PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Dechert LLP filed a federal lawsuit today against a Blossburg Borough police officer for issuing a criminal citation to Lance Margeson, who used mild profanity in a verbal dispute with a borough resident. The ACLU-PA filed suit after Blossburg refused to train its officers on First Amendment rights.
"Police should be focused on protecting public safety, not enforcing manners," said Caroline Power, an attorney at Dechert LLP, who is representing Margeson pro bono. "It may not be polite to swear at someone, but it's certainly not a crime."
In June 2015, Lance Margeson, a resident of Horesheads, NY, was driving through the borough as part of his employment when he was flagged down by a woman. The two got into an argument about an earlier incident in which the woman’s children had shouted profanities at Margeson. The discussion grew heated, and Margeson, in frustration, called the woman a “bitch.” She then reported the incident to Blossburg Police Officer Robert Scott. Officer Scott charged Margeson with disorderly conduct because of his use of the word “bitch.” Margeson was convicted of disorderly conduct at his first court appearance, but the charges were thrown out on appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled forty-five years ago that people could not be prosecuted for using profanity, but police in Pennsylvania continue to bring criminal charges against people like Margeson.“It is an abuse of their power,” said Margeson. “I hope that this action will teach the police – in Blossburg and across Pennsylvania – that they cannot ignore the Constitution.”
Margeson is represented by Power of Dechert LLP and by Mary Catherine Roper and Witold Walczak of the ACLU-PA. The case is Margeson v. Scott and is filed in US District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania.
More information about the case, including the complaint, can be found at: www.aclupa.org/scott