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OPINION - Disorderly conduct

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I've written two blogs in the last month about Nerf wars -- a subject that I'm not going to revisit. But what is and isn't disorderly conduct is up for more discussion today.

You recall, six Wausau-West students were cited for disorderly conduct for taking part in the Nerf wars game. I've offered my opinion that sitting in a car on the side of the road is not disorderly . The charges against two of the students were dropped unconditionally. The charges against the other four were dropped when they agreed to take part in an informational video. At least one of the students has hired a lawyer and is considering a false arrest lawsuit against Wausau PD.

A disorderly conduct charge is vague and an officer has broad authority as to what might qualify. Imagine if you get into an argument with your spouse in public. Does it rise to the level of disorderly conduct if voices are raised? Does it depend on whats being said? Does it depend on how those who hear it react? Certainly if the exact same argument took place in your home (without physical violence, obviously), a disorderly conduct charge would be unheard of.

Consider the case of the Guilford, New Hampshire school board. They made a mistake assigning middle school students to read the book Nineteen Minutes without parental notification. William Baer, who has a 14-year-old daughter who read the book with its graphic descriptions of teen sex and violence, objected and wanted to speak about it at the next school board meeting. He was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, and handcuffed after being escorted out of the meeting by a police officer.

The problem is that Baer does nothing disorderly. He is not yelling. He doesn't make threats. He's not menacing. He does not resist the policeman when hes removed from the meeting. His crime is to continue to speak after his two-minutes were up during the school board's public comment period.

Let's examine that further. The two minute limit isn't law . Its a school board administrative rule . The school board has the prerogative to hear more from a speaker if they wish. (If you've ever been to a school board meeting, I assure you that curriculum presentations or district benefits briefings seem like they go on forever .) A wise school board would acknowledge that tempers are high, and that some people might want additional time. Perhaps one or two like-minded parents could have been added to the meeting agenda, and, speaking for the group, could have made extended comments to the board.

It's the police and school board whove violated William Baer's rights -- the Constitutional right to petition the Government for redress of grievances because the charge of disorderly conduct was incorrectly applied.

Chris Conley

Image: An officer from the Beaverton Police Department gives a field sobriety test to volunteer Brandon Callein (Flickr)via WikiCommons.com