Man Arrested For Complaining Too Much

A Pennsylvania man was arrested for making too many complaints on behalf of his neighborhood to get the local government to enforce noise and air quality laws against a concrete manufacturer across the street from him. Silhol Builders Supply makes ready-mix cement and neighbors say they’re awoken by noise at 2 in the morning from the trucks, and that cement dust coats their windows. Marshall Pappert was appointed the neighborhood pointman to try to prod the local government to action, sending scores of letters and leaving phone messages. It was three messages left with borough Manager Lori Collins that brought the backlash. In them he called for her to resign and accused her of breaking promises to collect and test dust samples from neighborhood homes. She found this harassing and called the cops. Pappert is appealing his conviction. It’s a sad day when someone gets arrested just for asking the government to do its job.

Team 4: Complaining Bridgeville Neighbor Arrested For Harassment [The Pittsburgh Channel]

(Thanks to Steve!)

Comments

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  1. strells says:

    I think I’d like to pick up some of that “ready-mix complaint.” That’s some good stuff!

    ;-)

  2. LorneReams says:

    The thought of this is actually a little chilling. These people are pretty much elected to be complained to. The saying “if you can’t take the heat, maybe you should give back the kickbacks you are obviously receiving from the concrete company and resign” seem to apply.

  3. Parting says:

    Borough Manager Lori Collins probably just lost her job. Unless calls were really rude and threating, she had no grounds.

    BAD PR! Run!

  4. Crim Law Geek says:

    The geeky law student in me is intrigued by the conflict between a First Amendment right to petition and the Harassment statutes.

    Any constitutional lawyers care to comment?

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @Crim Law Geek: If paparazzi are legal, this isn’t even close to harassment. The fact that she is a public official means people are allowed to contact her no matter what. She cannot refuse contact. Especially a letter. As long as they didn’t include threats of violence, the cops are idiots.

  5. ecwis says:

    This shows you how bogus the crime of “harassment” is. This cannot be constitutional. :-

    when a person, they harass, annoy or alarm an individual based upon the conduct, then it’s harassment

  6. BigElectricCat says:

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of elective office, Ms. Collins.

  7. NightSteel says:

    IANAL, of course, but I’m pretty sure the assertion that the law he violated is unconstitutional is correct. His actions don’t appear to meet any of the conditions required to consider them unprotected by the First Amendment (yelling fire in a crowded theater, for example).

    What bothers me more is the town got their little kangaroo court to convict the guy. That judge should not be a judge. I’d put money on the guy winning on appeal, at least, when he managed to get his case past small-town politics.

  8. bobpence says:

    IANAL, but harrassment or nuisance statutes are widely abused in any case, but should in no way apply to public officials. Threatening communications would be beyond their scope.

    “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people… to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment black letter, as they say, made applicable to lower levels of government by the 14th Amendment.

  9. elephantattack says:

    Be a good citizen and don’t ask too many questions… Or else…

  10. SVreader says:

    It sounds like this neighborhood has a horrible problem, but if you’re relentlessly sending “videos and letters and just about everything I could to just about every government agency I could think of” and leaving multiple angry voicemails, yeah…the people on the receiving end are going to start wondering if you’re unhinged and possibly dangerous.

    Again, it sounds like his neighborhood has been seriously screwed over, but it also sounds like this guy immediately went the “crazy guy with access to phone numbers and emails” route.

  11. ehrgeiz says:

    Me thinks this needs to hit digg, how fast wiill the town officals cave when they get caught up in a internet shit storm.

  12. punkrawka says:

    “Silhol Builders Supply makes ready-mix complaint…”

    Excellent Freudian typo.

  13. Tightlines says:

    Bogats arrested Pappert on a charge of harassment, which is a criminal summary offense.

    “In that voice mail that he left, did he curse?” Parsons asked.

    “No,” Bogats said.

    “Did he threaten?” Parsons asked.

    “No,” Bogats said.

