Nicholas J.C. Pistor
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Dec 31, 2008
A Belleville Police officer arrested a St. Charles man for wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “POLICE.”
Now, Adam C. Weinstein, of St. Charles, has sued the department for what he calls a violation of his constitutional rights.
According to police documents, Weinstein was arrested in 2006 outside a bar in Belleville for “impersonating officers.” He was wearing a black t-shirt with the word police striped across the front and back under a sweater. The t-shirt became exposed when he removed the sweater because he was hot.
“Those t-shirts are a sign of solidarity,” said Howard A. Shalowitz, an attorney representing Weinstein. “How many people wear NYPD caps? Are they impersonating police?”
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According to the lawsuit, a waitress told Weinstein that some police officers wanted to speak with him outside the bar. Weinstein went outside, he said, and was greeted by Belleville Police Officer Jeff Vernatti.
Vernatti, Weinstein alleges, asked him for his police credentials. Weinstein says he told the officer he didn’t have any credentials because he wasn’t a police officer.
That’s when, according to Weinstein, the police officer started screaming curse words and became physically and verbally abusive. Weinstein says he was cuffed and later released by the officer, but made to take the t-shirt off while standing in the cold.
Weinstein was ticketed for impersonating a police officer, but it was later dismissed. The ticket only alleges Weinstein wore the t-shirt.
“I’m afraid to go to Belleville,” Weinstein said in an interview. According to the lawsuit, Weinstein is a firefighter.
Weinstein said he bought two of the shirts–one for him, one for his wife–at Leon’s Uniform Company in St. Louis while buying supplies for firefighting.
The lawsuit was filed last week in St. Clair County. Vernatti and the city of Bellevile are named as defendents.
In 2005, Vernatti and the city of Belleville were sued for allegedly tasering a man. That case was later settled before going to trial.
Belleville Mayor Mark W. Eckert declined to comment through an aide. A spokesperson for the Belleville Police also declined to comment. Vernatti couldn’t be reached for comment.
Steven Beckett, professor and director of trial advocacy at the University of Illinois’ law school, said the arrest may be a violation of Weinstein’s First Amendment rights.
“A t-shirt alone isn’t enough to arrest someone,” Beckett said. “There must be some overt act.”
Beckett added: “The police complaint on its face is inconsistent with the First Amendment.”
This article was posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 5:35 am