by Christopher Zoukis
A federal jury awarded $25,000 to a Missouri woman after it found that a constitutional violation of her freedom of speech resulted in her false arrest.
On January 23, 1998, Springfield police arrived at Robin Celeste McDermott's home to arrest her son for driving while intoxicated. When she became aware of the reason for their visit, she stepped onto her porch and told the police that they had no right to search her son's vehicle without a warrant and that they should leave her private property. The police told her that if she didn't quiet down and go back inside her house, they would arrest her and take her to jail. When McDermott refused to relent, she was arrested, handcuffed, and charged with obstruction of an officer in violation of Springfield Ordinance 26-17.
After McDermott was acquitted of all charges related to the police altercation, she filed a pro se complaint in federal court, naming several police officers: Thomas Dean Royal, Darren Whisnant, Doug Wilson, Brian Phillips, John A. Smith and Mike Wray. She also named Chief of Police Lynn Rowe, Assistant City Attorney Ron Dirickson and the City of Springfield. In her complaint, she claimed that her First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by her arrest and prosecution.
District Judge Dean Whipple dismissed her case on June 1, 2005, saying that McDermott's claim had no merit. But on January 16, 2008, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found otherwise, directing the district court to allow the case to proceed to a jury trial and to address the constitutionality of the city ordinance with which McDermott was charged.
In March 2008, after a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of McDermott on her First Amendment claim, awarding her damages in the amount of $25,000 on the condition that the district court were to find the section of the code McDermott was charged with to be unconstitutional. Upon review, the district court determined that the city ordinance reached a substantial amount of constitutionally-protected speech because it was not limited to fighting words or physical obstruction, making the statute unconstitutional. A judgment of $25,000 in favor of McDermott was entered by Judge Whipple on August 28, 2008.
See: McDermott v. Thomas Dean Royal, et al., United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Case No. 6:00-cv-3037 (Aug. 28, 2008)
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Related legal case
McDermott v. Thomas Dean Royal, et al
|Cite||United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Case No. 6:00-cv-3037|