Friday, January 2, 2009

I guess the cops just lost a fan

Do you have any of that NYPD paraphernalia that became so popular after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Well, I strongly suggest you stash it away in the back of your closet -- at least, that's what you should do if you live anywhere near Belleville, Illinois. That's the garden spot where Adam C. Weinstein was rousted for nothing more than wearing a T-shirt bearing the word "POLICE." As a result, we can expect that the local cops will get a refresher course in First Amendment law.

According to the Madison County Record:

Adam C. Weinstein, of Missouri, claims he was attending a pre-Christmas party on Dec. 23, 2006, at about 11:34 p.m. at Crehan's Bar in Belleville, according to the complaint filed Dec. 22 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

When Weinstein initially arrived at the party, he was wearing a green sweater with the black shirt bearing the word "POLICE" underneath the sweater. After getting hot at the bar, Weinstein removed his sweater, to reveal the "POLICE" shirt, the suit states.

Shortly afterwards, Weinstein claims he was told that some police officers wanted to talk to him outside.

The officers, it turns out, wanted to know if Weinstein was an actual police officer. He's not; he's an emergency medical technician. Hmmm ... an EMT who wears a shirt saying "police" of the sort that is available from shops across the country. What do you want to bet he was actually an enthusiastic fan of law enforcement, right up until ...

Belleville police officer Jeff Vernatti placed Weinstein under arrest and placed handcuffs around his wrists, but "tightened them too tightly on Plaintiff," according to the complaint.

After Weinstein asked if it was illegal to wear a T-shirt with the word "POLICE" on it, Vernatti told him to "shut the f*** up, you're real f***ing stupid, you are a dumb-a** with no common sense, do you know how f***ing stupid you are?" the suit states.

Vernatti then twisted Weinstein's wrists and quickly walked him across the parking lot, Weinstein claims.

Vernatti shoved Weinstein against the police cruiser with such force that his belt buckle left an impression on his abdomen, then pushed Weinstein into the back seat of the car, according to the complaint.

When Weinstein asked Vernatti to loosen his handcuffs, Vernatti instead tightened them and added a second pair onto his wrists, the suit states.

The Belleville prosecuting attorney, not being quite as big a bonehead as Officer Vernatti, dropped the case. Dropping the case, though, doesn't erase the incident, nor does it make Officer Vernatti any less of a jerk. But a lawsuit ...

Weinstein is suing for false arrest, false detention, excessive force, and a host of other complaints that logically follow from grabbing a man and roughing him up because he's ... wearing a T-shirt.

Incidentally, police officers should have had it drummed into their heads by now that even the nastiest anti-police slogans are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The criticism can appear on T-shirts, bumper stickers, in print, in song, or be aired in a public place. There's a whole field of legal study related to the penalties for law-enforcement officers who ignore the right of citizens to sound off against cops.

As for arresting a man for wearing an overtly neutral message that was probably pro-police? Well, that's not just a violation of free speech rights. That's plain stupid public relations -- possibly a bigger fumble than a constitutional transgression in this day and age.

By the way, Belleville is the same municipality that made news recently for imposing tight regulations on who can celebrate Halloween, when it can be celebrated, and banning adults from wearing masks at other times of year. So, next October 31, if you want to have a little fun, drive to Belleville dressed as a police officer.

Just make sure your lawyer is on speed dial.

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