The following is a statement by Asheville Police Department Chief of Police, Bill Hogan:
The Asheville Police Department is a professional, well trained, and accredited agency that is committed to protecting individuals’ Constitutional rights. Our Department has assisted with untold rallies and protests to protect citizens’ opportunity for free speech while maintaining the safety of all individuals present. The press release attached below describes the facts surrounding this case. Expressing one’s opinions must be done in a manner that does not infringe upon the rights and safety of others. In this case, the actions of Mr. Phillips was impeding the flow of traffic and endangering motorists by holding a sign over Interstate 240 during rush hour traffic which could have caused a serious traffic crash. It is unfortunate that this event and the motives of the officers have been misconstrued to represent an act by the Asheville Police Department to deprive someone of their Constitutional rights.
Chief Bill Hogan
For Immediate Release
Aug. 20, 2007
Asheville Police Department
Contact: Police Chief Bill Hogan
Phone: 259-5901, or 552-1900
APD responds to concerns about charges against West Asheville man
ASHEVILLE – The Asheville Police Department has received several inquiries about the Aug. 15 arrest of an Asheville man who was holding a sign on the Haywood Road Bridge over Interstate 240, and was subsequently charged with impeding the flow of traffic.
A review of the incident including interviews with the officers discloses the following:
Shortly before 8 a.m., during rush hour on Aug. 15, a person flagged down APD Officer Russell Crisp, who was in his police car on Haywood Road, to inform him that a man was standing on the I-240 overpass and obstructing traffic.
The department had received multiple complaints over a two-week period last month about individuals holding up signs at that same spot.
Officer Russell Crisp arrived to find Jonas Phillips, 35, was holding his sign over the I-240 overpass. When Officer Crisp arrived at the location, Mr. Phillips walked across three lanes of traffic on the bridge, thereby impeding the flow of traffic on Haywood Road.
After Officer Crisp caught up with Mr. Phillips, he asked Mr. Phillips how long he intended to be there. Mr. Phillips replied that he would be there until he had to go to work.
At this point, Officer Crisp called his superior, Sgt. Randy Riddle, who came to the overpass and informed Mr. Phillips that he was in violation of Sec. 16-2 of the city’s municipal code pertaining to "Obstruction of streets, sidewalks by persons prohibited."
Sec. 16-2 reads in part:
It shall be unlawful for any person, singly or in a group, to:
(1) Obstruct or cause to be obstructed vehicular or pedestrian traffic on the streets or sidewalks or in parks or other public areas within the corporate limits of the city.
Mr. Phillips was charged and arrested for being in violation of that code, and the department is also examining whether he may also be charged for violating an N.C. Department of Transportation law that prohibits hanging signs on an overpasses, which poses dangers for motorists passing below.
The officers can attest that as Mr. Phillips held his sign over the edge of the bridge, drivers on the interstate were slowing down and honking their horns, which also created a traffic hazard and impeded the flow of traffic. Interstate 240 on the west side of the city is often congested, especially at rush hour, and this congestion heightens the potential for accidents.
"This city and this police department pride ourselves on protecting people’s right to free speech, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights, safety and freedoms of others," Police Chief Bill Hogan said. "It was not the content of the sign, but the risks posed to drivers that precipitated our actions."