by Max Brantley
The man arrested by Jonesboro police after he'd taken a video of them during a traffic stop and called them Nazis won't be prosecuted for disorderly conduct. Matt Harden announced on his Facebook page that charges were dropped for his "agreeing not to sue." His YouTube video of the event — with officers barging onto his property and demanding ID after he'd called out to them — got wide play and was mentioned on cable news programs.
This case got worse before it got better and Harden's lawyer, Donn Mixon, filled me in on the details.
After cops entered Harden's garage without a warrant; after they demanded ID for a non-crime (criticizing a police officer); after they arguably committed a battery of Harden by grabbing his camera; after they arrested him — then they searched his garage and found a handgun. Harden was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Two problems: 1) He has no felony record (despite Jonesboro police efforts to smear him by saying he'd once been mentioned as a potential suspect in a burglary) 2) he has a permit to carry a weapon.
Harden was held 24 hours before police discovered they'd filed an erroneous charge. But the disorderly conduct charge still pended. Finally, the city attorney's office said they'd drop the charge, in return for a waiver that Harden not sue over his handling. Harden's no choirboy. But the law couldn't be clearer. Shouting at a police officer isn't a trumped-up crime like disorderly conduct or obstructing government operations, not even if you call a cop a Nazi.
Here's Harden's waiver. (Link corrected.)
The Jonesboro police said:
Agreement Reached in Cameraman Arrest Case
After negotiations between a Jonesboro man who was arrested after videotaping police officers conducting a traffic stop near his residence while shouting “Nazi, Nazi, SS” and accusing the officers of violating the rights of the subject of the traffic stop, the Jonesboro City Attorney’s office and the man have both agreed to discontinue any course of action which may have led to either prosecution or civil litigation.
Early yesterday, Assistant City Attorney Carol Duncan met with Donn Mixon, a local attorney representing Matthew T. Harden in the case. Citing the need to put the matter to rest in an effort to resolve the issue in the best possible way for all parties involved, the agreement was reached.
Police officers are routinely forced to make split second decisions which encompass sometimes very complex areas of law. Since the incident and subsequent arrest of Mr. Harden, the Jonesboro Police Department and Prosecutor’s Office have fielded many calls on where the line may be drawn between a person’s right to free speech and the duty a police officer has to keep the peace.