Last year, Robert McIntosh Jr. was so unhappy after being stopped for speeding that he dropped multiple f-bombs on the deputy who wrote him up. The immediate result? McIntosh's arrest. But now, Boulder County has agreed to pay a $20,000 settlement, and McIntosh's attorney, David Lane, thinks that's appropriate. "We have free speech in this country, and you have to have probable cause to be arrested," he says. "And when cops abuse their authority, it makes us all less free."
According to the arrest report on view below, Deputy Sheriff Tim Lynch stopped McIntosh in the Town of Superior after a radar gun caught him driving 41 miles per hour in a twenty-mile-per-hour school zone designated by a flashing light.
Although McIntosh was talking on his cell phone as he motored through the zone (and hadn't finished his conversation when Lynch pulled him over), he kept his lips zipped as he handed over insurance and registration. But when Lynch gave him a ticket moments later, he says McIntosh told him a warning would have been sufficient. After Lynch disagreed, McIntosh pointed out that the speed limit for the area is usually 35 miles per hour, then said Lynch was being a "fucking ass... you know it." He added that he'd see the deputy "in fucking court."
Lynch informed McIntosh that if the abusive language continued, he'd arrest him. McIntosh responded by glowering at Lynch -- and when he took back his license and registration, he yelled, "Screw you!" Lynch reacted by taking McIntosh's keys, calling for backup and arresting him.
McIntosh didn't meekly accept punishment for his language. Instead, he hired Lane, who sent a letter to Boulder County alleging civil rights violations of the First and Fourth Amendments. Potential litigation was squelched by the county's decision to pay $20,000 to make the matter go away.
In Lane's opinion, "the significance of this case is that cops just have to learn that you're allowed to criticize them. You're not committing a crime by being critical of cops -- and because this cop has a thin skin, it cost the taxpayers of Boulder County $20,000."
Not that Lane limits his harsh words to the deputy alone. "Boulder County doesn't adequately train their cops," he maintains, "and failure to train and supervise is actionable in and of itself."
This incident is the second of its type in recent weeks. Note that Shane Boor was busted for flipping off a Colorado state trooper. After the ACLU agreed to defend him on First Amendment grounds, the allegation against Boor was dropped.
These incidents may seem minor, but Lane believes they have larger import.
"This may be a little flowery, but when you're standing outside, when does it become nightfall?" he asks. "There's no moment where darkness descends, but you know when it's dark, and you know when it's getting dark. And every infringement of civil rights adds to the darkness. That's why every one of these cases, no matter how small, needs to be fought. And that's why we bring them."
Update, June 8, 1:44 p.m.: Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has released the following statement about the McIntosh case:
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"A deputy sheriff assigned to the Town of Superior stopped Mr. Robert McIntosh on October 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm for speeding 41 mph in a 20 mph school zone. The stop did not go well, Mr. McIntosh was verbally abusive, vulgar and uncooperative during the contact. The deputy arrested Mr. McIntosh in lieu of releasing him on a summons at the scene. He was transported to the jail where he was booked and released. The entire process took approximately three hours. There was no use of force involved in the arrest.
"Mr. McIntosh later pleaded guilty to the speeding charge in Superior Municipal Court, in exchange the charges of Disobeying a Police Officer were dropped. He then retained an attorney, claiming his rights were violated when he was physically arrested for expression of free speech toward the officer.
"Our County Attorney's Office reviewed the facts of the case and felt there was some exposure, because courts have ruled that while not all speech is protected, police officers are expected to take a higher level of verbal abuse than would be expected from a member of the general public. The decision was made to settle the case quickly and as inexpensively as possible, as litigation and attorney's fees could become very expensive.
"Our Office and the County Attorney's Office has taken full advantage of the situation to properly educate the deputy involved and all of our personnel on the appropriate constitutional limitations on free speech as they apply to peace officers."
Here's the McIntosh arrest report, which can also be accessed by clicking here.