Louisiana Court Orders Sheriff to Return Confiscated Music to Skating Rink

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
August 28, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW IBERIA, LA — Saying that a local sheriff may not censor the music at a skating rink, a federal judge today ordered officials to return all confiscated music, including the “Hokey Pokey,” and songs by Britney Spears and Snoop Doggy Dog, to the rink owner.

The Court also said that the Sheriff violated the First Amendment rights of the rink owner and manager by arresting them for playing by songs by Christina Aguilera Snoop Doggy Dogg, as well as the “Hokey Pokey,” and the Disney Tarzan soundtrack.

“The judge has clearly stated that ‘music as a form of expression, is protected under the First Amendment,’ and that the ‘First Amendment protection extends to rap music,'” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. “The government cannot limit expression just because Sheriff Hebert, or even a majority of people in Iberia Parish, finds it offensive.”

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, challenged the actions of Iberia Parish Sheriff Sid Hebert who closed down the skating rink on February 5 and seized 60 CD’s.

One week later, Hebert arrested owner Frank Torries and his manager Tricia Boudoin, on charges of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” because of the popular music they played at the rink.

The order, granted by U.S. District Judge Tucker Melacon, also said that Sheriff Hebert, Patrol Commander Kerry Davis and other employees of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department may not search the Skate Zone premises without an order authorizing the search signed by a judicial officer.

Today’s court ruling also prevents police officials from imposing or inflicting any punishment, retaliation, harassment, or sanction of any kind against the Torries and Boudoin for the exercise of their constitutional rights.

“Our free society operates on the principle that each and every individual has the right to decide what music or other art forms he or she wants — or does not want–to see or hear,” Cook said.

“Parents should decide for their children, but the law prohibits Sheriff Hebert from acting in an unlawful manner to censor material that he deems offensive or inappropriate.”

The case stems from a fight that broke out on February 5, 2000 in the parking lot outside the Skate Zone. The CD’s were seized based upon the assertion that the music (particularly the rap music) played that night had caused the fight.

According to ACLU court papers, all the rap and hip-hop songs played that night were the edited or “air play” version of the songs. Almost all were purchased locally, primarily at Wal-Mart and/or Sam’s Club stores. Throughout the evening skating session, various kinds of music, including hip-hop or rap music, were played without incident.

As school buses were loading patrons to leave at the end of the skating session at about 10:45 p.m., the fight broke out. Manager Boudoin placed a call to the Sheriff’s office whose deputies arrived and intervened in the fight between two young people and issued a summons to a third on fighting related charges.

Then, disregarding constitutional safeguards, the local authorities entered the Skate Zone, and ordered Boudoin to “shut it (the Skate Zone) down.” They then conducted a warrant-less search of the premises and seized approximately 60 pre-recorded CD’s.

“Skate Zone has hosted community service programs that help kids and benefits New Iberia,” Torries said. “I am very dedicated to my community. The Skate Zone provides an opportunity for kids to stay off the street and have a safe, enjoyable experience. I want to keep it that way.”

The ACLU filed the suit in Federal Court, Western District, Lafayette Division, with Judge Tucker L. Melacon presiding. The amended civil complaint was filed on behalf Torries and Boudoin by ACLU cooperating attorney E. Barton Conradi of Baton Rouge, LA and Marjorie R. Esman of New Orleans, LA.

The case is Torries v. Hebert, Civil Action No: CV00-0512-L-O.

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