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Old August 8, 2001, 09:02 PM   #1
F4GIB
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"Contempt of cop" protected by First Amendment.

Swearing at police is criticism, not crime
Appeals court overturns 2 convictions
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2001

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...8/MN191833.DTL

Swearing at a police officer may be disrespectful, but it's not criminal.

So said a federal appeals court yesterday in a pair of rulings overturning disorderly conduct convictions arising
from unrelated incidents at Yosemite National Park.

In one case, the court said Nolan Poocha was exercising free speech and wasn't threatening violence or inciting
a riot when he gave a profane two-word response to a park ranger during a 1999 disturbance.

"Criticism of the police, profane or otherwise, is not a crime," said Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the 2-to-1 ruling
throwing out Poocha's disorderly conduct conviction.

Poocha's attorney, Oliver Vallejo, said the decision "keeps police officers in check" and protects the right to
protest.

In the other case, a different three-judge panel unanimously overturned Chad Taylor's conviction for using the
same two-word expletive to a ranger who poked him awake in his cabin in March 2000.

Without discussing freedom of speech, the court said regulations forbidding disorderly conduct in national
parks applied only to conduct in public places.

The cases follow a 60-year trend in rulings restricting the government's power to punish people for allegedly
disruptive speech.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1942 that freedom of speech did not protect so- called fighting words -- those
that "tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" -- but later cases have so narrowed that category that it
now barely exists. As the high court observed in 1971, when it overturned the conviction of a man who
showed up in a Los Angeles courtroom in a jacket bearing a vulgar slogan about the draft: "One man's vulgarity
is another's lyric."

The federal disorderly conduct regulations, modeled on the Supreme Court's fighting words case, were used to
prosecute Poocha, a park hotel chef, in a case that began when rangers tried to arrest a bicyclist outside the
Curry Village Lodge in Yosemite.

Officers said Poocha, part of a group that was shouting at them, had been told to leave and instead clenched
his fists, stuck out his chest and yelled an obscenity.

The crowd eventually calmed down, and Poocha left. He was later convicted in a nonjury trial and sentenced
to 10 days in custody.

In overturning the disorderly conduct conviction, the appeals court said police were expected to put up with
criticism, and profanity, without violence.

The court also said the words Poocha used were not likely to cause a riot.

Dissenting Judge A. Wallace Tashima said Poocha's words and "hostile and defiant gestures" could well have
endangered officers who were facing a hostile crowd.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - 2
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Old August 8, 2001, 09:20 PM   #2
paratrooper
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Here is a story that I have believed to be true for some time now . I have never heard otherwise . The short version .
Many years ago V.P. appointee Nelson Rockefeller was in Alabama and was heckled by anti war types . He turned and "flipped them off" as he left . It was caught on film and became a poster along with an exerpt of Alabama law prohibiting "obscene gestures in public" . It was forgotten .
Some time later a woman in New York that had recently gotten a ticket saw the trooper that issued it going the other way on the hiway . She flipped him off . He U-turned , caught her and arrested her . Her defense in court was if the V.P. can do it so can she . What a problem . Cut to the chase .
A 3 judge federal panel was convened to search out the meaning of the now infamous " bird" . They concluded that it was not obscene but an ancient Greek gesture indicating contempt .
Any opposing intel out there ? As I said it is "said" to be true .
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Old August 8, 2001, 09:34 PM   #3
TheBluesMan
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Well, I can tell you for sure that Rockefeller did indeed get captured on film "flipping the bird."

I don't know about the woman from New York though.
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Old August 8, 2001, 09:46 PM   #4
MellowMikey
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When they flipped me off, I always figured it was a representation of their IQ, the number 1.

Funny how when you say the same things to them they like to file a complaint, because you cussed at them.
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Old August 9, 2001, 12:05 AM   #5
LawDog
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It was hammered into me at the Academy that a Peace Officer could not be insulted or offended.

You could arrest someone for flipping off a non-LEO in public, and you could arrest someone for cussing a non-LEO in public, but you could not arrest that person for flipping or cussing you (as a Peace Officer).

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Old August 9, 2001, 12:18 AM   #6
Justin Moore
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all you guys!

DISCLAIMER: the above was JOKE use to illustrate the absurdity of arresting ANYONE for flipping ANYONE else off.
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Old August 9, 2001, 02:31 AM   #7
PreserveFreedom
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Does anyone here remember when President Klinton was at the Taste of Chicago a few years ago? A woman told him that he sucks and he had her arrested. Sorry, I don't have a source. I just remember it from when I lived up there. It was all over the news at the time. What a total abuse of power.
 
Old August 9, 2001, 05:35 AM   #8
griz
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If the guy had said the same thing to the judge how long do you think it would be before he was guilty of contempt of court?
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