    While it’s true that simply calling someone repeatedly may constitute harrassment, it’s this woman’s job to field complaints such as this. To have him arrested is a bit ridiculous and indicative of the quashing of civil rights in small-town America that’s referenced in the article. It wouldn’t surprise me if the owner of the concrete manufacturer is friendly with everyone in “power” in this town.

  14. unklegwar says:

    “Silhol Builders Supply makes ready-mix complaint”

    Ready Mix Complaint, now THERE’S an industry I never thought of, unless that’s just another name for Complaint Forms.

  15. Tightlines says:

    @SVreader:
    sounds like this guy immediately went the “crazy guy with access to phone numbers and emails” route.

    Um, isn’t that kind of modus operandi here at Consumerist?

  16. EBone says:

    As someone with urban planning experience, I wish we could get some more information. What (if any) is the zoning in the neighborhood? If there is zoning, how does it reconcile two incompatible land uses like this? Businesses such as concrete plants usually have minimum distances they must be from residential and school uses. How long has the concrete plant been there? How long have the residences been there?

  17. bobpence says:

    See PDF at markskatz.com/Penn.pdf. This is WEAK.

    In the offense definition (a), parts 1-3 are physical acts, 4 includes “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;” 5 “communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;” 6 “communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours;” (he left VOICEMAIL!), and 7, vaguely, “communicates repeatedly in a manner other than specified in
    paragraphs (4), (5) and (6).” Seven cannot, in my lay estimation, withstand scrutiny, and nothing else applies.

    Further, section (e) makes the law inapplicable “to any constitutionally protected activity.”

  18. bobpence says:

    @EBone: All the NIMBY arguments in the world don’t defend the unconstitutional arrest of this citizen. Undo that injustice and I’ll join you in discussing who is right and wrong on zoning, environmental laws, noise statutes, and the like, but not till then.

  19. evslin says:

    ready-mix complaint

    hehe

  20. WraithSama says:

    @punkrawka:
    Exactly what I was thinking.

  21. strangeffect says:

    I hope the ACLU mops the floor with these people.

  22. Techguy1138 says:

    The problem the government has is that when they did inspections they found actionable violations.

    He is angry and complaining because his neighborhood is in poor condition due to a business and the local government isn’t doing anything about it.

    It’s amazing how people hate complainers who point out that they are not doing their job.

  23. Saboth says:

    @SVreader:

    He did not threaten, use profanity or any such thing. He asked reasonable questions. The officials stated they would perform certain services, and failing to do so, he has called and written until they do perform such services. Nothing illegal about that. These people work FOR him and the community…he does not work for them.

  24. Im a people person. Who drinks. says:

    The good news here is that the local head of the ACLU has been very effective in these types of cases. Being on the right side helps, but he’s successfully won cases where it was less cut and dry.

  25. Hamm Beerger says:

    @SVreader: He sent some letters, was ignored, sent some more letters, was ignored, called some people, was ignored, and on and on.

    If that’s crazy (hint: it isn’t) then what sort of non-crazy method should he have used? Smoke signals? An awareness concert? A bakesale?

  26. Munsoned says:

    OMG, harrassment when you call someone repeatedly who’s job it is to field complaints? I fear some of the companies on the “worst companies” list are going to get some ideas from this…

  27. Buran says:

    @Techguy1138: Also known as “hypocrisy”.

    Why go to all the effort to maliciously prosecute this guy when they could have just done their job long ago and not gotten any more complaints from him?

  28. howie_in_az says:

    “In section 2709 of the Pennsylvania crimes code, dealing with harassment, it specifically states that when a person, they harass, annoy or alarm an individual based upon the conduct, then it’s harassment,” Bogats said.

    Based on the crimes code, shouldn’t Mr. Pappert be able to have the entire cement plant arrested due to harassment?

  29. EBone says:

    @bobpence: I agree with you 100%. It’s the elected representative’s responsibility to listen to her constituent’s complaints. He should never have been locked up for that.

    I was just curious how two such polar opposite land uses could be co-located in the first place.

  30. I hope the ACLU will take care of this. He is hardly harrassing anyone. He is working within his rights as a citizen, and his freedom of speech.

