Activist arrested after displaying “Impeach Bush/Cheney” sign on overpass

***UPDATED TUESDAY, 11: 10 a.m.: This morning the Asheville Police Department released its first lengthy statement on the arrest of Jonas Phillips, who was charged last week with obstructing the sidewalk (while brandishing a sign reading “IMPEACH BUSH/CHENEY”). The statement asserts that Phillips and his sign increased the likelihood of traffic accidents, and that officers observed traffic slowing and honking in reaction to the sign. “This city and this police department pride ourselves on protecting people’s right to free speech, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights, safety and freedoms of others,” Police Chief Bill Hogan says in the release. “It was not the content of the sign, but the risks posed to drivers that precipitated our actions.” See the full text of the police department statement below the following news report.***

A controversy has erupted after activist and blogger Jonas Phillips, a West Asheville resident, was arrested last Wednesday morning on charges of obstructing a sidewalk after he displayed a 5-by-1-foot sign reading “IMPEACH BUSH/ CHENEY” on the Haywood Road overpass.

“I had been out there freeway blogging with my sign for about 10 minutes when I was approached by [Asheville Police Department] Officer Russell Crisp, [who] asked how long I was going to stay there,” Philips said. “I told him just a few minutes because I had to go to work. He asked for my I.D. I provided it and asked if I’d done anything wrong. He said he was going to wait for his sergeant, so I went back to holding my sign.”

Freeway blogging involves protestors standing (in Phillips case) or hanging a sign on an overpass so it may be read by passing traffic.

Sgt. Randall Riddle then arrived with a copy of a city ordinance in his hand, and told Phillips that he was under arrest for blocking the sidewalk.

“I thought he was joking at first, as Officer Crisp had just seen someone walk by me, so it was clear I wasn’t obstructing the sidewalk,” Phillips said. “I’m aware of that ordinance. The sidewalk was 5-feet wide. I was taking care to obey the law. At that point they cuffed me and I said that I hadn’t been blocking the sidewalk.”

The police are now considering changing the charge to endangering motorists.

“The issue wasn’t the message on the sign, it was the danger posed to motorists,” Capt. Daryl Fisher said. “By displaying a sign like that, it can slow traffic down as people try to read it.”

However, by this afternoon, the new charge, a misdemeanor, had not been formally pressed. Fisher said that “we’re consulting our attorneys on the best course of action here.”

He added that all further questions in the matter needed to be direct to APD Chief Bill Hogan, who has not yet returned Xpress’ requests for comment.

According to Phillips’ account, after he was handcuffed and disagreed with the charge, Riddle shouted “You were obstructing the sidewalk!” before adding “I am so sick of this s**t” and “here’s your 15 minutes of fame.” When Phillips then looked at Riddle’s nametag, he said that Riddle shouted “that’s Sgt. Riddle, get it right!” before taking Phillips to be charged.

“They took me downtown, took photos of me, my tatoos. They asked me if I was involved with groups like the Veterans for Peace or the Southeastern Convergence for Climate Action who did that Bank of America protest,” Phillips said. “They took my sign and I haven’t seen it since. I was never warned, I was never read my rights and Sgt. Riddle was extremely harassing and belligerent.”

The arrest came as a particular surprise, he said, because about two weeks prior he and his wife, Kindra, had been doing the same thing, were approached by a police officer and briefly questioned, but told they were doing nothing wrong.

The arrest has hit a variety of blogs and media outlets, including Daily Kos and Mother Jones. The political blog Scholars and Rogues has even posted an open letter to Mayor Terry Bellamy.

Last Thursday, Barry Summers, co-host of WPVM 103.5’s “News for Change,” accompanied the Phillips back out to the same overpass, where they carried a similar sign and were met by local radio personality Virato.

According to a statement later released by Virato, five police cars passed by, but no officers came out to stop or arrest them.

— David Forbes, staff writer


For Immediate Release
Aug. 20, 2007
Asheville Police Department
Contact: Police Chief Bill Hogan
Phone: 259-5901, or 552-1900

APD responds to concerns about charges against West Asheville man

ASHEVILLE – The Asheville Police Department has received several inquiries about the Aug. 15 arrest of an Asheville man who was holding a sign on the Haywood Road Bridge over Interstate 240, and was subsequently charged with impeding the flow of traffic.
A review of the incident including interviews with the officers discloses the following: 
Shortly before 8 a.m., during rush hour on Aug. 15, a person flagged down APD Officer Russell Crisp, who was in his police car on Haywood Road, to inform him that a man was standing on the I-240 overpass and obstructing traffic.
The department had received multiple complaints over a two-week period last month about individuals holding up signs at that same spot.
Officer Russell Crisp arrived to find Jonas Phillips, 35, was holding his sign over the I-240 overpass. When Officer Crisp arrived at the location, Mr. Phillips walked across three lanes of traffic on the bridge, thereby impeding the flow of traffic on Haywood Road.
After Officer Crisp caught up with Mr. Phillips, he asked Mr. Phillips how long he intended to be there. Mr. Phillips replied that he would be there until he had to go to work.
At this point, Officer Crisp called his superior, Sgt. Randy Riddle, who came to the overpass and informed Mr. Phillips that he was in violation of Sec. 16-2 of the city’s municipal code pertaining to “Obstruction of streets, sidewalks by persons prohibited.”

