Asking an Officer His Name Is Considered Disorderly Conduct
Reuters / Reuters
Small towns across the country are plagued with problems, and it is troubling to know that in one small town asking an officer his name can end with a charge of disorderly conduct. As ludicrous as that sounds, it is the jest of why a respectful and respected young man was placed under arrest.
Living in a small town means the entire community knows each other. In this small town, the parents of the young man in question are familiar with most city and county law enforcement officials. The young man is well-known for his respectful nature and excellent work ethic, both in and outside of the local high school. He is indeed a hard working, law abiding citizen. Still, in this day and age it is prudent for parents to teach children how to deal with law enforcement should they ever have any reason to encounter an officer. The young man was taught never to run, always be respectful, explain the entire situation truthfully, and know who you are dealing with. His parents never thought teaching their son to ask an officer’s name would result in his arrest.
The young man’s friend contacted the parents on the night of the arrest and informed them that their son was in jail. When the parents arrived at the county’s criminal justice complex, they were met by an officer they knew and trusted. The officer stated he had never seen someone try so hard to talk themselves into being arrested and said the young man was “a total smartass.” The mother had no reason to doubt this officer and tried to rationalize why her son would act that way. His parents state this sounded completely out of character for their son. The mother apologized several times, but wondered what led the young man to snap. The officer told the parents that he would be released without bond after 8 or 9 AM. They were told he would not be arraigned. The officer told them he would personally appear before the judge on his court date to ask for the case to be thrown out. The mother again apologized to the officer, and her son’s friend softly said to her, “There’s a video.”
When the couple and their son’s friend exited the building, they watched the video in the parking lot. It was the complete opposite of what they had been told.
“I was confused. I trusted this officer, and he outright lied to me about what happened,” the mother said. “I expected the worst, but the video shows a calm, respectful kid.”
There was indeed a smartass in the video, and he was wearing a uniform. It’s hard to understand why an officer of the law takes such offense to being asked his name, but this officer certainly did. It ultimately led to the young man’s arrest, with the other officers on scene aggravating the situation.
The video shows the interactions that took place outside of the store. Before this occurred, the three young men in the video aggravated a tired manager in the middle of a long shift dealing with chronic pain. Anyone who has ever been around teens knows even on the best of days a teen can be an annoyance. Add in pain and fatigue and it’s a real headache. The young men rode the electric scooters through the store. One young man admits he accidentally hit another young man with the scooter. The manager asked them to put them away. They complied without complaint or resistance. The boys tried on bicycle helmets during their time in the store. The young man did indeed ask another employee if he could ride in the back of one of the shopping carts, and he was told it was okay. He did not immediately get out of the cart when asked, but it was not because he was being defiant. He was not able to climb out quickly, and he was trying to explain that he thought it was okay because another employee had given him permission. Basically, he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. In trying to explain the situation and struggling to get out of the cart, the officer assumed he was playing around. The young man does have a knee problem. His parents explain that he fractured a growth plate just below his knee in his early teens. Cold weather and physical activity do cause him pain.
“He does not have a severe enough problem to require an electric scooter. He does skateboard, but it would take him a minute to climb out of the back of a shopping cart,” his mother said. “He wouldn’t be able to jump right up, especially after he had been skating. My son is one of the rare people who cannot tell a lie. He might say he doesn’t want to talk about it or he doesn’t want to speak on it if he doesn’t want to tell the truth, but he will not tell a lie. He never has been able to lie.”
While the teens waited outside, the young man asked the first officer his name. His agitation is apparent. During the course of the conversation, an officer told the young man, “Even if she’s not, she’s an adult.” The young man is an adult. He was enough of an adult to be arrested. It’s not necessary to be condescending when a citizen is being respectful. He was belittled several times, yet he remained calm and respectful. The young man was chastised for being 18 and having a skateboard at 3 AM. In a town riddled with methamphetamine abuse and manufacturing, theft, and gang activity, an 18 year old doing nothing more than skateboarding and annoying the manager at a local store on a weekend is hardly the stupidest thing going on at that moment. These young men could have fallen into the trap of drugs or gangs. There are far worse things they could do at 3 AM. It’s not stupid for youth to find an activity besides partying.
