First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
Man's curses crossed the line, Conn. appeals court rules

By The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — A Bridgeport man's profanity-laced tirade against probation officers in 2004 was inflammatory enough to be considered a threat, the state's appeals court ruled yesterday.

The decision to uphold Gregory Gaymon's breach-of-peace conviction is one of several recent rulings that delineates three areas — free speech, what the courts call "fighting words" and criminal threats.

The state Appellate Court ruled yesterday in State of Connecticut v. Gaymon that Gaymon's actions fell into the third category.

He was being arrested by five probation officers on a probation violation on March 11, 2004, and was handcuffed when he threatened and cursed one of them and spit at him. Gaymon was charged with breach of peace, convicted and sentenced to six months in prison.

His attorneys argued that the language was not extreme enough to justify an arrest under Connecticut law. They cited a state Supreme Court ruling that "fighting words" that would justify a reaction from an ordinary citizen may not be offensive enough to justify action by police.

But the Connecticut high court also has ruled that threats against police officers are not protected speech.

The Appellate Court did not decide yesterday whether a probation officer should be treated as a police officer in such cases, but found Gaymon's words alone were properly viewed as a threat.

"Because we have determined that the defendant's statements ... constituted true threats, the court's failure to instruct the jury as to fighting words did not affect the fairness of the trial," wrote Judge Joseph H. Pellegrino.

Gaymon's attorney, Charles F. Willson, said he planned to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

"We hold to our position that a probation officer, because he was engaging in police activity, should have been treated as a police officer in describing his role to a jury," Willson said.

Willson said he also plans to argue, as he did to the appeals court, that it was not reasonable for the probation officer to feel threatened by a man in handcuffs.

"He was restricted," Willson said. "There was not a reasonable expectation that he would engage in an act of violence."

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Robert Brennan, who argued the state's case, said he had not reviewed the ruling and would not comment on it.


Connecticut high court: Threats against police aren't protected

Justices find that while citizens have right to say things to officers that would be out of line to others, threats are different. 07.28.03

Supreme Court won't hear dispute over cursing at cops
By refusing case, justices let stand Montana high court ruling that unprovoked utterances aren't protected. 05.03.04

Indiana appeals court: Cursing at cop was protected speech
Unanimous panel overturns teen's juvenile conviction for disorderly conduct, finding that comments only annoyed police and didn't cause real harm. 05.27.05

Motorist's tirade not protected speech, says Ore. court
Appeals panel upholds man's conviction, saying law used to prosecute him falls under constitutional exception that allows Legislature to try to prevent speech that might cause violent response. 05.27.07

Ore. high court: Racist, homophobic speech is protected
'We can deal with racism and homophobia in our society without doing damage to the important protections of free speech,' justices rule. 08.15.08

Fighting words

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 20:59:37
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links