CINCINNATI – A man who says he was charged with disorderly conduct after using the word "crippled" to promote a comedian with muscular dystrophy claims Cincinnati police violated his free speech rights, and the comedian agrees.
Forest Thomer, of Cold Spring, Ky., is to appear in a Cincinnati courtroom on the charge Wednesday. He was cited by Cincinnati police last month at a park after he and comedian Ally Bruener say he asked people if they wanted to "laugh at the crippled girl."
The question was not intended to demean his friend Bruener, but to promote her next comedy show and her allybruener.com website, the two said Monday. Bruener, who is in a wheelchair because of the degenerative muscle disorder, said she would approach people after Thomer asked them the question, tell a joke and talk about her next performance. Thomer also would record some of the public's responses for use on Bruener's website, showing people saying: "I laughed at the crippled girl."
Thomer, 25, was cited May 23 on a disorderly conduct charge alleging that he walked into people and shouted obscenities at them, according to court records. Thomer was asked to stop his behavior but "persisted in yelling and shouting, causing annoyance and alarm to others," according to the complaint in Hamilton County Municipal Court. Thomer could face up to 30 days in jail if convicted of the fourth degree misdemeanor charge, a court official said.
"We were just going up to people and asking the question, said Thomer, who denies all of the allegations.
"You can't just arrest people or have them arrested just because you don't like what they are saying," Thomer said.
Lt. Anthony Carter, a Cincinnati police spokesman, declined to comment. The city prosecutor did not immediately return calls for comment.
Bruener, 23, of Alexandria, Ky., said "people are trying to be too politically correct and force us to be as well."
The idea was to get people's attention and help them "let down their guard a bit," said Bruener, who says she uses her humor to try to remove any stigma from the word "crippled."
"I don't think words have power until you react negatively to them," Bruener said.
Other than one woman "who didn't agree with the way we used the word crippled, people were onboard with it and seemed to enjoy it," said Bruener, who has performed at clubs and comedy events in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Thomer and Bruener said they were at a "Party in the Park" event in downtown Cincinnati when police approached them. Police did not take him to jail after he told them he was Bruener's only ride, Thomer said.
A spokesman for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, which sponsors the weekly park parties, said Thomer was "disrupting the event and our guests."
"We don't allow anyone to conduct marketing at our events without prior authorization or take video of our guests for commercial purposes without their approval," chamber spokesman Chris Kemper said.