Thursday, March 31, 2011

TN Supreme Court Holds That Use Of Racial Derogatory Remark Against African American Officer Was Not Protected Speech

The events in this case concern an anti-immigration rally at the Hamblen County Courthouse grounds in Morristown, TN in 2006. Teddy Mitchell attended the rally and sought to park his car in a prohibited area at the court house.  When he was told by an African American officer not to park his car in that location he responded, “There’s no nigger going to tell me where I can and can’t park.” That and his aggressive confrontation with police led to his arrest and ultimately a conviction after a jury trial to disorderly conduct.  His conviction was reversed on appeal and the state sought review by the TN Supreme Court.

Judge Wade writing the opinion for the court held: "Defendant’s reference to an African-American officer as “nigger” was properly admitted into evidence. The Defendant’s use of that term, his refusal to obey the officer’s directive to remove his vehicle from a no-parking area until a white officer intervened, his angry response, and his loud and belligerent confrontation of the officers at the rally area checkpoint qualified as threatening behavior designed to annoy or alarm in a public place. Moreover, the Defendant’s conduct is not entitled to the protections of free speech. For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and the conviction and sentence is reinstated."

Significantly, the court held that the defendant had no constitutionally recognized protections under the First Amendment nor Article I, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution to this kind of speech. 

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