Pittsburgh Lawyer Charged After Dropping Pants In Protest in Courthouse

There are times when it is a good thing justice is blind.  Attorney Jeffrey Pollock, 59, was reportedly put out when a metal detector repeatedly set off an alarm at a Pittsburgh courthouse. After being told to remove garments, Pollock eventually dropped his pants in protest. He was then arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. However, there is an interesting question on the key terms underlying such a charge against Pollock.

The Alleghany Sheriff’s Office decided to issue a press release about how the lawyer stood there in just his shirt and underwear.

Pollock said that he asked for an officer to just use a wand rather than asking him to take off his suspenders and any other garments.

Pollock agrees that he used “poor judgment” but insisted that he was “trying to make a point.”

The incident at the Family Division Complex led to another lawyer having to take over for Pollock in a hearing where he was representing a client pro bono.

This is not the first lawyer to drop his pants in public to make a point. We previously discussed an incident involving a Covington & Burling lawyer stripping at a press conference in Yemen.

Disorderly conduct is a favorite of police and prosecutors as a type of catch all crime. I have long been critical of the ambiguity in such provisions. However, the question is which of these state law provisions apply to Pollock:

5503. Disorderly conduct.

(a)  Offense defined.–A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he:

            (1)  engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;

            (2)  makes unreasonable noise;

            (3)  uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or

            (4)  creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.

(b)  Grading.–An offense under this section is a misdemeanor of the third degree if the intent of the actor is to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, or if he persists in disorderly conduct after reasonable warning or request to desist. Otherwise disorderly conduct is a summary offense.

(c)  Definition.–As used in this section the word “public” means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access; among the places included are highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, any neighborhood, or any premises which are open to the public.

Subsections 2-3 do not appear applicable. Under subsection 1, Pollock is clearly not engaging in fighting or threatening or violent behavior. That leaves “tumultuous behavior” which is maddeningly ill-defined and could mean anything. My question is whether any protest involving the removal of outer clothing would be deemed such a violation.

The use of tumultuous conduct is part of other disorderly conduct laws in Hawaii, Vermont, and other states. In Vermont, a court noted in State v. McEachin that “[w]hile we have never conclusively defined “tumultuous behavior,” we have relied on the dictionary definition of ‘tumult’ to inform our understanding that it can mean ‘the commotion and agitation of a large crowd’ or a ‘violent outburst.'” I am not sure that Pollock could be alleged to have caused the agitation of a large crowd or that his stripping constituted a “violent outburst.”

In Rhode Island, the court in State v. Russell noted:

“In accordance with its ordinary definition, ‘tumultuous’ behavior is conduct that is marked by violent or overwhelming turbulence or upheaval. Tumultuous behavior is full of commotion and uproar. It is riotous, stormy or boisterous. “Tumult” has been defined as a tempestuous arising, characterized by noise and disorder, commotion and disturbance.”

The other possibility is under subsection 4.  It is clearly not a hazardous act but they could allege that it is “physically offense” and “serves no legitimate purpose.” Again, the language is generalized and undefined.

I assume that a court would sign off on the “tumultuous behavior” but such terms are dangerously ill-defined, particularly when people claim to be protesting. In this incidence, as an officer of the court, Pollock will likely receive little sympathy from the court. Most judges will not view the security checkpoint as a place for such spontaneous forms of protest by an attorney.

19 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Lawyer Charged After Dropping Pants In Protest in Courthouse”

  1. ““serves no legitimate purpose.””

    Same with the officer asking him to remove his suspenders. Geez.

  2. IANA but if I were he, I will file suit for false arrest and demand a trial by jury. Case dropped immediately, but go from there.

  3. What if a woman showed up at the courthouse in very short “booty shorts”? I’m the worst case, she’d be asked to leave. No way charges would be filed.

