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Ohio Attorney Says Barking At Police Dog Is Free Speech

Police Dog
"C'mon dude, leave me alone. I'm just doing my job." -- File Photo

If Timber could talk, he would say this case is just “ri-dog-ulous”.

Mason, Ohio Municipal Court will be the stage for a Constitutional challenge on whether barking at a police dog violates laws against taunting service animals or is protected free speech.

Mason, Ohio police cited Ryan Stephens, 25, of Mason, Ohio earlier this month after he allegedly stuck his face two inches from a squad car window and began barking at Timber, the department’s police dog. Officer Bradley Walker was investigating another complaint in the Mason Pub parking lot, when he found Stephens allegedly antagonizing the police dog.

When Bradley informed the apparently intoxicated Stephens of the charge of teasing a dog, Stephens said, “the dog started it,” according to the police report.

Stephens plead not guilty April 21 to the misdemeanor charge in municipal court.

His attorney Jim Hardin is preparing motions to dismiss and suppress, claiming his client’s barking is protected under the First Amendment. Because Stephens wasn’t charged with any other crimes, and if barking is free speech, he is also protected under the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure, Hardin said.

“This is just speech, whether it’s in a language someone understands or not, it’s still protected speech, unless it rises to the level of being so offensive that it constitutes a fighting word, where it would invoke a violent response and is intended to do so,” he said. “It might not be what most people would do … But it still would constitute speech.”

Hardin points to a 2003 appeals court case where a barking case was dismissed because the man in that instance was barking at a police dog from across the street. The court of appeals did not examine the free speech issue in that case because the issue wasn’t raised. Free speech is the cornerstone of the Mason case, Hardin said.

Sgt. Matt Hayes, who is a canine unit supervisor, said the two cases are dissimilar.
“Distance does matter,” he said. “Obviously a dog is going to feel more threatened with somebody two inches from its nose than it is from a few hundred feet. There is a big difference there.”

Hardin, whose client faces 60 days in jail if found guilty, says distance doesn’t matter.
“Whether you’re 30 feet away or six inches away it’s still speech,” he said. “You have to have something else. It’s a distinction without a difference.”

City Prosecutor Bethany Bennett said it is unusual for Constitutional challenges to appear in her court. “In municipal court, not a whole lot of people go to that expense,” she said. “But when there’s an interesting issue, I’ll accept the challenge and enjoy it.”

Story By Elaine Furst For Dog Files

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BrianneVillano
11 years ago

“The dog started it.” Seriously? ROFL.

TestSubjekt
11 years ago

What happens if you yell in a police officers face?

TestSubjekt
11 years ago

What happens if you yell in a police officers face?

Just As I Thought
Just As I Thought
11 years ago

and this is in our Courts of Justice? OMG I just threw up on my shoe.

Cjustpeachie
Cjustpeachie
11 years ago

YA….WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU YELL IN A POLICE OFFICERS FACE CAUSE TIMBER IS A POLICE OFFICER ISN’T HE??

kat
kat
11 years ago

25 does not mean you are mature!

SaintIAint66
SaintIAint66
11 years ago

The Police Officer should slap the idiot & his Liar…….ummm Lawyer in the face & call it “Freedom of Expression”………………….just a thought. LOL!

Blaise925
Blaise925
11 years ago

your all retarded, a dog may be considered a police officer but he still is just a dog. i believe the officer in this case should be sentenced to 60 days in jail for not having anything better to do than cite someone for barking at a dog. this is a sign that our police in ever state or county or going to shit, all of them completely worthless.

Writinglovey
Writinglovey
11 years ago

And if the dog bit him, he’d be suing. What an idiot.

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