Pepin Tuma, the Washington, D.C. lawyer who was arrested for saying, "I hate the police," within earshot of an on duty officer, urged the District of Columbia Council today to rewrite the city's disorderly conduct statute.
Tuma appeared before the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which is considering legislation intended to clarify and update the law. He told the lone council member in attendance, committee chair Phil Mendelson (At-Large), that the statute’s sweeping language had led to police misuse and abuse.
“The current disorderly conduct statute is antiquated and ineffective,” Tuma said, reading form a prepared statement. “Its vague and subjective standards provide little guidance to citizens and to police officers on what conduct is lawful.”
Tuma, a former associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy now doing contract work after a stint with the Obama campaign, was arrested in July on U Street during a night out with two friends. The three were discussing the recent arrest of Harvard professor Skip Gates. As they walked by a group of police, Tuma broke out into a loud, sing song voice, chanting “I hate the police.”
At that point, an officer allegedly ran over, pinned him to an electric utility box, and shouted, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” The officer arrested Tuma and charged him with disorderly conduct. On the way to the police cruiser, he allegedly called Tuma a “faggot.”
The incident touched off a local version of the Gates controversy, and Tuma later wrote about his experiences in a Washington Post op-ed. The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating whether the officer acted improperly. Meanwhile, Tuma is attempting to clear his arrest record with pro bono help from lawyers at his former firm — Gibson, partner Michael Flanagan and associate Bennett Borden.
The two lawyers could soon be getting involved in the legislative effort as well. During the hearing, Mendelson made it clear he thought it was time for changes in the law, pointing out that parts of it were more than a century old, and that it had been criticized by Gerald Ford’s President’s Commission On Crime in the District of Columbia.
“Are [your lawyers] available to work with us on changes to this statute,” Mendelson asked Tuma. Both Tuma and his lawyers nodded.
Also in attendance at the hearing was Stephen Block, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, who argued that the disorderly conduct statute was “unconstitutionally vague” as written.
A representative for the police union, Delroy Burton, argued against the proposed changes.
“It would be virtually impossible to use,” he said.