Noah Petersen was arrested last October for harshly criticizing a police officer at a city council meeting in Newton, Iowa. Now he has been found not guilty—and the ordinance used to justify his arrest has been struck down on First Amendment grounds.
“We believe the court got it right,” Petersen’s attorney said. Des Moines Register. “We will soon move forward with the civil rights case.”
Petersen, 22, spoke at an Oct. 3 city council meeting about a video showing local police arresting a college football player on suspicion of driving under the influence. The video sparked community outrage, and the driver has since filed a false arrest lawsuit against the city.
During the meeting, Petersen said the Newton Police Department is “domestic abuse because they currently employ a domestic abuser.” Petersen was then ejected and arrested for disorderly conduct, following a council rule prohibiting “derogatory statements or comments about any person.”
Last Wednesday, Petersen was found not guilty of his disorderly conduct charges. Adding to his victory, the judge struck down the rule barring “derogatory” statements about individuals during city council meetings. “As applied in this particular instance, the Newton City Council rule violates the First Amendment,” the ruling said.
The judge added Petersen “did not act in any purposefully unreasonable manner.” “He read a prepared statement regarding the basic city service of policing. While some may disagree with the content of his comments, the court found that the statements were not ‘derogatory’ or ‘personal’. In the event the statements were ‘derogatory’ or about ‘individuals’ A comment may be found…the Court finds these terms vague and overbroad.”
“What is the First Amendment if not to criticize the government?” Petersen told local TV station KCCI. “I think the government can handle three minutes of criticism.”
Petersen was expelled and arrested for disorderly conduct at an Oct. 24 city council meeting, when he called city officials “fascists.” The case is scheduled to go to trial in April—but after last week’s victory, Petersen should have little difficulty escaping the charges.