NJWeedman Arrested for Cyber-Bullying

NJWeedman was arrested for the third time within three weeks on Friday, May 13, 2016, and was charged with using “offensive language” and “cyber-bullying” Trenton Police Officer Flowers.  NJWeedman was previously arrested on April 19, and again on April 27, when his restaurant and cannabis religious temple were raided.  His third arrest on May 13 is part of the continued pattern of discrimination that NJWeedman has faced from police in the past few months.  NJWeedman now plans on going to court over this charge, but numerous lawyers are arguing in favor of NJWeedman.

The arrests and raids by police scared business away from the Trenton shop, “NJWeedman’s Joint”, which is located across the street from City Hall. On Tuesday, May 10, he announced the restaurant’s reopening by holding a sign outside of his building that read, “We R Open. Fuck The Police.” A Trenton police squad stopped in front of his store, as the officers asked NJWeedman to move out of the street. NJWeedman repeatedly told the police vehicle: “You’re blocking traffic.” The police remained in the vehicle in the street for several minutes as NJWeedman yelled to bystanders about the police: “Fuck him! Fuck him! In fact, fuck ’em both.” The police turned around and parked in front of the store, where they issued employee Jason Arnold a littering citation for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground.  NJ.com on May 10 reported him saying he was trying to attract the community to his business. “I wasn’t confronting the police,” he said. “I was out here exercising my free speech and trying to get people to come in. That’s all.”

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NJWeedman then directed his attention toward Officer Flowers.  “We got pedophile police officers interfering with free speech — this is protected, if it wasn’t protected he would have arrested me,” NJWeedman reportedly said. He even asked Flowers if he used a condom with “that little girl.” He called Officer Flowers a “pedophile” and a “big boy who (expletive) with little girls” in front of police at his store. In the video, Flowers appeared to laugh off the comments and folded his arms together, saying, “Yep, you said it.”  Afterward the video of NJWeedman saying this to Officer Flowers was posted online, but not by NJWeedman himself.  It was this video that led to Trenton police arresting NJWeedman on May 13, under the charges of “cyber-bullying” and using “offensive language” toward Officer Flowers.  NJWeedman was released that same night, but without much media attention.  That would change soon.

On May 16 the Trentonian headlined an article: “‘Butthurt’ Trenton police officer arrests NJ Weedman for cyberbullying; ACLU bashes charges.”  NJWeedman repeatedly mocked Officer Flowers online for being “Butthurt” by his comments. That same day NJWeedman called into the Deminski and Doyle show on NJ 101.5 radio, which turned into a NJ 101.5 online article titled, “Weedman busted for calling cop a ‘pedophile,’ so he calls cop a ‘tender-butt.'” He explained his comments directed at Flowers on May 10: “This officer has a reputation — he’s kind of a thug, and he has that other reputation. When he started trying to tell me to put my sign down, and I couldn’t do that, and get out of the street — all this stuff he’s trying to tell me — to me, I’m a First Amendment guy, anyway. I know he cannot tell me not to do this. So I was doing it anyway despite him, and it got heated between us. I said the personal … thing about him, I called him a pedophile.”  The hosts supported NJWeedman.  “If you call somebody a pedophile, and you do it maliciously, and they’re not, yeah, you can get sued, civilly — that’s very very different than a criminal charge,” co-host Deminski said. “But it seems that there’s absolutely not business that the police had in filing any criminal charges against Weedman, even if it were Weedman who posted this.”

NJWeedman thanked Officer Flowers for filing the phony charges because it landed him an attorney.  Attorney Edward Heyburn, who happened to be involved in suing Flowers for an unrelated case, announced on May 16 that he would assume all of NJWeedman’s criminal and civil rights civil cases following the “preposterous” arrest.  “Trenton is filled with corrupt cops and that corruption goes all the way up to Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri,” Heyburn said in the Trentonian. “Not only are the charges unconstitutional, they’re absurd and they make a mockery of what the law was actually intended to prevent. It’s a scare tactic because they know that my client doesn’t have a lot of money.”  While getting arrested, NJWeedman was also charged with marijuana possession when police found “a roach” on the brim of his hat. Attorney Herburn responded to this charge: “There obviously have been no lab reports to indicate it was actual marijuana or whether it was just paper.”

Edward Heyburn

Attorney Edward Heyburn. Photo from website “Trenton Homicide Watch”.

Attorney Heyburn said the police are “not focusing on the shooting and the killings.” “What they’ve done is use all of that as a pretext to target my client and the people that frequent his establishment and try to put him out of business when there’s been no issues of violence in his place whatsoever,” Heyburn said.  “They may not like his message saying, ‘F**K the police,’ but this is America. I think sometimes Trenton officials forget that it is America, they think that they run this place like Nazi Germany. I’m going to make sure that my client’s rights are protected as well as other people that are victims of the Trenton police.”  Heyburn even filed a civil rights case against Officer Flowers.  “Flowers by all accounts is a troubled cop,” Heyburn said. “He’s abused and terrorized Trenton residents for years. The Trenton police internal affairs has known this. They’ve chosen not to do anything about it.” Heyburn announced his intention to reach out to Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, who has advocated for community policing. “He’s at the top of the food chain,” Heyburn stated. “He’s allowing the police to terrorize his residents so he has some responsibility here. His hands aren’t clean. He can’t expect that the Trenton residents are going to trust the police when he’s sitting back allowing them to file bogus charges.”  Attorney Heyburn rightfully linked the high levels of unsolved crime and murder to police wasting time cracking down on NJWeedman. On May 17, for the website “Homicide Watch Trenton,” Heyburn criticized Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri by bringing up NJWeedman’s case: “The upper echelon of the prosecutor’s office has to go. If you publish this, my concern is if anyone reads this online I might get charged with cyber-bullying.”

