An almost-complete victory in criminal court for the Acts 17 missionaries: All were acquitted of all charges except for the one person most removed from the whole situation, Negeen Mayel, who was found guilty of "failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer"--the order in question apparently being to stop videotaping. Negeen was sentenced to the one night she already served in jail, and the judge told the missionaries, "You are welcome in Dearborn." (Ahem. Looks like it, doesn't it?)
The Thomas More Law Center is appealing the verdict in the one charge against Negeen. I assume that appeal will turn on the interpretation and application of the law in question.
My concern at this point is lest things become too narrowly focused on that issue and that appeal. In my non-lawyer's opinion, a suit should be filed now based on the obvious conspiracy of the police to engage in false arrest. The arbitrary command to Negeen to stop videotaping was part of the overall situation in which the police intended to arrest the other missionaries on charges based on fraudulent testimony.
Moreover, the witness Roger Williams should also be sued for his defamation against the Acts 17 missionaries which started this entire scenario.
More on laws against "failure to obey an officer" below the fold.
I've been doing some Google research on this "failure to obey an officer's order." I'm working on getting the actual text of the statute in Dearborn, but I would imagine it's similar to other statutes in other municipalities. What I've gleaned is this: Such statutes often are written in a way that they cannot possibly be meant to apply, making it sound as though a police officer can literally tell you to do anything that is not in itself illegal, and you are legally obligated to obey. Taken literally this could mean that a policeman could walk up to a random, innocent citizen on the street and order him to stand on his head, to go somewhere completely different from his intended destination, to do twenty jumping jacks, or whatever tom-fool thing the officer chose to make up, and the citizen could be arrested and convicted if he refused to comply. So such statutes look like an open invitation to policemen to engage in plain harassment of otherwise innocent citizens. In practice, I gather the idea is supposed to be that the open-ended wording is merely meant to accommodate an otherwise un-listable set of reasonable and necessary orders a policeman might give in various real-life situations. Examples I have seen on law enforcement message boards include
--telling people to move along when they are endangering themselves and the police by watching the arrest of a potentially dangerous criminal,
--telling someone that he cannot reenter his burning house to save a pet.
One can also imagine (this is my example) a situation in which officers are staking out a drop point, and some innocent citizen picks up "the suitcase" and has to be told to put it down.
It's understandable that policemen want the freedom to ad lib in such situations. But there needs to be some provision for preventing frivolous use of the statute. In particular, it needs to be made clear that policemen cannot simply tell you to stop videotaping so that they can then arrest you or your friends without a record either of their behavior or of your innocence of other made-up charges. I gather that in practice the filter for frivolous or unreasonable demands is supposed to be a judge's discretion to throw out charges. But that can't be enough in itself, because if a judge does not throw out a charge for a failure to obey an unreasonable order, the jury may believe (as I suspect they were led to believe in Negeen's case) that they must convict if the accused person did not hasten to obey some police order, regardless of whether the officer's order was unreasonable or arbitrary.
What this could mean is that in future, the police in Dearborn can simply order Acts 17 or anyone else to stop videotaping (on pain of conviction for "failure to obey") and then arrest them later, claiming that they were starting a riot, etc., without video evidence to show their innocence. It is quite clear that without the video evidence in this case from the remaining cameras that were not shut down until the last minute, that is probably exactly what would have happened to all the missionaries.
It seems to me very important that a) this interpretation of the "failure to obey" law not be allowed to stand and b) the lawyers for Acts 17 not allow everything to turn on that point alone without making sure that there is some reckoning in the form of lawsuits for the larger range of legal violations that took place here. The acquittal of the missionaries on all other charges (breach of the peace) should strengthen their hand in bringing these suits.
Update: David Wood quotes the relevant law:
Any individual who is given direction or order by hand, voice, emergency light, siren, or other visual or audible signal by a police officer acting in the lawful performance of his duty, and who willfully disobeys and/or disregards that direction or order, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Obviously, the appeal will turn on the application and interpretation of "lawful performance of his duty," which is preferable to merely requiring that he give a "lawful order." If the officer in question was not in any sense "performing his duty" by walking up to Negeen and ordering her to stop filming, that is obviously the relevant point. And as he had no good reason to order her to stop filming, that ought to be pretty cut and dried. David also makes the important point that Roger Williams's later discredited complaint did not originally even state that Negeen had done anything criminal but only that she was "videotaping within hearing distance" of his encounter with her friends, which is not a crime. Apparently the officer admitted under cross-questioning that he had no reason when he approached her to believe that Negeen had committed a crime. This is especially important as far as a judgement that he was engaging in the "lawful performance of his duty" in ordering an innocent person against whom no actual criminal complaint had been made to stop videotaping.