Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Street Preacher's Suit Against Arresting Officer Is Dismissed

In Cranford v. Kluttz, (MD NC, Sept. 20, 2017), a North Carolina federal district court dismissed on qualified immunity grounds a suit against a police officer who arrested street preacher Brian Cranford at a Farmer's Market festival.  The arrest for disorderly conduct followed Cranford's shouting:
... [A]ll of those ladies over there. The Bible says that a woman should dress modestly. See a lot of ladies out here dressed like tramps and whores and prostitutes today. The Bible says you dress modestly.
Cranford was initially convicted, but then acquitted of the charges against him.  At issue in this damage action was whether the police officer had probable cause to arrest  Cranford, and that, in turn, depended on whether Cranford's remarks were directed to the crowd as a whole, or to a specific individual-- in particular the arresting officer's wife.  The court concluded that "the statement could ... reasonably be construed to have been directed to specific individuals in the crowd and intended to be provocative."

In dismissing the lawsuit, the court said in part:
The law is not established, much less clearly established, that a law enforcement officer may not arrest an individual exercising free speech and religious rights when that officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.