Cobb County, Georgia, has been ordered to pay a $100,000 settlement to a woman who filed a civil complaint after she was arrested for the victimless crime of shouting obscenities at police officers.
Local political activist Amy Elizabeth Barnes was arrested in 2012 after a bike ride to the grocery store led her to come by two officers conducting an arrest of a black man.
Angered by the systemic police harassment of poor people and minorities, according to her complaint, she flipped them the bird and yelled “Fu*k the police,” as well as, “police suck.”
At that point, the two cops reportedly forgot all about the suspected thief they were confronting, and instead proceeded to chase Barnes.
“They came after me like it was some action movie,” Barnes said in an interview with WSBTV.
The outspoken activist was arrested and spent 23 hours in jail, six of which were spent in solitary confinement, which she labeled as torturous.
“Having no clock, no person to speak to, empty walls. We need human contact,” Barnes recalled.
Barnes requested that the county dismiss the charges against her, claiming she was “unlawfully arrested for protesting via loud speech while riding a bicycle along a public street.”
The cops, however, claimed she “was attempting to incite violence or was engaged in any form of physical confrontation,” reports The Marietta Daily Journal.
State Court Judge Melodie Clayton dismissed the charges saying that while Barnes’ words were “insulting and inappropriate,” they should not have made the officers fear for their safety.
“In addition, the word ‘suck,’ used as an epithet, is now common enough in modern society that it cannot reasonably provoke a threat of violence,” Clayton wrote. “The defendant’s other statement, ‘(expletive) the police,’ was a fleeting epithet that was insulting and inappropriate, but it did not create an immediate threat and danger of violence.
“The defendant’s statements, although offensive to this court, clearly constitute political speech,” Clayton said of the dismissal. “Her words were insulting, but as a matter of well-established constitutional law, they did not constitute ‘fighting words.’”
Barnes attorney, Cynthia Counts, says the ruling is a huge win for citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech.
“It’s important to understand that people have a right to express their ideas and no matter how offensive it’s not a basis for penalizing someone. And that’s just wrong it violates the First Amendment,” Counts said to My Fox Atlanta.
“The line is you cannot threaten someone to make them fearful. The limit in terms of this case it was really no basis at all she caused no threat.”
Last year a federal court also ruled that flipping cops off did not constitute an arrestable offense.
“In a 14-page opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the ‘ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity,’” reported Ryan J. Reilly.