Two police officers in Liberty, New York were sued on Thursday by a Connecticut man who claims he was handcuffed and berated after a judge objected to him writing expletives and crossing out the town’s name and replacing it with “TYRANNY” on a speeding ticket.
Willian Barboza (pictured left), 22, was joined in the suit by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the law firm Bergstein & Ullrich, LLP, objecting to a charge of aggravated harassment slapped on Barboza in May 2012. That charge was overturned in March of this year, the NYCLU explained in a media advisory.
In addition to scratching out “Liberty” and replacing it with “Tyranny,” Barboza wrote on his mail-in payment form, “FUCK YOUR SHITTY TOWN BITCHES.” The payment was rejected and a judge ordered Barboza to appear in court, at which time he was handcuffed to a bench and booked into a holding facility before posting $200 in bail.
“No one should get arrested for speech,” Barboza said in the NYCLU advisory. “All I did was express my frustration with a ticket and I almost ended up in jail. I want to make sure nobody else ends up in a similar situation because of this law.”
The NYCLU appears to be involved in the case not just to punish the town of Liberty, but to strike the aggravated harassment law from the state for good. The law bans any speech delivered “with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person,” which they contend is flatly unconstitutional. The civil rights group won a similar case in 2003 against the law’s ban on speech mean to annoy or alarm, prompting the New York Police Department to cease arrests for such conduct.
“New York’s aggravated harassment statute must be struck from the books, once and for all,” NYCLU attorney Mariko Hirose explained. “No one else should have to suffer the way Mr. Barboza did.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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