A Chattanooga woman was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after being told by an officer to go into her house because it is “government property.”
The woman, Rochelle Gelpin, who pays rent, was charged on the basis of a sworn statement by the officer in which he lied about the circumstances of the encounter, according to the defendant and two eyewitnesses.
By David Tulis / AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio
Officer Jeff Rahn filed criminal charges against Mrs. Gelpin the same night in which officers also falsely charged Hanson Melvin at Northgate Crossing apartments near Northgate mall in Hixson.
In both the Gelpin and Melvin cases, officers perjured themselves on their reports. Mr. Melvin was indicted, but district attorney Neal Pinkston intervened and asked Judge Don Poole of criminal court to toss the case, which he did with prejudice (meaning it cannot be brought up again). Mrs. Gelpin also courageously stood her ground, refused a plea offer and demanded her right to an indictment.
On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the grand jury issued a “no true bill” on the accusations by Officer Rahn.
No probable cause
The two cases suggest a strong disregard for members of the public by police who act without probable cause and seemingly by personal pique. The moment Mr. Melvin arrived home from jail, he received a harassing visit by half a dozen police officers who interrogated him.
My review of the statute at TCA 1917 305 indicates that it is unconstitutionally vague because it is unclear in its broadest provision how one is to avoid violating it. No one in the Chattanooga bar has challenged the statute. It is routinely plea-bargained for other dismissal on good behavior or probation. The charge allows the state to get more people into its for-profit system and create new payers for its business and state partners in bonding, probation and incarceration.
Fewer than 10 appeals court opinions touch on it. The vague statute serves police purposes since it gives officers leeway to harass members of the public officers hold in disfavor. It also keeps the public defender’s office in work.
Barked orders for mom, daughter
Officer Rahn lied about an encounter which was witnessed by Mrs. Gelpin’s grown daughter, Shay, and a neighbor, Zaneka Steele, who saw the encounter from a second-floor balcony. The women say Mrs. Gelpin was not “yelling” and that officer Rahn had no cause for ordering her into her house or arresting her.
Officer Rahn’s statement first misleads by setting the scene and secondarily prevaricates on the details, even getting wrong the identity of the person upon whom he put his handgrip.
The misleading element of the report is his discussion of why he came to the scene in the first place. Mrs. Gelpin’s arrest was not part of the cause of his arrival in the apartment complex at 1664 Greendale Way. That evening near midnight two women had had a fight and five police cars were on the scene Officer Rahn uses this narrative to imply that Mrs. Gelpin was somehow involved in the fracas and that its occurrence required him to take control of her person, well after things were over, for public safety.
In his report, typed annoyingly in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, Officer Rahn says he
responded to 1664 Greendale Way on a large disorder call with people fighting in the parking lot. Once on scene, police observed a large party of people in the parking lot and proceeded to investigate the situation and clear parties out of the street. Police approached the defendant, Rochelle Gelpin, and advised her to go inside. The defendant advised police that she did not have to go inside and advised police to call a sergeant. The defendant became agitated and became very loud with police. Police asked the defendant for identification but she continued to yell over police advising that she was going to report police to Internal Affairs. The defendant continued to yell causing bystanders to stop and watch the situation. Police attempted to place the defendant into custody for disorderly conduct and she attempted to pull away from police. Police took the defendant into custody and transferred her to the Hamilton County Jail. [Italics added]
Points of fiction
The problems with the account and the problems of the facts of the situation are several.
➤ According to affidavits connected in an investigation of police practices by AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio, no one pulled away from Officer Rahn. Rather, Officer Rahn grabbed Jay Gelpin’s arm and stopped her from entering the house after her mother asked her to go fetch her cellphone so she could call 911.
➤ Officer Rahn says that Mrs. Gelpin yelled at police and caused bystanders to stop and watch the situation (suggesting riot). Didn’t happen.
