Rocky River, OH asked in Criminal Law, Personal Injury, Civil Litigation and Civil Rights for Florida

Q: If someone is holding a lawful and peaceful protest, can 1 person ruin it for everyone by committing crimes?

If someone is holding a lawful and peaceful protest on a sidewalk, then 1 individual person comes and throws glass at police & otherwise does disorderly and unlawful actions, are police able to deem the entire protest unlawful and disperse it? Can 1 protestor's actions represent the entire group? What precedent (or legal principal) exists for this?

1 Lawyer Answer
Charles M.  Baron
Charles M. Baron
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Hollywood, FL
  • Licensed in Florida

A: To answer this question, you must put yourself in the shoes of the police officers - that is how a Court would analyze it should the police action be challenged. (By the way, I have handled many police misconduct cases representing victims of false arrest, excessive force, etc., and I've been in many street protests myself). If a reasonable officer would fear for his/her safety or the safety of others due to one protestor's actions, and would have any reason whatsoever for fearing that that others in the group could become violent as well, then a Court would say, yes, the police had a right to halt the protest and issue a dispersal order.

It would be a rare scenario for a Court viewing this type of situation to be able to say, "There was no rational basis for the officers to believe that violence might occur. They could have easily removed the one guy who was throwing dangerous objects at them without having any fear whatsoever that their safety or the safety of others may be threatened from other protestors." The legal authorities on this issue would be published court decisions; that would take legal research.

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