Grave abuse of power

A federal appeals court gives new life to a lawsuit brought by a bunch of zombies.

by Jake Parsley

ItâÄôs tough out there for the undead. Consider the following chilling story: Nightfall was descending on Minneapolis on July 22, 2006. The city was in the midst of the Aquatennial, an annual festival that, according to its Web site, is âÄúthe official civic celebration of the City of Minneapolis.âÄù A small group of individuals had decided to commemorate this particular Aquatennial by protesting AmericaâÄôs consumer culture. They chose to promote their message by throwing a mobile zombie dance party. This particular zombie dance party appears to have been fairly well planned. There was plenty of standard zombie fare, including fake blood and face makeup. The zombies danced down the street together while playing music. They described their dancing as a âÄúzombie walk, which is kind of a brain-impaired stumble and moving slowly.âÄù The shindig took place on Nicollet Mall. The zombies effectuated a sort of portable music system by carrying bags of sound equipment, including stuff like MP3 players connected to amplifiers. âÄúThe purpose of the Zombie dance party was to have fun, provide fun to others and send a political message encouraging people to think about activities outside their daily routine and illustrate similarities between consumers and zombies,âÄù said a lawyer for the deceased. Of course, itâÄôs all fun and games until somebody calls the cops, which, naturally, somebody did. According to the anonymous caller, the group was (and this is a direct quote from the court documents) âÄúcalling themselves zombies and almost touching people.âÄù Of course, this sort of barbarous behavior could not stand during the sacred Aquatennial, so four of MinneapolisâÄôs finest were immediately dispatched to the scene. At first it appeared that the whole situation would end peacefully. The officers informed the zombies that someone had complained about them, and asked them to turn down their music and keep their distance from bystanders. The zombies obliged, and the officers left. I really wish that my story could end here. Alas, after discussing the situation with their overly suspicious police sergeant, two of the officers determined that they could not allow the ghoulish group to simply rest in peace. They went back to the zombies, who by this time were no longer dancing but watching a high school drumline performance. The officers demanded identification. After the cops learned that most of the group didnâÄôt have ID, they decided to take the whole group down to the police station to be identified. According to court documents, one member of the zombie crew asked whether they were being detained, and one of the officers responded, âÄúyes.âÄù When the zombie asked why, the officer said, âÄúI donâÄôt know, letâÄôs call it disorderly conduct for now.âÄù The whole group was taken to the station, put in a holding cell and their bags were searched. After seeing all the sound equipment, the sergeant in charge ordered the zombies to be booked on charges of âÄî I wish I was making this up âÄî âÄúdisplaying simulated weapons of mass destruction.âÄù The police confiscated everything the zombies had, including one group memberâÄôs prosthetic leg, which the cops said could have been used as a weapon. The entire group spent two nights in jail before being released. Authorities never filed a formal criminal complaint or any charges against any of the zombies. The zombies decided to sue, stating that they had been arrested without cause, among other things. In 2008, a federal district court judge threw out their case, stating that the cops hadnâÄôt done anything illegal, and that âÄúthe behavior of [the zombies] observed by law enforcement could justify a reasonably prudent person in believing that [the zombies] had committed the crime of disorderly conduct.âÄù The zombies appealed their case to a higher court, and on Feb. 24, that court brought their lawsuit back from the dead. The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that the police officers had violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits âÄúunreasonable searches and seizuresâÄù by government officials, including police officers. The court recognized the ridiculousness of the WMD allegations and stated that âÄúan objectively reasonable person would not think probable cause exists under the Minnesota disorderly conduct statue to arrest a group of peaceful people for engaging in an artistic protest by playing music, broadcasting statements, dressing as zombies and walking erratically in downtown Minneapolis during a weeklong festival.âÄù The zombies havenâÄôt won yet; however, the suit was bounced back down to the lower court, where eventually there will either be a trial or the parties will settle. I, for one, hope the zombies win a boatload of cash. IâÄôm not generally anti-police, but I canâÄôt help but find the behavior of the Minneapolis cops in this story genuinely horrifying. The zombies werenâÄôt charged with any crimes; they didnâÄôt touch or harass anyone and they werenâÄôt drunk or on drugs. Yet, because some cops didnâÄôt like the way they were acting, they spent two nights in Hennepin County Detention Center. The slogan of the Minneapolis Police Department is âÄúTo Protect with Courage, to Serve with Compassion.âÄù Maybe you think that two cops taking on a whole mob of pretend zombies is a tremendous display of courage. If they were real zombies, I might agree with you. In the meantime, I think the police should just stick with arresting criminals. Jake Parsley welcomes comments at [email protected]