➤ Officer Rahn did not have probable cause to approach Mrs. Gelpin or her daughter in the first place. These people were sitting on the hood of their car several buildings away from the area in which the fracas had occurred. Everything has settled down by the time he came upon Mrs. Gelpin. He also had no cause to order the women into their house. The daughter and married mother of four children were sitting quietly, enjoying their constitutional right to converse outdoors, harming no one.
➤ Refusal to obey “an official order to disperse” is a crime only if it is issued “to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to fire, hazard or other emergency,” TCA 39-17-305(a)(3). No fire, hazard or emergency was proximate.
➤ Her telling Mr. Rahn not to grab her daughter’s arm was not “[engaging] in fighting” or “violent or threatening behavior.” One cannot be charged for resisting arrest if the officer has no cause to arrest a person in the first place. Mr. Rahn arrested the mother after she told him to take his hand off her daughter’s arm.
➤ Officer Rahn’s narrative also doesn’t reach the third requirement for disorderly conduct, that the conduct “creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by [an] act that serves no legitimate purpose.”
The accusation implies that speaking loudly or raising one’s voice is a crime. It’s not. It also implies that speaking loudly (yelling) is a crime, and it’s not if it does not prevent an officer from doing his job. Since he had no probable cause to confront her, her objections, even if loud and drawing notice of passersby, cannot be reasonably construed as violating provisions of the disorderly conduct statute.
Innocent person, state crime
The Tennessee oppression statute at TCA 39-16-403 forbids any state actor from knowingly depriving anyone of his or her rights apart from law and doing so with threat and intimidation. Mr. Melvin and Mrs. Gelpin are protected by the civil rights intimidation statute at TCA 39-17-309, found in the same section of the code as “disorderly conduct.” Most importantly, they’re protected by the constitutional provision that requires probable cause for any seizure of their person or property. The probable cause standard requires a crime to have been committed before a free person in the state of Tennessee can be hauled to jail and magistrate.
Neither Mr. Melvin or Mrs. Gelpin committed a crime, according to witnesses. An audio in the Melvin case plainly contradicted the officer’s sworn statement about Mr. Melvin’s “yelling.” As for the Gelpin arrest, Officer Rahn had turned off video and audio.
Perjury — lying about material facts
In both cases we have raised the issue of perjury by a state actor. Perjury is making knowingly false statements on matters of material fact. A false statement on a police report is no less guilty than a false statement made on the witness stand. That Mrs. Gelpin had refused to yield constitutionally guaranteed rights, the officer was required to repeat his story before the grand jury. If indeed he testified there in secret proceedings, he turned a misdemeanor into a felony by repeating falsehoods in a public proceeding (see TCA 39-16-701).
The office of prosecutor Neal Pinkston is concerned about abuse among the ranks of police officers who disregard the constitutional rights of the public. Mr. Pinkston intervened in the case of Mr. Melvin to abort the results of the Melvin indictment bearing is signature. But the Gelpin case did not reach his notice. His office attorneys handle only 2 percent of cases that go before the grand jury. The rest are brought there by police departments serving municipal corporations and by the Sheriff’s Department, officers in each the state’s accusers against people in local economy and free markets.
Mr. Pinkston, in a courthouse elevator conversation Friday, said he didn’t have time to talk about what I called “another stinker prosecution of an innocent person.” Spokeswoman Melydia Clewell said by text that Mrs. Gelpin has a remedy in civil lawsuit against Officer Rahn. But perjury is a crime for which there is no civil action, I pointed out.
Mrs. Gelpin’s position is that she is the victim of a crime and that it is up to the state to clean up its act among law enforcers, punishing all acting outside their authority.
Neither police chief Fred Fletcher nor public information officer Victor Miller were available for comment Monday morning, and Lacie Stone, head of mayor Andy Berke’s PR desk, did not return several calls last week seeking comment on this matter and others.
Exclusive coverage: Police victimize woman
Neighbors made uneasy: warrantless arrests of the innocent — the Hanson Melvin case
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