After a brief discussion with the other officers, the young men were told to leave. As they gathered their belongings and started toward their vehicle, the senior officer on the scene asked the young man why he wanted to know their names. The young man stated he just wanted to know. When pressed, he told them it was his right. The first officer chuckled and screamed out, “He’s got rights, man.”
An officer should understand that every citizen has rights, and he would be wise to recognize this or risk falling onto the wrong side of the law. It’s troubling for an officer to scoff at someone for declaring they have rights. According to our nation’s laws, even convicted murderers have rights. Surely a teen who has done little more than aggravate a store clerk and ask an officer’s name does not need to be belittled for stating something that should be obvious to someone who works in law enforcement. The senior officer told the young man it was okay for him to ask their names, then became agitated with the teen when the other officer yelled at him for asking.
An officer said, “You got a right to leave this property or I’m about to take your ass to jail.” This particular officer is the senior officer on scene. He is the same officer who told the young man’s parents that the kid was a total smartass. This officer stopped the young men as they were preparing to leave to ask why he wanted to know the officers’ names. He began a dialogue that created more problems. He stopped the youth from leaving, yet threatened to punish them for not doing so. Are they supposed to walk away while law enforcement is addressing them and risk being taken to jail, or should they stay and then be threatened with jail for not walking away from an officer asking questions? The answer is a senior officer should know better than to create a situation where it is impossible to interpret the correct response. Yet that is exactly what happened in this case. This type of confusion could easily create a dangerous situation when an officer is dealing with citizens who are defiant and combative.
As the young men walk away, the officers continue to taunt them. Once the camera stops, witnesses say the young man turned around and said, “I have a question.” The senior officer immediately said, “Alright, let’s go.” This is the only thing said or done between the time the camera was turned off and when the young man was handcuffed and arrested. While officers continued to talk to them, it was unacceptable for the young man to state he wanted to ask a question. Asking to ask a question ended with his arrest. Asking an officer his name agitated the officer, led the other officers to escalate the situation, and ended with an innocent young man behind bars. This happened because an officer of the law was asked to give his name.
He was originally told he was being arrested for trespassing. He was not trespassing, nor had he been banned from the store. In fact, the store manager stated she would not have pressed charges if she had been asked. The charges were changed to disorderly conduct once he arrived at the criminal justice complex. An anonymous member of law enforcement told the young man, “Be glad you’re not black. Every black guy that cop has brought in has somehow ended up with coke on them.” This, of course, cannot be proven, but several citizens have made this claim.
The parents visited the store and spoke to the manager immediately after leaving the criminal justice complex. The shift manager confirmed there was no damage. She had a long night dealing with chronic pain and annoying teens. She stated that she has customers who come in the mornings to use the electric scooters and just wanted them to be charged for them in the morning. She did not want the young men to run them down so her disabled customers didn’t have them ready in the morning. Aside from being an annoyance, the teens weren’t hurting anything. They bothered her. Every parent understands that. She had not asked for anything more than the boys to leave the store right then. The shift manager was shocked to learn that one of the young men had been arrested. That was not what she wanted. When the young man later returned to apologize for annoying her, she apologized to him for the troubles.
The store manager confirmed that none of the boys are banned from the store and felt nothing that happened inside the store warranted any charges. It was nothing more than typical teen pranks that, while annoying, were harmless. They were not informed of what happened outside the store and had no idea an arrest had taken place before the parents spoke to the shift manager. The young man was not arrested for anything that took place inside the store. He was arrested for stating he had a question after the brief interaction in the video.
In the state of Tennessee, disorderly conduct is described in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39–17–305. It states:
§ 39–17–305 — Disorderly conduct.
(a) A person commits an offense who, in a public place and with intent to cause public annoyance or alarm:
(1) Engages in fighting or in violent or threatening behavior;
(2) Refuses to obey an official order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, hazard or other emergency; or
(3) Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose.
(b) A person also violates this section who makes unreasonable noise that prevents others from carrying on lawful activities.
© A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
As seen in the video, the young man never exhibited violent or threatening behavior. He did not refuse to obey an order to disperse from a fire, hazard, or other emergency. The law specifically states refusing to disperse is in relation to a fire, hazard, or emergency. Clearly, this is not the case. It is also shown that the young men did not create a hazardous or physically offensive condition, nor did they make unreasonable noise.