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Facebook Meme. Original photo from NJ.com.

The ACLU also came out in support of NJWeedman on May 16, following the cyber bullying charges. A NJ-ACLU senior staff attorney told the Trentonian that neither of the charges (cyber-bullying and offensive language) “appear to be sustainable.” ACLU attorney Alexander Shalom said the offensive language charge in the statute was ruled unconstitutional by the appellate courts three decades ago.  “It wasn’t ruled unconstitutional last week or last month, it was ruled unconstitutional in 1985,” Shalom said. “So this isn’t the one where we should give law enforcement a pass and say, ‘Well, maybe they’re not just reading all the latest cases.’ This is a ticket that they shouldn’t have written because for the last three decades, it’s been unconstitutional to write such a ticket.”

Shalom said the cyber-bullying charge was missing a necessary element in the complaint.“The law doesn’t criminalize any time you use a social networking site to emotionally harm someone,” he said, noting thousands of spurned lovers throughout the state who would then be violating the law. “Instead, what it criminalizes is when you post something that is obscene or lewd that is intended to emotionally harm someone. There’s no allegation that’s what Mr. Forchion did.” Shalom said calling an officer a ‘pedophile’ is “insulting and rude, but it’s not obscene or lewd.” “Both of the charges should be thrown out,” he reported. “It seems like the officer was using the criminal law to enforce his petty grievances.” Shalom even agreed with the marijuana community that police should focus their time on another issue besides nonviolent consumption of cannabis.  “We’ve been reading a lot about the real and serious crime problems going on in Trenton,” Shalom said. “Rather than enforcing low-level marijuana crimes and inventing crimes that don’t exist, the Trenton police would be better suited to be focused on the real crime that’s plaguing that city.”

The online website “Tech Dirt” defended NJWeedman in a blog on May 19. The blog mocked how the NJ cyber bullying law was implemented to protect the children, but instead was misused to protect a cop from a local citizen.  “Tech Dirt” said the offensive language charges, stemming from NJWeedman saying ‘Fuck the Police,’ were “largely baseless.”  The website continued: “But the use of the cyberharassment law — which carries a possible penalty of 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine — is completely ridiculous.”  Moreover: “If Forchion committed no crime by calling Officer Flowers a pedophile in person, no crime was committed simply because this confrontation was recorded (by a third party) and posted to YouTube (also, apparently by a third party).”  “Tech Dirt” attacked Officer Flowers by saying: “Because Flowers didn’t arrest Forchion on the spot, this means he had to go looking for ‘evidence’ of Forchion’s supposed ‘cyberharassment,’ which the officer somehow feels is a better statutory match for verbal abuse he experienced in person. Sure, Flowers could try to sue Forchion for defamation, but that takes time and Flowers’ own cash. Flowers would rather have taxpayers finance his vendetta and see Flowers face a possible $10,000 fine and a stretch in jail than walk away from the disorderly conduct charge he likely won’t be able to make stick.”  Tech Dirt wrote in conclusion: “Rather than simply ignore the personal attack, Flowers chose to treat it as a criminal offense. The end result is that Forchion, a.k.a. ‘NJ Weedman’ — a person who runs a ‘pot temple’ he apparently feels is beyond the reach of state regulation — is now the least ridiculous participant in this confrontation.”

On May 21, Copblock Radio spoke about NJWeedman’s case, after NJWeedman spoke on the station on May 12 prior to his arrest.  Copsblock Radio labeled Officer Flowers the “Douche-bag of the week.”  NJWeedman’s case gained steam on May 25, when U.S. News published an article in favor of him.  “It might be rude, whatever you want to say, but it’s all legal,” NJWeedman said over the phone. “They ruined me, that’s why I was out there.”  He told U.S. News about when six police officers entered his restaurant on May 13 to arrest him: “The whole time I kept telling them, ‘Someone messed up, you guys are going to regret this, this is an instant lawsuit,’ and they didn’t care. … Someone should just walk me over to the city bank account and hand me some money.”  U.S. News said NJWeedman’s accusations were supported by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a prominent First Amendment expert who maintains the Volokh Conspiracy blog on The Washington Post’s website.  Volokh shared the U.S. News article in the Washington Post on May 26, gaining more national attention for NJWeedman (the article was also shared by Newskar.com).  Volokh found the charges appalling. “The harassment law probably doesn’t apply because this is not ‘lewd, indecent or obscene material,’” as required by NJ’s cyber harassment law. “The disorderly conduct law is bad and overbroad, but it’s been struck down as unconstitutional,” Volokh said. The Mercer County Prosecutors Office could plan on having the charges heard before a Grand Jury before proceedings in the county’s Superior Court.”I don’t understand how the prosecutors are going forward with this,” Volokh said in disbelief. “Maybe what he’s hoping is the grand jury won’t indict. But if the grand jury does indict, it will get thrown out. There’s no way a conviction on this will be upheld, even if it’s gotten.”

 

 

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