Complaining about a law-enforcement officer’s behavior can lead to a five-year prison sentence in Louisiana. William Aubin Jr. was arrested and charged with a felony because he complained about a sheriff’s deputy who called him a “pussy.”
Deputy William Durkin allegedly arrested Aubin, after the man got out his cell phone to call the sheriff’s office and complain, In Justice Today writer Michael Stein reported on Medium. Aubin was angry because Durkin came to his home, falsely accused him of reckless driving, and insulted him.
Aubin was charged with a felony called public intimidation and retaliation. That offense is punishable by up to five years in prison in Louisiana. The law is supposed to punish people that assault police officers or threaten them with violence. Now it is apparently being used to suppress First Amendment rights.
Federal Judges State Criminalizing Free Speech
Disturbingly Aubin is not alone, Travis Seals filed a similar lawsuit; in which he accused officers of pepper spraying him after he said he would file a complaint. Like Aubin, Seals was charged with a felony for public intimidation which led to a lawsuit.
The public intimidation law, 2006 Louisiana Laws – RS 14:122, violates the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled in Seals case.
That law criminalizes “threats to engage in lawful conduct such as; criticizing a police officer, writing a letter to the newspaper, filing a lawsuit, voting for an official’s opponent, or filing an ethics complaint,” Milazzo wrote.
The law violated Aubin’s First Amendment Rights, Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ruled in September.
“The right to criticize the police without risk of arrest distinguishes a democracy from a police state,” Jackson wrote in an opinion.
Complaining About Police Is A Worse Crime Than Hitting An OfficerWhat is truly frightening is that RS 14:122 has been on the books for 76 years since 1942, as attorney Kearney Loughlin, who is representing Aubin and Seals, noted. Under the law, a person can face more prison time for making a complaint than hitting an officer.
“You get a higher bail because it’s a felony,” Loughlin said. “It’s a more serious felony than battery on a police officer. You can punch an officer and not face the same ramifications.”
Disturbingly, Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is appealing Chief Judge Jackson’s and Judge Milazzo’s rulings. Landry refused to provide a comment for the In Justice Today article. It will be up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans to determine if complaining about a police officer is constitutionally protected free speech.