The senior officer told the parents he would not be arraigned. When the parents returned to take their son home, they discovered he was moved to appear in court for arraignment. That same officer who told the parents he would appear in court on the young man’s behalf did not show up at his court date. This brilliant young man appeared without a lawyer and plead his own case. He entered a plea of ‘not guilty.’ His charges were dismissed, and all records of his arrest were expuncted. In the eyes of the law, this never happened.
This is what happened. A young man’s trust in officers of the law was shattered. His chosen path of study was threatened by an arrest record because he dared to ask an officer his name. The young man is now freed from that worry, but he is considering changing his path to pre-law to serve as a civil rights lawyer to assist the wronged. The young man’s mother firmly believes that local law enforcement does not know how to deal with anyone of higher intelligence, even when they are being respectful and offering an explanation of events.
The young man who was arrested has been employed by the same company for four years. He is an honors student with at least 8 years of college in his future. He has an exceptionally high IQ and is known for his respectful and compassionate nature. Asking an officer his name ended with him spending a night in jail. It almost robbed him of his future and cost the world what will be a brilliant servant. It did rob him of his belief that law enforcement could be fully trusted.
Seeing the interaction between officers and a compliant individual raises concern about how the officers may create dangerous situations. If officers escalate a situation simply because one is asked his name, how will they handle combatant individuals? He could quite easily create a deadly situation, putting himself, other officers, and citizens at risk.
In the interest of avoiding another situation where a young man could end up in handcuffs because the officer does not want to give his name, please note that Officer Adam Rodgers of the Bolivar City Police Department prefers not to give his name. Officer Rodgers will outright refuse to give his name. Do not ask Adam Rodgers his name. Officer Rodgers prefers anonymity, and asking Adam Rodgers to give his name may result in your arrest. In short, avoid asking Officer Adam Rodgers to give his name should you encounter him in the field. Adam Rodgers does not believe you have that right. Correct, Officer Rodgers?
Please note that I opted to blur out the faces of two of the officers in the video. I even bleeped out their names. I chose to afford them privacy because they chose to provide their names. Also note that I am well aware of the problems that arise when someone makes waves in a small town. In case retaliation is a consideration, please be aware that I am well aware of my rights and the rights of the young man and his family.
The young man’s identity was not disclosed so as not to jeopardize his future plans. Any attempt by law enforcement to reveal the young man’s name or mention of his arrest after his expunction is a violation of law. All records of this interaction and his arrest were destroyed prior to the young man’s receipt of his expungement papers, according to the county courthouse. Any law enforcement officer disclosing information or found to be in possession of documents or video ordered destroyed by a court of law will be brought up on charges. The mother states that if her son’s future is threatened by law enforcement disclosing information regarding his name or his arrest that it will be answered with a civil suit against the officer and any agency he represents. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39–17–308 also applies to officers.
The video was obtained legally. Tennessee is a one-party consent state, and the person filming is also protected by freedom of the press as he is contracted as my photojournalist. The Supreme Court has upheld that it is a legal act to video an officer, and it is legal for a journalist to disclose an officer’s name.
As for me, before any officer chooses to get into a ‘pissing contest’ with me, please know that I am protected by the First Amendment, as I am exercising freedom of speech and freedom of the press. No instances of libel have occurred, nor have any slanderous accusations been made. In similar words to those used by an officer, I will take your ass to court if you don’t respect my rights as a citizen and journalist. I will take your ass to court if you harass, slander, or threaten me, the young man, or his family. The ACLU fully backs journalists in instances of harassment by law enforcement and will defend any individual associated with me or this family who are harassed or intimidated by law enforcement. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40–32–101 also pertains to this case. Again, we will take your ass to court, if needed. Also note that harassment charges applies to officers of the law, and if local law enforcement will not enforce these laws, civil action will be taken against any and all officers involved in any harassment and local law enforcement agencies and governments condoning such behavior and/or refusing to prosecute based on the laws of the state of Tennessee.
It started over refusal to disclose a name, and it ends with a name being disclosed. It was that simple, and it could have all been avoided.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on April 26, 2017.