ACLU to Pittsburgh Police: Stop Ticketing People for Obscenities

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City police wrote nearly 200 disorderly conduct citations over a 32-month period for swearing, obscene gestures and other acts deemed disrespectful, a number that a civil rights group said was unacceptable and showed a lack of officer training.

After filing a Right to Know request, the American Civil Liberties Union found 188 such citations between March 1, 2005, and Oct. 31.

"Nobody likes to get sworn at, but you can't make it a crime," Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The ACLU's request came in connection with a federal lawsuit involving David Hackbart, who was cited after allegedly making an obscene gesture at another driver, and then at a police sergeant. In a recent court filing, the city said the citation was not for Hackbart's gestures, but because he was blocking traffic.

Walczak told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the city had initially claimed it had only one disorderly conduct citation involving rude remarks to police or other people over that period. He called the additional citations evidence that the department had failed to adequately train its officers.

Walczak said officers were wrong to cite a woman who said, "I'm a (expletive) passenger," during a traffic stop; a woman who was "swearing profanities to a companion in front of the Girl Scouts"; and a man who "engaged in loud noise, racial slurs and pig remarks."

City attorney Michael Kennedy declined to comment on Hackbart's case and told the newspaper he could not explain the difference between the 188 citations found in court records and the one citation claimed by city police.