  31. mariospants says:

    For once, I hope he sues the borough and gets enough of a shit-load of cash to buy himself and his neighbors some of those foreclosed properties in a nice neighborhood.

  32. mgy says:

    I’m a seasoned internet veteran, but I’ve never seen “I anal” used in any of the contexts that its currently being used in. I’m leaving this thread for fear of what may follow.

  33. bohemian says:

    I hope this story ends up everywhere and the manager and everyone involved with arresting this guy reaps what they sowed.

    It sounds like he didn’t actually do anything harassing. But sadly this doesn’t surprise me. I have seen some really ugly biases when it involves smaller local government. Think HOA with the ability to arrest someone.

  34. overbysara says:

    lawsuit!

  35. As usual, there is probably more to this story that what’s contained in this post.

  36. Ben Popken says:

    @corporateamericabites: That’s why they’ve invented something called hyperlinks.

  37. Pro-Pain says:

    I live near Kirkwood MO. where that Black man went to a evening town hall meeting and shot and killed six or seven people because he was pissed about the cops hassling him about stupid shit related to his business. Moral of the story, be careful who you piss off because they may just show up and shoot you in the face.

  38. bravo369 says:

    Sounds like the town should now have a rally and have EVERY single person in town leave a voicemail and send a letter. Do it every day. Are they going to arrest the entire neighborhood before they actually do their job?

  39. Jmatthew says:

    I’m tempted to say there’s more to the story, but cops can be pretty wierd about “harassment” issues.

    On one hand people abuse them all the time (as in above?), on the other hand people report slightly abnormal behaviors that cops can’t really act on, then get raped/killed/etc by the person they reported as harassing them …

  40. jtheletter says:

    @SVreader: Wait, didn’t you just describe our beloved EECB, but applied to the government?

    I think before anyone in those offices could say he was harassing they should have investigated the claims (assuming he wasn’t making threats of violence of course).

  41. camille_javal says:

    I’m pretty damn sure this is unconstitutional – being in a public office strips you of a lot of the same level of protection. For example, false statements about a public official require evidence of actual malice for a defamation suit (in the states with which I am familiar) – and that’s a civil statute. Actually… that’s a civil statute in Pennsylvania.

    It’s not the law here, as far as I can tell, it’s the application.

    Lord, how I want to see that District judge get a serious lashing.

  42. spinachdip says:

    For your EECBing pleasure:

    [www.bridgevilleboro.com]

    Business Office
    425 Bower Hill Road
    Bridgeville, PA 15017
    (412) 221-6012
    FAX (412) 257-8854

    Mayor
    Donald Dolde: mayordolde@bridgevilleboro.com

    Members of Council
    Joseph Mizia, President: jmizia@bridgevilleboro.com
    Nino Petrocelli, Sr., Vice President: npetrocelli@bridgevilleboro.com
    Mary Weise, Council Member: mweise@bridgevilleboro.com
    Terry Herbick, Council Member: therbick@bridgevilleboro.com
    Michael Chiodo, Council Member: mchiodo@bridgevilleboro.com
    Pasquale DeBlasio, Jr., Council Member: pdiblasio@bridgevilleboro.com
    Jason Sarasnick, Council Member: jsarasnick@bridgevilleboro.com

    Borough Manager
    Lori Collins: lcollins@bridgevilleboro.com

  43. forgottenpassword says:

    hmmmm sounds like the local government official would rather punish the complainer instead of do their job & possibly alienate a local business.

    This reminds me of the story of the couple charged with “stalking” because they complained repeatedly to a police chief about a particular police officer who routinely sped thru their neighborhood.

  44. JohnMc says:

    I think this fella should grab a lawyer as much as I hate them. There is such a thing in the Consititution “… and to petition the government for redress.”. The city just made it a Constitutional issue. Bad move.

  45. trujunglist says:

    @EBone:

    Zoning doesn’t matter when there is a residential receiver for noise and I’m pretty sure air quality too (I only do noise).

    The concrete factory was probably already there when he moved in and decided to triple capacity or something. I wonder what the noise ordinance, if any, says about that. Probably says that they can’t be doing work at 2 am. Just a guess.

