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RALEIGH, N.C. - Is Making Faces at a Cop Illegal?

OFF THE WIRE
By RYAN ABBOTT
Two kids say a Sharpsburg police officer yanked them off of a school bus, shouted profanity and racial epithets at them and challenged them to fight, because they were "making faces and gestures at him as he drove behind the bus" - which is constitutionally protected speech.
     Martrell Lane and Derick Lewis sued Sharpsburg and its police Officer Travis Parker in Federal Court, on constitutional claims, and for negligence, assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment.
     Lane, now 20, and Lewis, 19, were both minors when the brouhaha erupted, on Feb. 22, 2008. They say the school bus driver, "Clanton," witnessed the events, in which Officer Parker ran up to the rear emergency exit of the bus while it was stopped, "opened it, jumped onto the bus, and grabbed Derick Lewis and pulled him off the bus yelling and screaming at him."
     "Clanton exited the front door of the bus and went to the rear where Officer Parker was threatening Derick Lewis, shouting racial epithets at him, and prodding young Lewis to fight him."
     The complaint continues: "Clanton observed Officer Parker was, in his view, 'out of control' and 'acting like a mad man rather than a law enforcement officer.'
     "Clanton attempted to bring calm to the situation, asking the Officer 'What's going on' and asking him to 'calm down.'
     "Officer Parker yelled to Clanton that 'this is none of your fucking business' and put his hand on his gun while angrily saying 'get back on the bus.'
     "Clanton explained that he was responsible for the children and begged Officer Parker to calm down, to no avail.
     "Failing in his effort to incite young Derick Lewis to hit him, Officer Parker placed Derick Lewis in his police car then returned to the bus yelling 'who else wants some of this,' 'Do any of the rest of you want to take a fucking ride', and shouting other profanity and racial epithets."
     Parker returned to the bus and arrested Lewis's sister, who was "noticeably pregnant," and returned again and arrested Martrell Lane, according to the complaint.
     During this time, they say, Clanton was on the bus's emergency phone, "frantic[al]ly trying to get help from the School District to provide for the safety of the children."
     The complaint adds: "Clanton and the children were bewildered by the shocking conduct of Police Officer Parker, and Officer Parker's refusal to tell anyone what he was doing on the bus and/or why he was angry removing children from the bus.
     "While Clanton pleaded with Officer Parker to calm down ad leave the children alone, Officer Parker had the three children handcuffed and taken to the Police Department in Sharpsburg."
     It was only after they were haled into the cop shop, the kids say, that they "learned that Police Officer Parker claimed that his actions were prompted by a student (or students) being 'disrespectful' at the back of the bus being loud and making faces and gestures at him as he drove behind the bus."
     "The making of faces and hand gestures in a non-threatening manner constitutes First Amendment non-verbal speech under the Constitution of the United States of America."
     They say Parker abused his authority, violated their constitutional rights, and assaulted them.
     They seek punitive damages.
     They are represented by Alvin Pittman, of Los Angeles. 

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