own act. … That his undertaking was an exceedingly reckless and dangerous one, the event proves, but there was no one to blame for it but himself. He had the right to try the experiment, obviously dangerous as it was, but then also upon him rested the consequences of that experiment, and upon no one else; he may have been, and probably was, ignorant of the risk which he was taking upon himself, or knowing it, and trusting to his own skill, he may have regarded it as easily superable. But in either case, the result of his ignorance, or of his mistake, must rest with himself – and cannot be charged to the defendants”. The complaint does not aver any facts which impose upon Bigan legal responsibility for placing Yania in the dangerous position in the water and, absent such legal responsibility, the law imposes on Bigan no duty of rescue.

Recognizing that the deceased Yania is entitled to the benefit of the presumption that he was exercising due care and extending to appellant the benefit of every well pleaded fact in this complaint and the fair inferences arising therefrom, yet we can reach but one conclusion: that Yania, a reasonable and prudent adult in full possession of all his mental faculties, undertook to perform an act which he knew or should have known was attended with more or less peril and it was the performance of that act and not any conduct upon Bigan’s part which caused his unfortunate death.

The ill-defined crime of outraging public decency would allow sweeping enforcement of the criminalization of speech — and likely civil liability.

Adding to these concerns is that Pusey appears to have a personality disorder that the court acknowledged may have contributed to the crime.

The court is quoted as declaring “Your conduct in recording the police officers in their dying moments, together with the words you used as you recorded, was not only derogatory and horrible… but it was also callous and reprehensible conduct.”

All of that is demonstrably true. However, it does not mean that it should be a crime. Free speech requires a bright line of protection. Ambiguous criminal provisions create a chilling effect on the exercise of this right. Indeed, the standard is undefined precisely because it cannot be defined with any specificity or clarity. That is precisely why it is so dangerous to free speech values.  Pusey deserves condemnation and will likely remain “the most hated man” in the country.  However, courts should not be equally reckless or unthinking in the application of the criminal code to his reprehensible conduct.

25 thoughts on ““Outraging Public Decency”: Australian Convicted After Filming And Mocking Dying Officers In Crash”

  1. *His speech was obnoxious and disgraceful but it was ultimately speech*

    Racist, Homophobic, hate speech are obnoxious and disgraceful: as is the call to eliminate or attack a person or persons. What if a person , in a courtroom called the judge “a stupid bigot”? If I was to vocalise the truth of a doodleydinkum (i.e. an offensive, or obnoxious comment expressing a true opinion or belief that is doodled on a notepad , or some other surface) about Christianity , for example, would i be subject to legal action , given that I spoke the words and they were written on my notepad? ,

    So I assume also free speech also covers lying, that is, deliberately providing false information whereby to gain an advantage or avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions

    Are these types of obnoxious and disgraceful speech behaviours immune to prosecution under the free speech principle.

    Free speech means that any verbal expression is allowable.

    If the concern is about freedom of speech then surely there can be no prohibitions – either all speech is free or the constitution, or the law, or both, are dishonest.

  2. Norms of decent public conduct are part of all human societies and their sub-units. Take away the ability of the community (family, profession, sports team, school) to define and uphold norms, and you get instability, anarchy, reign of primitivist impulses….self-defeat.
    Our legalistic framework faces one of its most difficult challenges in upholding norms that defy the clarity goals of written law, and require mature judgment and interpretation of intent. Freedom of expression tests the push and pull between law and norms.

    The tech giants disrupted mature editorial supervision of the public discourse that existed previously. We are now forced to reckon with anti-social individualism. We’re obliged now to face down a “loudest voice” infospace, where attention flows toward that which outrages and inflames, and by the zero-sum nature of available attention, away from the well-reasoned, respectful voice wanting to be heard.

    Add to the difficulty of this situation, our society does often benefit from individualism which is able to challenge the conventional wisdom.

    Let’s see what we can do with torts to bring back a measure of defamation deterrence — perhaps a Rapid Defamation Court where persons being attacked in the infospace with harmful deceits can go for a rapid response investigation/judgment.

    1. Utter bull-shit. There is a moral imperative to protect human life amongst human beings. It’s why we have police forces and militaries.
      Without those civic iinstitutions, homicidal criminality would be pervasive in society, and, likely, society would perish to criminal pandamonia.
      What happened to being obligated to report when have knowledge of a crime or get charged with accomplice / aiding abbetting? Suicide is
      illegal, and, others have been charged, for not stopping suicide attempts. Sounds like just another location of the communist control of ths part
      of the United States Judiciary.

  3. “The fact, however, that Pusey did nothing directly to harm the officers.” BS. You don’t think being mocked while you die causes more anguish? This was one of the terrible aspects of George Floyd dying under Chauvin’s knee. He died without any attempt made to render first aid or comfort him in his last moments. Compare and contrast with Ma’Khia Bryant, shot in the very act of trying to stab a girl. As soon as she hit the ground, officers rendered aid, calling her by name and pleading with her to stay with them. The cop not only saved the girl in pink’s life, but he worked together with the other cops to comfort and give aid to the dying aggressor.

    This guy is going to be a hero to the anti-cop movement.

    It may be free speech. Here in the US he would be allowed to express schadenfreude glee at the death of cops, much like BLM. The Australian law might have been misapplied. But he is a racist cretin with a withered character fully deserving of reprobation and censure.

    Psychopaths enjoy others’ death and misery.

