Police Practices Press Release

08.12.99

ACLU of Ohio Incredulous over Northwood Police’s Harassment

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio expressed its shock and disbelief over the harassment of two juveniles by Northwood Police officers because of their choice of t-shirts.

The two youths in question were walking through a Northwood neighborhood on Tuesday, August 3rd when they were stopped by police. After exiting their cars, the officers began to harass and intimidate the youths because they were both wearing t-shirts promoting Insane Clown Posse, a popular rock/rap band. One of the shirts contained profanities.

The youths and their families allege that the officers told the youths that they could not wear such shirts in Northwood and that if one of the youths did not take the shirt off that he would “rip it off” him.
One of the officers has also been alleged to say that there is a statewide ban on Insane Clown Posse shirts and that Northwood police were going to start enforcing the ban. Indeed, Detective Sgt. Al Williams was quoted in the Toledo Blade as saying that, “This is not freedom of speech” and “You can’t be wearing that out in public.” Another police officer, Joe Conley, told the Blade that he could have charged one of the youths with disorderly conduct because of his shirt. “All three officers are wrong,” said ACLU of Ohio Vice President Jeffrey Gamso.

“Whatever the officers may think, the First Amendment protects the right to say offensive things, and police may not strong arm juveniles for exercising their constitutional right to free expression,” Gamso added. “These officers, and all the people of Northwood, should be ashamed of their actions,” he said, noting that police seizure of the t-shirt also violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful seizure.

“Almost as shocking as the incident itself is the fact that the officers continue to maintain that they did nothing wrong,” said Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s a truly dismal situation when police, sworn to uphold the Constitution, display no knowledge of the document itself,” added Link.

The ACLU of Ohio has reviewed taking legal action against the city and its officers.