  4. Jonathan: Except for your torts students who out here is really interested in the legal travails of a lawyer who dropped his drawers during a security check? Hard to figure when Antifa is back in the news–a group you have claimed is the most “violent” in the country. Over the weekend there was a protest in NY led by white nationalists against the state’s Covid vaccine mandates. The protesters were led by Nick Fuentes, an anti-semite who marched in the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Fuentes’ group was confronted by anti-fascist protesters. The ADL called Fuentes and his followers a “white supremacist group”. The protests were apparently peaceful.

    On Saturday Fox, your employer, covered the protest with the headline: “”Antifa members clash with White nationalists over Covid mandate outside NYC’s Gracie Mansion”. The article included Fuentes name and the ADL statement. That prompted Fuentes to call Fox “scum” for including the ADL statement. Within hours Fox edited the article, removing Fuentes’ name and the term “white nationalists” replacing it with “anti-vaccine protesters”. It also removed the ADL criticism and described the counter protesters as “antifa radicals”.

    Why the edit by Fox? No doubt because Fox doesn’t want to alienate white nationalist supporters in its audience. Besides, blaming Antifa fits into the narrative by Fox and you that Antifa is responsible for most of the violence during protests. That’s not true as we have seen in the Rittenhouse trial. In the Charlottesville trial the defendants are erroneously trying to blame Antifa for the violence that killed one. Even members of the GOP are encouraging violence against political opponents. GOP Rep. Paul Gosar is facing censure for his meme version of a “snuff film” fantasizing about killing Ocasio-Cortez. For the life of me I can’t understand how someone who continuously calls for “objectivity” in the media could work for Fox that daily distorts the news to further its right-wing agenda.

  5. And, when we are all wearing burqas, jilbabs, chadarees, panrajas, etc. will we all be disrobing or granted a religious exemption as we pass through metal detectors ?

    1. With Obama’s Hope and Change evolving, that is not a radical far fetched comment.

  6. Bottom line….and commonsense…..the Officer should have used the Magic Wand after the Scanner showed an Alert on a second try.

    That is as effective and secure a method as the walk through scanner and in some ways is far more efficient when the scanner is set at too sensitive a level.

    If the Scanner is alerting on cuff links, suspender buckles, and tie clasps….the Scanner is far too sensitive.

    The Wand is that sensitive and will alert on any metal object and in a proper Security Operation will be the go to device upon the Scanner alerting after large or dense metal objects are removed….ie belt buckles, cell phones, car keys and similar items.

    The Officer in this case appears to be using a flawed procedure or policy….or was jus plain lazy and arrogant.

    I hate Lawyers but in this case prefer they just show their underwear in Court and not in the Security Checkpoint.

  7. When I first saw the headline, I thought perhaps the lawyer dropped his pants to protest a judge’s ruling or something like that, which would have clearly been inappropriate behavior by an officer of the court. But given the actual context – he was being asked to remove some garments apparently, and it is not like he mooned the security guard or anything, nor did he become naked – I think seeing a man in his drawers and with a long dress shirt on, which would have covered most of him, including his private parts, it just doesn’t seem like “causing a disturbance.” I was thinking maybe there could have been a charge of something like “Public indecency” but given that he didn’t expose himself, that might not be applicable either. The judge would be able to discipline him if he disrupted the court – but if he was stopped from attending the court hearing because he was put under arrest, well, perhaps it wouldn’t be fair to discipline him for that either. Maybe the problem is that the security guard had no sense of humor. 🙂

  8. Happens at airports all the time. While maybe a bit irritating for the officers performing the screening everyone involved should have just had a good laugh and proceeded with the screening as though that was normal. As with airports there was no real danger to anyone but was just a distraction. The real problem is we’ve all become impatient and intolerant of any inconvenience. The results of course is that as a society we no longer can laugh at ourselves or others when we engage in silly but harmless acts. Someone tell the attorney to laugh, pay whatever the fine might be, maybe apologize to the officer involved if he felt disrespected and commit to laughing more often at himself.

  9. Not sure what the lawyers’ point was, but the only real “crime” here is that he made the officer angry.

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