  46. nikalseyn says:

    The reason the govt. has “harrasment”and “hate” crimes legislation is for their use in prosecuting citizens whenever they feel like making a point. In this case you have a former housewife who apparently is fond of (ab)using her power and does NOT like to be criticized.

  47. EBone says:

    @trujunglist: My point is, zoning typically prohibits such incompatible land uses from occurring in close proximity to each other.

    Of course, it could be like Houston was in the 1970s and 80s, when there was no zoning, and people could (and did) open up 24-hour tile cutting businesses in the middle of a residential block after tearing down the existing house, and the neighbors could do nothing about it.

  48. howie_in_az says:

    FYI, Google Maps image of the area. Note the homes behind the plant.

  49. EBone says:

    @howie_in_az: Wow. That is some shit-awful urban planning going on there.

  50. TechnoDestructo says:

    Holy shit, everyone remember what happened last time a citizen’s fight with a concrete plant made headlines?

    [en.wikipedia.org]

  51. MoCo says:

    A smart local government would have hired this gentleman.

  52. forgottenpassword says:

    @TechnoDestructo:

    LOL! Killdozer! AWESOME!!!! How the hell did I not hear about this back in 2004!?!?!!?!

  53. bdgbill says:

    Something tells me the concrete plant was there first. It would be really hard to imagine a new concrete plant being built “across the street” from existing homes.

    If the plant was there first then I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the people living across the street.

  54. Buran says:

    @Pro-Pain: And I’m in Brentwood. But no amount of complaint ignoring justifies what that guy did. It doesn’t justify prosecuting anyone, though, either.

  55. BuriedCaesar says:

    Will look forward to seeing this story hit the national news.

  56. RustysNailed says:
  57. RChris173 says:

    I’m shocked…I miss Pittsburgh!

  58. Midtowner says:

    This is actually a close question constitutionally — the type of restriction the government alleges here is not content based, but rather a restriction on the time/place and manner of the expression. Such restrictions, e.g., harassment in this case, may be possibly valid. I doubt it though. I’d need more facts.

    What I don’t get is why this fella, rather than relying on the government who was clearly within its authority to choose to do nothing here didn’t seek some sort of remedy in court? Any number of remedies come to mind.

  59. BrianU says:

    Anyone remember the older Disabled Veteran because he made too many phone calls ( not more than a once a day “progress” check” and wrote too many letters trying to get his guaranteed healthcare. And no, he didnt have emotional problems other than the frustration of knowing what should have been happening versus what actually was happening. Very polite and business-like every time but put on a watch list too.

  60. Trai_Dep says:

    @Ben Popken: Ohhh. SNAP!

  61. Pasketti says:

    Two phrases come to mind:

    “chilling effect” and “prior restraint”

  62. dualityshift says:

    The only thing this story is missing is the tazer happy cops.

  63. Midtowner says:

    Prior restraint???

    How so? Prior restraint only applies to content based limitations.

    If the limitation is time/place/manner, it can be valid.

  64. digitaljdr says:

    Our government local & national at its best, using the law to skirt its promises and/or duties to the people. God Bless America

  65. dirk1965 says:

    The local official that he is dealing with sounds like a real bitch. District Judge Eileen McGraw should resign as well for siding with the local police. This gentlemans first ammendment rights were definitely violated. Based on the voice mail message he left, he said nothing to threaten that bitch. Just because you have a certain ‘tone’ of voice, doesn’t give anyone the right to have them arrested. I guess I need to watch my ‘tone’ the next time I talk to Comcast or Verizon!

  66. thebaron says:

    I hope they will pay for their stupidity with lots of money!!! That story is local to me just south of Pittsburgh.

  67. compuguy1088 says:

    @howie_in_az: What is great about your link is that there is street view of that street…that is one crammed concrete plant. Its sandwiched between two streets!

  68. voxstin says:

    This is the most outrageous thing that I’ve read in 2008. The Judge, Prosecutor, chief of police, and county official that pressed the charges should be ashamed of themselves, and, most importantly, unemployed.