Helen ‘f-bomb’ arrest draws regional attention
Did you know that using profanity in front of somebody under the age of 14 could get you arrested for disorderly conduct in Georgia?
A North Carolina man, 26-year-old Morgan Wilson, found that out while he was in Helen for the Alpine VAG (Volkswagen, Audi Group) Fair car show. Wilson has since taken to social media to draw attention to the incident, which has garnered regional attention, and says he plans to push back against the charge.
According to Helen Police Chief Brian Stephens, Wilson was walking down the sidewalk Thursday, May 9, drinking a beer in a clearly marked bottle, with more alcoholic beverages in his hand. HPD Capt. Phillip Wood approached Wilson and told him of the city’s open container law.
“During that time it was decided by the officer to write a citation,” Stephens said. “The officer and Mr. Wilson stepped from the sidewalk into the parking lot to where the business could be completed. During the course of the officer writing the citation, Mr. Wilson started a live [video] session, at which point, he expressed his disgust to receiving the citation after stating the officer was just doing his job.”
Wilson began streaming the live video from his smartphone on Instagram as the officer was writing the citation. During the broadcast, he said that he was letting people know if they drink in public in Helen, they will be cited.
“They don’t tell you, but ignorance of the law is no excuse, so I will side with them on that. However, I do think it’s kind of lame, but at the end of the day, they got a job to do. It’s one of those deals, it really [expletive] sucks, but I’ll come down and pay it later.”
After using the f-word, Wilson was placed in handcuffs and his girlfriend continued to video the encounter. Stephens said the officer could hear people on La Cabaña’s balcony talking and he could hear people talking across the street. According to an HPD incident report, a family with young children was at the restaurant and could see and hear what was going on.
“They were in their parking lot when the comment was made. The officer stated that he knew the children more than likely heard that type of language,” Stephens said. “We are a tourist town, we want everybody to come up and have a good time, but we want you to also be respectful of everybody else, and dropping the F-bomb in front of children – I guess I’m one of the few who still considers that to be a bad move. The officer at that time he was already writing one citation for open container, now he was going to write another one that the gentleman should be arrested for that and brought in and make a bond and then be released.”
Helen’s city ordinance on disorderly conduct indicates they follow the state law, O.C.G.A. Section 16-11-39. The law defines disorderly conduct, in part: “Without provocation, uses obscene and vulgar or profane language in the presence of or by telephone to a person under the age of 14 years which threatens an immediate breach of the peace.”
Stephens said that because it was the officer’s discretion to arrest Wilson rather than only give another citation, and because there were two citations, the officer felt he should make the physical arrest.
Wilson was charged with open container and disorderly conduct. He was taken to the Helen Police Department before being taken to the White County Detention Center, where he was released May 10 on a property bond of $2,273.50, according to the Helen Police Department.
In a phone interview with the White County News, Wilson adamantly denied the police claim that minors were in hearing distance of his words. He said he appreciates the support he’s received from people in Helen and others online.
Wilson said it was his third visit to Helen – with stops in 2014 and 2015 for car shows – and that he was covering this year’s event as an automotive journalist. He said police didn’t appear to take issue with people walking around with open containers during his previous visits. After the city experienced problems associated with crowds at the previous shows, Wilson believes this year police “had chips on their shoulders.”
“They’re just trying to make an example out of one of the supporters of this event,” he said.
Wilson said he started the live video to let others know about the open container law and to document what was transpiring without ill intent. Since his release, he continued to post video updates about the case on social media. However, Wilson said Tuesday morning he had lost his day job doing wraps and graphics for vehicles after his employer saw the posts.
Wilson said multiple attorneys had contacted him about taking on his case for free. He said he is confident about his defense in the criminal case, and added that he plans to file a lawsuit claiming a civil rights violation.