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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > June 2016 > State v. Thurman 2016 Ohio 3002

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State v. Thurman 2016 Ohio 3002

Question: Does calling a police officer an offensive name provide probable cause to arrest for disorderly conduct?

Quick Answer: Offensive language alone, directed toward a police officer generally, may not form probable cause to arrest for disorderly conduct.

Facts: Thurman was a suspect in a hit-and-run case. A deputy went to his house in an attempt to speak with him and observed him on a neighbor’s porch across the street. Upon speaking with Thurman about the accident, Thurman began yelling at the deputy in front of teenagers who were on the porch. A woman came from inside the house and took the teens inside. The deputy again asked about the accident and Thurman called the deputy a racial epithet. At that point, the deputy placed Thurman under arrest for aggravated disorderly conduct. A subsequent search revealed a pill bottle containing prescription medication that didn’t belong to Thurman. He filed a motion to suppress, challenging the arrest. The motion was denied by the trial court. At trial, Thurman was convicted of the charges. On appeal, Thurman argued, and the appellate court agreed, that words alone that are not “fighting words” directed at a peace officer could not form the basis of the aggravated disorderly conduct charge. In addition, the teens were taken inside and the interaction was solely between the deputy and defendant, whom the appeals court noted in its decision were Caucasian and African-American, respectively. Further, the words did not incite the deputy to violence; rather, he testified, he didn’t appreciate the epithet being used toward him. The appellate court held the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress.

Keep in Mind: The court noted that officers are expected to have thicker skin than the general public when it comes to insults directed toward them.