6th Circuit allows Indians fan to pursue free-speech claim

By The Associated Press
09.18.06

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit brought by a fan against a Cleveland police officer who arrested him at an Indians game.

Jeffrey Swiecicki was arrested at a 2001 game at Jacobs Field after he drew officer Jose Delgado's attention with loud heckling of Indians utility player Russell Branyan. That led to Swiecicki's arrest and conviction on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, which were overturned on appeal.

The fan then sued, charging his First Amendment right to free speech was violated, among other claims. A district court rejected the lawsuit, but a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed that decision on Sept.15.

Swiecicki, a paralegal from the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, and Delgado offered conflicting versions of events at the game, including the language directed at Branyan.

"For a baseball fan to make a 'federal case' out of being ejected from a game may well strike many as a colossal waste of judicial resources. A jury might well agree," wrote Judge Ronald Lee Gilman in Swiecicki v. Delgado. "But this is the type of case where the ultimate result is totally dependent on whose version of the facts one believes."

Attorney Thomas R. Wolf declined comment on Sept. 15, saying he hadn't discussed the ruling yet with Delgado, who is still a Cleveland police officer.

Swieicicki's attorney, Stephen W. Gard, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"It reaffirms the right of fans in baseball and football to heckle players, which we believe is protected by the First Amendment," said Gard, a professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.

Branyan, meanwhile, now plays for the playoff-contending San Diego Padres.