The citizens of Minnesota are well aware of the issue of police brutality throughout America, and how viral videos have been able to show any questionable aggression and practices by a number of officers. It seems like there are new videos coming out every month.
In October, one surfaced that showed a black man being grabbed by police and later arrested in Edina for simply walking in the street. The recording has been viewed over 750,000 times, and has sparked a discussion as to how similar incidents should be handled to prevent violence or aggression between the police and the community.
What Is in the Video?
The incident started when Larnie B. Thomas was walking down the street. The sidewalk where he was walking was under construction, and a paved shoulder was available for pedestrians to walk on. Thomas was allegedly walking on the white line that separates the shoulder from traffic, although police accounts say he was walking directly in the southbound lane of traffic.
Lt. T.F. Olson, an Edina police officer, stopped his car in front of Thomas. Thomas walked around the car and kept walking, but was stopped and grabbed by the officer. That’s when a bystander, Janet Rowles, began filming.
In the video, Officer Olson is leading Thomas into the southbound lane of traffic while saying, “You’re walking in the middle of the street…you’re being disruptive.” Thomas is visibly upset, asking the officer to take his hands off of him repeatedly. Thomas removes the jacket and shirt that Olson was grabbing. Only after Thomas is shirtless (and more witnesses have arrived) does Olson let go of him.
Thomas repeatedly asks why he is being stopped and grabbed by the officer. After a few minutes, a second officer comes and tells Thomas, “My partner told me you’re under arrest,” while attempting to handcuff him. Rowles, meanwhile, says that Olson never put Thomas under arrest.
The video ends with Thomas being taken away in an unmarked squad car, and another officer asking Rowles (and other witnesses) for their names.
Officers said (in a statement released later on Facebook) that they had smelled alcohol of Thomas’s breath, and a breathalyzer did confirm that he had alcohol in his body. However, there are no charges for public intoxication in Minnesota. Instead, Thomas was arrested for disorderly conduct and failing to obey a traffic signal as a pedestrian. He was released before being taken to jail.
This story (and the accompanying video) went viral and has been met with scrutiny. Many have questioned the actions of the Edina police department.
What Is Disorderly Conduct?
Minnesota defines disorderly conduct as any of the following actions that would upset others or provoke violence:
- Causing a disturbance during a lawful gathering
- Saying something offensive or obscene
- Engaging in offensive, obscene, or noisy conduct
However, “noisy conduct” is something that we likely see (and may even engage in) every day: at baseball games, at a bar, and so on. The tricky thing about disorderly conduct is that it all depends on the context of the situation.
Prosecutors handling a disorderly conduct case will try to prove to the judge that the actions of the defendant were unlawful because they blatantly angered, upset, or disturbed the citizens around them. If the actions trigger the imminent fear that someone will react with violence, then disorderly conduct has been committed.
Was Thomas’s Arrest Justified?
In the video, Thomas repeatedly uses obscene language and is yelling in a residential neighborhood. However, comments from Rowles put the situation into perspective. Thomas was visibly upset, but also scared and confused as to why he is being grabbed by the police officer and possibly being put under arrest.
Rowles is a mediator, and has commented that while filming, she was more disturbed by the officer’s behavior than Thomas’s. She says to the officer in the video, “People die in these situations. It’s scary.” She believes that Thomas was acting as anyone would who is frightened for his or her life.
If You Have Been Charged with Disorderly Conduct
If you have been arrested for disorderly conduct, you could face the penalties of a misdemeanor charge: up to six months in prison and fines of up to $1,000. While misdemeanors are not as severe as felonies, you still don’t want to have this type of smudge on your criminal record.
Disorderly conduct charges can stem from a lot of different situations – remember, it all depends on context. Because of this, though, there are a number of ways to defend yourself in court. During any interaction with police, you have the right to contact a lawyer. Utilize that right and protect your future.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2016), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2016), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2016).