From the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bill “Wingtip” Sloat (link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)
Cleveland Indians fans have a right to heckle ballplayers from Jacobs Field’s bleachers as long as they are not drunk or too rowdy, a federal appeals court ruled.
The 2-1 ruling Friday was a victory for Lakewood’s Jeffrey Swiecicki, 34, who was ejected and charged with resisting arrest after jeering at outfielder Russell Branyan’s “fat ass” at a game in 2001 from the left field bleachers.
If Branyan (above) heard the insults, he was unfazed. He had three hits that night as the Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays.
But Jose Delgado, an off-duty Cleveland police officer working security, overheard Swiecicki’s heckling and considered the taunts profane language.
Delgado first told Swiecicki to stop and then escorted him from the stadium. As they departed, Delgado wrestled Swiecicki to the ground.
Swiecicki was convicted of disordely conduct and resisting arrest. Both convictions were overturned. He later sued Delgado for using excessive force, making the arrest without probable cause, and violating his First Amendment right to free speech.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells dismissed the lawsuit, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned her ruling Friday.
Swiecicki had been hollering “Branyan, you suck” and “Branyan, you have a fat ass.”
“Jacobs Field, moreover, encourages fans to cheer and make noise, meaning that loud or even rowdy behavior was commonplace at games,” U.S. Circuit Judge Ronald Lee Gilman said in the ruling.