Man sues Farmington after arrest for cursing at diner

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Does cursing loudly at a late-night restaurant qualify as disorderly conduct?

A district court judge ruled in August that it does not, and now a Farmington man has filed a lawsuit against the city of Farmington claiming that his constitutional right to free speech was violated.

He seeks unspecified damages in the lawsuit.

Tye Trujillo was arrested at IHOP, 3546 E. Main St. in Farmington, by three Farmington police officers after allegedly saying the word "F---" several times shortly before midnight on June 11, 2013, according to an arrest report.

The officers — Dennis Ronk, Albert Boognl and Tamara Smith — were eating dinner at the restaurant in full uniform when the offensive language was used, the report states.

Trujillo, 32, was at the restaurant with several friends. A family with three small children were seated near them, the report states.

According to the report, Ronk approached the men and told them that if they said the word one more time, he would arrest them.

Trujillo allegedly used the word again and Ronk followed through on his threat, the report states.

Trujillo was cited for disorderly conduct and was found guilty of violating city code in Farmington Municipal Court on April 10.

Farmington's city code states that disorderly conduct consists of, among other things, "obscene, indecent, profane challenging or other words which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction in an average person."

Trujillo's initial attorney in the case, Jennifer Wernersbach, appealed the Farmington Municipal Court's decision to Aztec District Court on April 10, court records state.

Albuquerque attorney Joe Kennedy began representing Trujillo in May.

He argued in a motion to dismiss filed in August that Trujillo's cursing did not "provoke an immediate violent reaction" and therefore did not meet the city's standard for disorderly conduct.

He further argued that several courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled that the arrest of an individual simply for the use of obscene language is a violation of that individual's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

District Court Judge Sandra Price ruled at a bench trial on Aug. 15 that while there existed probable cause for arrest, Trujillo's conduct was not disorderly.

Trujillo filed a lawsuit against the city on Friday arguing that the city allowed its police officers to deprive him of his civil rights and failed to train the officers to recognize constitutionally protected speech.

Trujillo could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kennedy is representing Trujillo in his lawsuit against the city. He did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Farmington City Attorney Jennifer Breakall said the city, by policy, does not comment on pending litigation.

She said city officials have not discussed changing the definition of "disorderly conduct" in the municipal code.

"The judge's decision (in Trujillo's case) was based on the facts of the situation, not the validity of the ordinance," she said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.