Jefferson 1 Dancer Files Lawsuit

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Sometimes Agitator guest blogger Brooke Oberwetter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Parks Police officer who arrested her last year. She was arrested while quietly dancing to her iPod during a planned celebration at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Here’s my initial post on the incident last April. And here’s Brooke’s complaint.

She’s represented by libertarian lawyer extraordinaire Alan Gura, a friend of this site, and one of the attorneys who brought the Heller Second Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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32 Responses to “Jefferson 1 Dancer Files Lawsuit”

  1. #1 |  Gonzo | 

    Radley, the video is inaccessible, at least for me. Just giving the heads up, and apologies in advance if it’s something minor and easily resolvable. Stupid technology, and so forth.

  2. #2 |  Brian | 

    The complaint link is busted. I’d like to see what the basis of the suit is though. It’s going to be a big uphill battle, but Gura is a very smart guy.

  3. #3 |  Radley Balko | 

    Link should be fixed.

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    Proof once again that police in this country are totally out of control and above any accountability. Thank you gutless politicians for reigning in the contemporary gestapo!

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    A real patriot quietly acknowledges their freedom without brazenly and selfishly demanding it actually be respected. Anyone who dances in a public park, in plain view of the actual public, is clearly challenging the patience of those park police. What were they supposed to do? Let her get away with it, knowing that dancing is a gateway activity that ultimately ends with people standing in front of tanks and questioning authority? If she wants to tour the nation’s capital, she should learn to behave like a tourist rather than calling attention to herself. Park police have a security function to perform and they receive extensive training to recognize threatening behavior. It’s not the place of ordinary people to question the commands of the police. The citizen’s duty is to obey, immediately and without reservation. Instead of suing the government, she should be thanking them for exercising superhuman restraint in not tasering her into a mass of quivering flesh.

  6. #6 |  The Johnny Appleseed Of Crack | 

    She’s represented by libertarian lawyer extraordinaire Alan Gura

    Damn! Bringing in the big guns.

  7. #7 |  Scott | 

    Sue their ass!

  8. #8 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    bring the hammer down on these authoritarian pig scum

  9. #9 |  Pinandpuller | 

    That whole Vince Foster thing really went to their head.

  10. #10 |  freedomfan | 

    Reminded of the initial outrage of this thing, I am glad this is finally heading toward court.

    I wonder, would it be possible to file a sort of “conditional” lawsuit for some hefty amount. Yes, sue for some big number, but make it immediately clear that you are willing to settle for a nominal amount, say just attorneys’ fees, if and only if the city agrees to fire the officers without benefits and never hire them for any city employment again. (It would be better if the bad cops could never work in law enforcement anywhere, at any level, ever again. But I don’t think a city could agree to that as part of a settlement.)

    My point is, I’m not sure the cities really worry about the money. I mean, of course they’d prefer not to lose it, but, like any government money, it doesn’t come out of their pockets, so they don’t really care. I suspect that the monetary loss to a large city doesn’t really engender any change in policy.

    And, more importantly, it doesn’t change the behavior of the other cops because none of that money comes out of their pockets. But, the prospect of getting fired with none of those sweet benefits might actually encourage better behavior among the remaining officers. Of course, it may not, but it would stand a better chance than lackluster internal affairs investigations and toothless review boards.

  11. #11 |  Peter | 

    @freedomfan

    You cannot be awarded vengeance damages. Juries do it alot, but your case would get bounced by the court in an instant, because it is clear your goal is not to get restitution for damages incurred, but rather simply to punish the other party.

    Punishment is the purview of the criminal courts, restitution is the purview of the civil courts.

  12. #12 |  Ron | 

    @Peter:

    Then why do civil courts award punitive damages? Just askin’

  13. #13 |  B | 

    Reminds me of an old joke:

    Q–Why do Southern Baptist girls refrain from premarital sex?

    A–Because it might lead to dancing!

    In all seriousness…best of luck, Ms. Oberwetter.

  14. #14 |  Kieffer | 

    Go get ‘em, Brooke!

  15. #15 |  Mattocracy | 

    My morning is ruined. I’m going to be pissed off for the rest of the day.

  16. #16 |  Big Chief | 

    I’m glad to see someone’s putting in the effort to fight back. Jefferson would be proud!

  17. #17 |  nobahdi | 

    This is the story that introduced me to this blog and I’ve been a loyal reader ever since. Good luck Ms. Oberwetter.

  18. #18 |  omar | 

    Mattocracy, you stick in the mud. Government employees getting sued. These government warts oppressed peaceful expression for reasons unknown, and like my friend from France says about the girls in Ukraine, “you gotta’ pay”. What’s not to love?

    Go eat a chocolate sunday.

    “I understand some cops can be trusted to stop peaceful dancing responsibly — but that doesn’t mean we should give every cop in the world a badge to stop dancing.

  19. #19 |  MacGregory | 

    Did the cops make it a point to put on those latex gloves before touching her? After all she may have been infected with joy, happiness, common sense or some delusion of freedom.

  20. #20 |  Gabriel | 

    My point is, I’m not sure the cities really worry about the money. I mean, of course they’d prefer not to lose it, but, like any government money, it doesn’t come out of their pockets, so they don’t really care. I suspect that the monetary loss to a large city doesn’t really engender any change in policy.

    I agree. Which is why I think that the various governmental immunity doctrines ought to be scrapped forthwith. If we want our civil servants to behave responsibly, we have to be prepared to hold them responsible. Police would be much more hesitant to perform or authorize questionable procedures if they knew their own individual wellbeing was on the line.

    To the argument that this would make people less likely to pursue civil service, I respond that 1) people somehow motivate themselves to engage in private industry without immunity, and 2) the people who would be put off are probably the last ones we want as civil servants. There’s no reason in the world why the punishment for being a bad cop should be borne by the taxpayers rather than, say, the bad cop.

