No one has a First Amendment right to physically assault another, especially a law enforcement officer acting according to their official responsibilities.

State v. Locke

2021 – Ohio – 4609

Eighth District Appellate Court

December 30, 2021

On Tuesday September 29, 2020, President Donald Trump and Senator Joe Biden engaged in a presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.  As expected, there were protestors one of whom was Ms. Natalie Locke.  Ms. Locke stole a police riot helmet, and the helmet was retrieved from her person at a Regional Transit Authority [RTA] train station.  The officers confiscated the helmet and walked away.  However, Ms. Locke stood up and followed the officers as they walked away.  Thereafter the officers arrested Ms. Locke.  After she was handcuffed, Ms. Locke kneed Sgt. Sean Dial in the groin.  For that assault she was indicted and for Assault on a Police Officer §2903.13.  Ms. Locke accepted a reduced plea to Obstruction of Official Business §2921.31 a fifth-degree felony.

After Ms. Locke stole a Cleveland Police riot helmet she made a feeble attempt to flee on public transportation here at the Regional Transit Authority station in Little Italy at 11851 Mayfield Rd and East 119th Street, Cleveland, OH 44106.  The events that followed would later establish Ms. Locke as convicted felon.

For her part, at the time of sentencing, Ms. Locke accepted responsibility for her conduct and apologized to Sgt. Dial for not “paying [him] the respect [he] deserve[s], not only as a police officer, but as a human being.” After considering the statements and the record, the trial court sentenced Ms. Locke to serve a one-year term of community control sanctions that included ten days of jail that were served in Cuyahoga County Jail over the course of five subsequent weekends, fines, and court costs.

Ms. Locke appealed her plea conviction with a new attorney as she claimed her previous attorney failed to adequately represent her and explain the ramifications of her pleading guilty to a fifth-degree felony offense. “Without divulging specific facts related to the incident,” Ms. Locke claimed that her attorney failed to explain the existence of certain challenges to her initial detention, failed to disclose that her case implicates rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, and that her defense counsel failed to “defend the charge on the elements of the offense itself.”.  There were other procedural appeals as part of the case, but this article will singularly address a person’s First Amendment Free Speech right and if that right provides legal protection to assault a law enforcement officer.

The Eighth District Appellate Court quickly dismissed Ms. Locke’s feeble attempt to shield her physical assault under the First Amendment.

“No one has a First Amendment right to physically assault another, especially a law enforcement officer acting according to their official responsibilities. Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476, 484, 113 S.Ct. 2194, 124 L.Ed.2d 436 (1993) (“A physical assault is not * * * expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment”), citing Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 628, 104 S.Ct. 3244, 82 L.Ed.2d 462 (1984) (“Violence or other types of potentially expressive activities that produce special harms distinct from their communicative impact * * * are entitled to no constitutional protection”), and NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 916, 102 S.Ct. 3409, 73 L.Ed.2d 1215 (1982) (“The First Amendment does not protect violence”). Further, as it pertains to law enforcement officers, under well- settled Ohio law, “‘[i]n the absence of excessive or unnecessary force by an arresting officer, a private citizen may not use force to resist arrest by one he knows, or has good reason to believe, is an authorized police officer engaged in the performance of his duties, whether or not the arrest is illegal under the circumstances.’” (Emphasis added.) State v. Mann, 19 Ohio St.3d 34, 39, 482 N.E.2d 592 (1985), quoting Columbus v. Fraley, 41 Ohio St.2d 173, 324 N.E.2d 735 (1975), paragraph three of the syllabus … Irrespective of the circumstances leading to her initial detention and arrest, her unprovoked use of physical force in response to a benign request is not justified, nor would it be excused under First Amendment jurisprudence.”.


Information for this article was obtained from State v. Locke, 2021 – Ohio – 4609 and the news article below.

This case was issued by the Eighth District Appellate Court and is binding in the Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

News Story Link


Lessons Learned:

  1. The First Amendment provides our country with some of the firmest and most important fundamental rights as citizens – as it should be. As citizens we should be able to criticize our government without interference.  Law enforcement will often be placed in challenging situations where officers must protect people whose views are vile, and hate based.  However, nothing in the First Amendment, criminal statute or case law provides a citizen with a right to assault another.  There are exceptions such as self-defense but that is not the focus in this analysis.  Here, Ms. Locke accepted a plea agreement from the trial court and in that acceptance stated on the record that she understood the plea agreement and that she was satisfied with her attorney’s representation.
  2. I encourage you to watch the video link from a news story herein. I was much impressed by the restraint of Sgt. Dial and the officers in this incident.  Not only did Ms. Locke steal a police riot helmet but also she kneed Sgt. Dial in the groin.  When a law enforcement officer is assaulted, such as Sgt. Dial was in this case, the ability to show restraint is very challenging.  Here, Sgt. Dial and his team of officers were highly professional and that should not go unrecognized.
  3. The right to protest under the First Amendment has limitations and can cross the line to a Fourth Amendment violation. Have you and your team been trained in where that constitutional line is crossed?  I have prepared robust training on Disorderly Conduct, Obstruction of Official Business and Failure to Disclose Personal Information that specially addressed these charges.  Please contact me if you would like training on when a First Amendment right becomes a Fourth Amendment violation.

Does your agency train on the First Amendment?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.