A Wake Forest Police officer used a Taser to subdue and arrest a 20-year-old Wake Forest man Wednesday evening along East Pine Avenue.
Police arrested Theron Elijah Gill, 218 Seventh St., Wake Forest, and charged him with disorderly conduct by abusive language and resisting, delaying and obstructing a public officer.
Early Wednesday evening police were called to the 600 block of East Pine Avenue in response to reported gunfire. As officers conducted their investigation, a crowd of approximately 50 area residents gathered in the street and along the sidewalk. Among the assembled was Gill, who repeatedly used vulgar and abusive language.
After issuing Gill numerous warnings, Sgt. C. Minor informed Gill that he was under arrest and instructed him to put his hands behind his back. When Gill refused to comply and resisted officers’ efforts to subdue him, he was tased by Officer Albert. While on the ground, Gill continued to resist and was tased a second time.
Police officials say Wednesday’s entire incident could have been avoided had Gill simply complied with officers’ instructions.
“Mr. Gill was warned several times to stop using foul language on a public street,” said Police Chief Jeff Leonard. “After ignoring repeated warnings he was arrested for disorderly conduct. He was then instructed to put his hands behind his back. Again, he refused to comply and when he continued to resist, he was tased. He wasn’t tased for cursing. He was tased for resisting arrest.”
According to North Carolina General Statute 14-288.4 a person is guilty of ‘Disorderly Conduct by Abusive Language Provoking Retaliation” if he or she (1) intentionally causes a public disturbance (2) by making or using any utterance, gesture, display, or abusive language (3) that is intended to and is plainly likely to provoke violent retaliation and thereby cause a breach of the peace.
A bystander filmed a portion of Gill’s arrest using a cell phone camera. In the recording, the bystander can be heard shouting that officers were violating Gill’s “freedom of speech.”
Officials say First Amendment protection of free speech does not bar punishment for use of insulting or fighting words that are likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace.
“Words can be very powerful,” said Leonard. “Just as you can’t yell ‘Fire’ in a theater or ‘Bomb’ on an airplane, citizens should recognize that they can’t use language in a public setting that threatens peace and order and that’s precisely what Mr. Gill did repeatedly.”
Following his arrest Gill was transported to Wake County jail and placed under $3,000 secured bond. He has since been released.