Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Suit Argues Letter Cursing Police Officer Was Protected Religious Speech

A federal lawsuit filed on Monday claims that Pennsylvania state police and the police department of Media Borough (PA) have a practice of unlawfully prosecuting citizens for protected speech using Pennsylvania’s terroristic threats, harassment, and disorderly conduct statutes. The complaint (full text) in Damato v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (ED PA, file 3/8/2010), contains these interesting allegations:
On October 11, 2008, the Plaintiff received a traffic citation issued by Officer Matthew Bellucci, of the Media Borough Police Department. Thereafter, on October 18, 2008, Officer Bellucci received a letter at his home stating the following: "You will get what's coming to you. God is just, and you will be punished. Fuck you! You are an asshole! A fucking asshole!"

... On or about October 24, 2008 Trooper Gerard B. McShea prepared a sworn Affidavit of Probable Cause causing a criminal summons to be issued against Plaintiff, charging Plaintiff of the crimes of Terroristic Threats, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §2706(a)(1) and Harassment, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §2709(a)(1) and 18 Pa.C.S.A. §2709(a)(6) as a result of mailing the aforementioned letter....

The communication directed to Officer Bellucci was expressing a religious opinion that "You will get what is coming to you. God is just and you will be punished." Such opinion is not a threat, but rather protected religious speech identifying God’s righteousness and willingness to punish.
Plaintiff asks for a declaratory judgment, damages and lawyer's fees. Yesterday's Delaware County (PA) Daily Times reports on the filing of the lawsuit.