Court: ‘Fat slob’ comment doesn’t merit arrest
Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011 8:02 pm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Calling a police officer a “fat slob” is not an offense that can usually get someone charged, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday, allowing a lawsuit over the arrest to go forward.
Kevin O. Kennedy’s sued the city of Villa Hills near Cincinnati and police officer Joseph Schutzman after he was arrested in May 2005 during a dispute over permits to expand a strip mall near his home. Schutzman is also a building inspector.
The argument arose at the Villa Hills city building when Kennedy confronted Schutzman, according to court documents. When Schutzman refused to discuss the strip mall’s permit because of pending litigation, Schutzman went into the parking lot, while Kennedy spoke with three city employees.
Later, Schutzman came back into the building and confronted Kennedy, and he called him a “fat slob,” according to court documents.
Kennedy sued in 2007, shortly after charges of disturbing the peace were dismissed.
Moore noted that Kennedy was likely yelling during the dispute. Schutzman arrested him on charge of disorderly conduct, writing on the citation “verbal abuse in front of public works employees.”
Judge Karen Nelson Moore of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote the opinion, sending the lawsuit back to district court so claims of wrongful arrest and First Amendment violations could go forward.
Moore found Kennedy’s hurling of the insult was legally protected and that, given the description of the incident in court documents, there was no cause for Kennedy’s arrest.
“Indeed, because the First Amendment requires that police officers tolerate coarse criticism, the Constitution prohibits states from criminalizing conduct that disturbs solely police officers,” Moore wrote.
A judge previously dismissed the lawsuit against the northern Kentucky municipality.
Published in The Messenger 3.25.11