Let the tribe decide.
Some cases just have to be tried. When a client has experienced repeat harassment by police, false accusations, and decides to record police interactions every time, exercise his right to free speech, and is charged with a crime for it, Alex decides it’s time for the people to judge this case, not badges and judges. So righteous was this case that the client has asked me to use his real name, Paul Seeman of Faribault, MN.
Paul Seeman is a small business owner who has had numerous charges dismissed against him in Rice County, mainly for failure to understand how his business is run. He’s had two felonies and a misdemeanor dismissed upon defense motion. Indeed, his last misdemeanor case was dismissed with Alex DeMarco’s help, and the circumstances of his unlawful arrest and detention led to a successful lawsuit against the Faribault Police Department.
We’ve discussed before the importance and usefulness of recording police interactions, and Paul is one man that understands this more than most. Paul was with a friend in the town where he lived, walking to restaurant and bar. His friend stopped to examine a window that appeared broken on a store front. When he touched it, the window came crashing to the ground. Police were called and arrived within minutes. Paul asked to leave. Despite the fact that he was not a suspect, did not match the description of any suspect, and had done nothing unlawful, he was told he was not free to leave. Paul’s been down this road before. Paul immediately began recording the encounter. He began advising his friend repeatedly to not speak to the police, which is indeed a sacred right of all citizens. He was asked to step back, and did so. At no time did he raise his voice, make any threats against officers, or approach them physically. He repeatedly gave advice to his friend as the officers questioned him on the street. Officers could have taken the suspect into a squad and questioned him, or around a corner, but they chose to stay on the public sidewalk. However, Mr. Seeman was arrested a mere three minutes after the encounter began solely because he interrupted officers, and made their jobs momentarily inconvenient. For this, he was arrested and charged with obstruction of legal process WITH FORCE, and disorderly conduct.
The Charges of resisting arrest with force were dropped within a week by the County Attorney for want of evidence. By this time the City of Faribault had been served with the lawsuit. Conveniently, on the very day the city was served for their prior misconduct, officers in this case wrote new police reports and tried to say that Paul Seeman tried to swing a punch at the arresting officer. It so terribly lacked credibility that the County Attorney’s Office couldn’t even be convinced to proceed with resisting arrest.
Instead he faced now charges of obstruction of legal process without force, and disorderly conduct. The prosecution insisted that by interrupting conversations between the officer and the alleged suspect that he was obstructing legal process and being disorderly. The jury didn’t buy it. After three days of trial, and all of two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY. While perhaps not the most serious case Alex has handled this year, at this time in history it was an important win. While the law gives a lot of power to police officers, it is NOT the current state of the law that one must do whatever police officer says, and that anything said or done to inconvenience a police officer is a crime. Officers are not entitled to a confession, and are not entitled to not be annoyed on a public street.