October 7, 2011
PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Gilberton Borough (Schuylkill County) Councilman Robert Wagner, who was arrested and strip-searched last summer after using profanity in a voicemail for the town’s police chief complaining about unruly teenagers in his neighborhood.
“One of this country’s greatest virtues is the high value our Constitution places on free speech,” said Irene Ayzenberg-Lyman, an attorney at Dechert LLP, who is representing Wagner pro bono. “And free speech includes words that may be offensive to some. Cursing may not be nice, but it is certainly not against the law. To arrest and strip-search someone for cursing is a clear abuse of power.”
On the evening of July 13, 2010, Wagner called Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler to complain that several teenagers were loudly racing quads and dirt bikes in front of his house and disturbing the entire neighborhood. Aware of Wagner’s position on city council, neighbors complained to him about the dangerous activities of the teens and asked him to do something about the recurring problem.
Unable to reach Chief Kessler, Wagner left a voicemail, using profanity to describe the actions of the teens and to express his frustration with his local law enforcement and government officials. He then called Mayor Mary Lou Hannon and used similar language to describe his frustration about the unruly behavior of the teens in his neighborhood.