  21. #21 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Until cops FEAR having to individually answer in court for their reckless behavior, they won’t change.

    Great to see she’s suing both official and INDIVIDUAL capacities…and has a pitbull lawyer. Go for the berries!

    Gabriel, I can think of at least one good reason why taxpayers should bear part of the cost for bad cops.

  22. #22 |  Nikolas Schiller | 

    I wrote about this last year. As someone who has dealt with the National Park Police and the National Capitol Police on numerous occasions for first amendment demonstrations, I’ve learned is that all you need are permits.

    I completely understand the right of freedom of assembly and have legally exercised it in Washington, but when it comes to federal property, aka the American People’s property, permits are needed, even to have a silent dance party with 18 people.

    A large group of people showing up on federal property late at night with an unknown motive will draw the police. Moreover, there were no safeguards in place by the organizers to prevent the 25th person from showing up.

    What if the monument was damaged? Or the floor scuffed by shoes? Their peaceful demonstration would have cost taxpayers money. However, if they would have obtained permits, the responsibility would fall on to the organizers shoulders. Yet the organizers failed to go through the proper channels to legally hold their demonstration on federal property and when asked to leave they were rude to the police and provoked the arrest.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how this case is progresses.

  23. #23 |  Gabriel | 

    Gabriel, I can think of at least one good reason why taxpayers should bear part of the cost for bad cops.

    To encourage civilian oversight? I’d be in favor of that if the tax burden could be restricted to the civilians who voted in favor of the offending officials/regulations. But if you’re going to hit me with a tax penalty even though I voted against the guy who caused the problem, that strikes me as an injustice.

    “Democracy is that system in which everybody gets what the majority deserves”, and that means that trying to apply your incentive to the electorate is never going to be as successful as applying it directly to the offenders.

  24. #24 |  B | 

    “…and when asked to leave they were rude to the police and provoked the arrest.”

    “Rude to police” = questioning their authoritay

  25. #25 |  Marty | 

    good timing, I just wrote to bureaucrash a couple of weeks ago asking about this!

    #22-
    you seem to be cheering for the cops… your article admires how ‘mean’ they are and how we need to be nice to them, etc. You even point out how ‘…I’ve learned is that all you need are permits’ as you chastise the libertarians in your condescending tone for the flash mob. You also point out that the cops will be dicks if you don’t thoroughly document exactly what equipment you’ll be using and what you’ll be doing.

    A flash mob shouldn’t need ‘permits’. It’s an exercise in freedom and fun. Just because the park cops have a shitty job doesn’t mean they get to fuck with people. They need to disarm the pricks and teach them a sense of proportion.

    ‘I’m looking forward to seeing how this case is progresses.’ I’m sure you are.

  26. #26 |  Nikolas Schiller | 

    Marty, my point is that if you want to have a flash mob in the middle of the night on a national monument you should get permits so the police will not bother you. I’m not cheering on the police, rather, I’m saying the folks who decided to participate in the late night dance party should have gone through the proper protocols before crying fowl when their little dance party was busted up.

    I might come across a condescending in my original posting, but its because I’ve had to go through the process of getting permits for events at national monuments many times, dealt with numerous rude police officers, but I respect the laws when it comes to these types of gatherings in order to allow others to express themselves at the same location in the future.

    And believe me, I hate having to get permits, but I know that it allows me to have vigils/dances/rallies/demonstrations/concerts/protests at important locations without police arresting people or without another group taking over the location for their unrelated event.

    Since I wrote about this last year, I’ve had the National Park Police unlawfully shut down a permitted rally outside of the White House because teenagers were reciting poetry that contained fowl language (albeit constitutionally protected language) and I contacted the ACLU about the matter. But to have a group of people in the middle of the night converge on a national monument without permits, then act disrespectful to the police for not following the rules everyone has had to follow for years, I don’t have much sympathy.

  27. #27 |  Jesse | 

    Nicholas-

    What if the floor were scuffed by shoes? Really? I wish I had such little to worry about in life.

    Its a public place. Do we really need the police to keep people out because they might scuff the floors, but a permit would make it all better? You deserve the police force you excuse.

  28. #28 |  Chris M | 

    #26 sez:

    “But to have a group of people in the middle of the night converge on a national monument without permits, then act disrespectful to the police for not following the rules everyone has had to follow for years, I don’t have much sympathy.”

    Your attitude seems to be that of “well if I follow the rules and get my permits, then damnit they should have to as well!” At some point you should stop and question the validity of the permit laws. I have, and my conclusion was that the laws are arbitrary and authoritarian in nature. This is because I reject the idea that the freedoms outlined in the first amendment were born out of the creation of the amendment itself.

    – Chris M

  29. #29 |  Marty | 

    Nikolas-

    By your own admission, even when you do get permits, they fuck with you and shut you down…

    How would you even fill out a form begging for permission to ‘meet at midnight at the Jefferson memorial to silently dance to our ipods and we have no idea how many people will show up’?

    IF another group reserved the spot for an event and the dancers were disturbing them, I can see a grievance.

    The surly bastards need to understand that it’s OUR monument and they need to treat us with respect. The dancers weren’t rude and confrontational, the dickhead cops were.

  30. #30 |  Assorted links « Muse Free | 

    [...] Brooke Oberwetter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Parks Police officer who arrested her last ye…. She was arrested while — and apparently because — she was quietly dancing to her iPod during a planned celebration at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. [...]

  31. #31 |  Windy | 

    One doesn’t need a permit to exercise an unalienable right, and government requiring such permits is violating the Constitution.

  32. #32 |  Suki | 

    Case tossed out.

    Also here

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