  4. This savagery is the inevitable consequence of anti-police propaganda.

    The Holocaust was the result of propaganda against Jewish people.

    Slavery and Jim Crow were the result of normalized prejudice against black people.

    Those who won’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It is irresponsible and negligent to promote anti-police bigotry, and to misrepresent the facts collected on police use of force. Shame!

    1. “The Holocaust was the result of propaganda against Jewish people.”

      Dehumanizing people is the first step to get such people into a gas chamber.

      Calling the police ‘pigs’ is very much the same.

      1. Agreed.

        If you convince people that an entire group is subhuman or evil, then it’s impossible to wrong them. After all, if cops or conservatives really are all like Nazis, then why wouldn’t they be harmed?

        Maybe future generations will be perplexed at the immoral unconcern with this propaganda and behavior, wondering why we didn’t stop it in time.

  5. I recall when I was on deployment back in 1981, being told about a law in the Philippines that was described like this: if a bus crashes while in transit from one town to another and the driver dies, the family of the driver can sue the passengers. In theory, the passengers were responsible for the driver being at that place at that time.

    I don’t know if that was really a law or not. But if true, then in this case, those officers wouldn’t have been in a position to be struck by the truck, if not for the illegal act (and stop) for speeding.

  6. As for Australian law, I have zero opinion. It is their country and their laws.

    As for the human side and American sensibilities, this is where speech is the hardest to defend, but must be done. This gentleman will face his due in the future because this kind of behavior tends not to go away or forgotten about. He may not have broken American law, but he did break human decency. That bill will come due at some point. One can only hope his personality issues will be addressed and he gets help. His price will come later.

  7. It is not far fetched to think that we will see similar laws proposed by our woke Congress in the near future. I fear this is a cautionary tale.
    The real danger to freedom comes packaged as well meaning laws designed to combat evils like “hate speech”

  8. This man is disgusting. His sentiments are encouraged by BLM, Antifa, the Left in the US, the Democrat Defund Police Movement, and the Press.

    But Dr. T. (I am honestly asking as a non-lawyer) is there no right to privacy guaranteed? Isn’t there a cogent argument that can be made that he violated the officers’ and the families’ privacy? Or sue him for extreme mental distress?

  9. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” Picked off the Internet while looking for the quote given to me in a lecture by a Constitutional Scholar during my Police Training that defined what a Law must be in order to be enforceable. Among the requirements as I recall from Fifty Years ago is the Law must be Moral, Just, and acceptable to the People it affects….and necessary.

    In that regard…I would differ with the Professor Turley to the extent….when One’s conduct (or misconduct if you prefer) goes against Moral Law or God’s Law….then yes there is a violation of the Law.

    The Aussie Guy certainly violated both Moral and God’s Law by his conduct….no matter what mitigation is attempted by his defenders….including Professor Turley.

    I agree the dangers mentioned by Professor Turley are real and as he suggests but as to there being a violation of law….he and I shall have to differ on the Aussie fellow’s Conviction.

    I cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater….why should I be able to stand by and video three Police Officers as did the Aussie Guy AND add such a commentary as he did?

    What amazes me is he was formally charged, tried, and convicted….as I can see a far more fitting punishment than what was meted out.

    I am patently prejudiced towards those who stand by and watch people in great peril and do nothing…..and think them despicable and cowardly.

    My upbringing, military service, police service, and later occupation as a Helicopter Pilot ALL imbued me with the willingness to assist others and I have done so…. and did so quite willingly.

    1. Ralph, not all are made of the stuff you are. Hopefully, this cretin will live with the knowledge that he is less than honourable and it will cause him immense pain. Thank you for your service.

      1. Canuck,
        Unfortunately, this guy sounds like quite the narcissist, so he will give little thought to the pain he causes others. He took pleasure in their pain and suffering as he filmed, so he has not an ounce of integrity or compassion.

        He needs to wear a scarlet letter: A for @sshole.

        Makes me think of that spoiled 16-year-old kid who killed some people while driving recklessly at high speed and then was given probation. This guy is from essentially the same mold, it seems.

        https://jonathanturley.org/2013/12/12/im-outta-here-wealthy-texas-teen-kills-four-people-seriously-injures-others-in-dui-case-given-probation-and-no-jail-time/

    2. Don’t give the Democrats and Big Tech any ideas. They’d be happy to censor opinions they don’t like using the phrase “outraging public decency.” Pusey is obviously a moral monster but if the USA adopts this kind of law, it will likely be misapplied to censor political dissidence.

    3. “[W]hen One’s conduct (or misconduct if you prefer) goes against Moral Law or God’s Law….then yes there is a violation of the Law.”

      You want the government to enforce “God’s Law?!” That’s called a theocracy.

      (And, yes, the cretin’s behavior was disgusting.)

    4. I am a dedicated Christian and I agree with the Professor. We are a country still guided by a Constitution, not by the Bible. Our Lord allows us to be wrong and harm each other. The consequences of this disgusting individual’s actions will most likely be severe from society. In fact, he could well lose his life literally by rejection of his actions by inflamed emotions from someone in retaliation against those who would defame the ones who give their lives to protect us. Life does not always punish us only by the courts.

    5. Ralph, I generally have significant agreement with what you say and understand the principles you stand by which are excellent and sincere. I look at this from a different angel. The law is ambiguous which voids its application.

      The second reason is that based on reason number one there is no law and such a decision against Pusey creates a law that is unjust in that the moral persuasions of others, by precedent, are able to dominate people of good morals that have different beliefs.

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