An appeals judge ruled that an Ohio man’s constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested for arguing with police officers at the Clark County Fairgrounds, where he was first reported wearing a “F*** The” T-shirt. police.”
Michael Andrew Wood, 38, is suing six Clark County sheriff’s deputies after he was kicked out on July 29, 2016 and charged with disorderly conduct.
He was arrested for disorderly conduct for scolding officers on his way to the exit and lost his initial lawsuit against them.
But on Tuesday, a Sixth Circuit panel overturned the district judge’s decision, ruling that Wood’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.
Wood also received approval from the Ohio ACLU, which stated that he was “wrongfully arrested” and that the police tried to silence him by dragging him away.
On the day of his arrest, Wood first encountered sheriff’s deputies after wearing a “fuck the police” shirt he wore, insulting other fairgoers who called 911 to report it.
Michael Andrew Wood, 38, was arrested in 2016 after he swore at police at the Clark County Fairgrounds, Ohio.
The sheriffs argued through their lawyers that they did not violate his right to free speech because he used “swear words” that gave them legal grounds for arrest.
The arriving officers spoke briefly to Wood, but he was not arrested until several hours later, when they were called to a building on the grounds of the fair for an unknown reason.
According to local reports, the Clark County Fair drew 73,000 people in 2016, when attendance was lower than usual due to extreme heat. The family event includes farm shows, entertainment and dozens of rides.
During their second interaction, Wood changed into a different shirt and was asked by the fair’s executive director to leave because, according to court documents, he was “not welcome”.
Wood agreed to leave if he was refunded the $3 entry fee, and the executive handed him a $5 bill to appease him, telling him to keep the change, the legal document says.
On the day of his arrest, the police had two meetings, and he was first questioned after one of the fair’s attendees called to complain about the “Fuck the Police” T-shirt he was wearing. Wood had changed into a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt by the time he was interrogated for another reason.
Wood then got into an argument with the police over whether he had the right to stay at the fair and claimed that an officer had pushed him on the shoulder before he was escorted out of the fair.
As he was led to the exit, Wood hurled insults at the cops, calling them “bastards”, “damn pigs” and “dirty rat bastards”.
He repeatedly lashed out at them for not following the Constitution and was caught on police video camera continuing to curse the policemen while being escorted.
Police arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct and obstruction of official business, but prosecutors later dismissed the charges because they failed to prove that Wood’s “words and conduct amounted to ‘battle words'” under the First Amendment.
The prosecutor later dismissed both charges, apparently because the State [was] could not find the necessary witnesses [the] incident in time for trial” to show that “Wood’s words and conduct amounted to ‘battle words'” under the First Amendment.
When the police escorted him from the fair, Wood showered insults on the cops, calling them “bastards”, “damn pigs” and “dirty rat bastards”.
Wood claimed in a lawsuit that an officer pushed him on the shoulder before arresting him.
Wood later sued the officers, alleging that he was the victim of numerous violations of the constitution. But the judge dismissed his claims of wrongful arrest and First Amendment retaliation, saying there was “insufficient evidence” of retaliation.
The judge also said that the officers are protected by qualified immunity in respect of the false arrest claim.
An appellate judge has since overturned that finding, although the sheriff’s office says it did nothing wrong.
“Deputies in this case acted reasonably and appropriately after Mr. Wood launched into a hostile, profanity-laced tirade in the middle of the Clark County Fair,” attorney Andrew Yosowitz said in a statement.
“The District Court Judge correctly held that the deputies’ actions were in line with forty years of Ohio jurisprudence. It is disappointing that the Sixth District ignored the decisions of the Ohio courts and Ohio’s interpretation of its own law.”
The lawsuit details how police first confronted Wood on the day of his arrest, when they questioned him about the obscene shirt he was wearing. On Tuesday, an appeals judge ruled that police violated his First Amendment rights during his arrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union also sided with Wood last March when it filed a lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals in support of him.
“Professional law enforcement is trained and not expected to respond violently to simple insults, and there has never been any real risk of that,” David Carey, attorney for the ACLU’s Ohio chapter, said in a press release.
“The arrest of Mr. Wood had nothing to do with keeping the peace. Criticism of our government, including in harsh terms, is at the core of the defense of the First Amendment. The police can’t use the excuse of ‘swearing’ to silence someone who just annoys them.”
Wood was known to the police before being arrested at the fair.
In March 2016, he was charged with three counts of driving under the influence and was found guilty in September. As court records show, he has already been convicted five times for drunk driving.
On July 3, 2016, he was charged with drug possession, but the case was later dropped as part of a plea deal.
The lawsuit recounts interactions between Wood and the officers who accompanied him from the fair. Their exchange was filmed on a police video camera.