The “crime,” if it can be called that, is nothing new. But the punishment is. The question now is whether it fits.
The story began last October. Ron Martin, 33, was driving along Eldorado Parkway in Frisco, Texas when he noticed a police car concealed in the brush alongside the road. Knowing a speed trap when he saw one, Martin — a sign painter by trade — took it upon himself to alert other drivers to the police presence by holding up a sign he had hand-lettered expressly for the occasion.
Rather than receiving a summons, as has happened in previous cases, Martin was arrested. He was later charged with a misdemeanor for violating a city ordinance that stipulates that people holding signs in public must be standing on private property. (Martin had positioned himself on the median strip dividing the eastbound and westbound lanes.)
In the arrest report, Officer Thomas Mronzinski wrote:
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I observed a couple cars drive by traveling westbound waving at us. Mr. Martin was observed standing in the center median of the six-lane divided roadway … holding a sign in his right hand up over his shoulders that read ‘Police Ahead.’
On Wednesday, Martin was in court for a preliminary hearing. He maintains that his actions were no more and no less than an exercise of his First Amendment rights. When asked by reporters with ABC affiliate WFAA whether he opposed speed traps, he said:
Absolutely not. I think it’s absolutely important for officers to be on the streets and enforce laws. Ultimately, we’re trying to do the exact same thing. I just don’t wear a uniform. I’m the same thing as a speed limit sign, just reminding people that there is a limit here.
It’s hard to say whether Martin is being totally sincere, but it’s equally hard to say that Mronzinski wasn’t reacting at least partly to a perceived troublemaker who had gotten under his skin. His arrest report notes that as he approached, Martin began videotaping the arrest on his phone. When Martin failed to comply with his order to drop the sign, moreover, he handcuffed the suspect, which may be excessive. Frisco Police Department spokesman Sgt. Brad Merritt told ABC News that a Class C misdemeanor is “basically a traffic ticket.”
A formal hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21.
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