Sec. 16-2 reads in part:
It shall be unlawful for any person, singly or in a group, to:
(1) Obstruct or cause to be obstructed vehicular or pedestrian traffic on the streets or sidewalks or in parks or other public areas within the corporate limits of the city.

Mr. Phillips was charged and arrested for being in violation of that code, and the department is also examining whether he may also be charged for violating an N.C. Department of Transportation law that prohibits hanging signs on an overpasses, which poses dangers for motorists passing below.
The officers can attest that as Mr. Phillips held his sign over the edge of the bridge, drivers on the interstate were slowing down and honking their horns, which also created a traffic hazard and impeded the flow of traffic.  Interstate 240 on the west side of the city is often congested, especially at rush hour, and this congestion heightens the potential for accidents.
“This city and this police department pride ourselves on protecting people’s right to free speech, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights, safety and freedoms of others,” Police Chief Bill Hogan said. “It was not the content of the sign, but the risks posed to drivers that precipitated our actions.”


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17 thoughts on “Activist arrested after displaying “Impeach Bush/Cheney” sign on overpass

  1. nuvue

    I was just wondering….
    Would someone please go to the same bridge and spot and hold a little bigger sign that says ” Support Bush Cheney”
    And wait and see what happens.
    Watch out for the left wingies not knowing the ruse though….may get a tomato or two.
    Good luck

  2. mtndow

    Noooo, the problem is, that, I am trying to stuff eight lanes of US I-26 thru Westville. Get it? No one may express their opinion over the expressway as, hubdreds will die, be maimed, delayed or otherwise inconvenienced. I scan all overpasses for threats. Getting Jonas off the bridge was a commiunity action. Pray for the cyclists…

  3. Randy Smith

    It is good to see that the Bush/Channey championship lets flush every americans rights down the toilet team has recruited the Ashville Police Department.

    To the responder that thought the sign was a danger because of drivers reading it, don’t pray for the cyclist, pray for the idiots that can’t read something without crashing out. I bet when there’s a Amber Alert Sign, there is a lot of blue tire smoke, blood, teeth, and eyes.

  4. Orbit DVD

    They’ve let whatshisname hold a Confederate flag on the Brevard Rd. bridge for years. Reverse discrimination?


  5. So signs– and people tryng to read them–are what pose a threat to motorists, and here I am thinking that it was cellphoned motorists, and police cars that drive 85 in a 45…and what about road signs?

  6. lokel

    There were folks on the Flint Street overpass yesterday with signs around 4:45, when traffic was at a standstill …. I wonder why they weren’t arrested?

    Selective enforcement?

    According to the article, it is the Police that are “sick of this shit,” not the average citizen.

    I think a few of us could say the same about the heavy handed behavior of law enforcement around here.

    Sick of this shit indeed!

  7. Barry Summers

    Just for the record – an earlier version of this story suggested that the Phillips, Virato and myself were all part of one “group” that went out together on this afternoon, and later issued a joint statement. This is not accurate – the Phillips contacted WPVM after his morning arrest, and I went out with them to document whatever might happen. I later interviewed the Phillips for our WPVM show, Making Progress: News for a Change, and commented about the police presence during that interview, but I participated in no “group statement.”

  8. Chuck Connors

    As a veteran and a citizen I say that a re-enactment with both sides of bridge lined with ‘free-way bloggers’ should occur soon. Its time to remind the ‘authorities’ that our government is “by the people” and “for the people.” Please advise through this blog when the protest will occur as I would enjoy such an exercise of my rights.

  9. Impeach_Now_Asheville

    People freeway blog on the Flint Street bridge every Monday from 5-5:30pm. Bring your sign and join in!

  10. Stewart David

    Every time there is a gun show at the Civic Center they hang a banner on Flint Street over Interstate 240. To my knowledge, it has never been removed by the police, nor has a citation ever been issued. It’s clearly a case of selective enforcement.

  11. Buch

    I agree with the message of the sign and the police officer should have given a warning before making any arrests.
    I don’t agree with interfering with traffic, rush hour is not the time to distract drivers on the freeway. Are you willing to be held responsible for the damages? the deaths? Will it advance the cause if someone is hurt?
    I have grown to expect George Bush to have no regard for the possible consequences of his actions but you come off no better. Childish stunts don’t help. Even an 8 years has enough sense not to mess with people going down the road at 70mph. Grow up! or at least start supporting Bush.

  12. Sara D

    Ref to Cecil’s post;

    We don’t have to worry about Asheville law enforcement using anti-litter laws against its citizens, just look around.

  13. Mister Blister

    Yes reading while driving is quite a distraction. I hope the police in this town will do us the favor of removing all banners, billboards and other advertisements from the major roadways.

    I guess bumper stickers also must go.

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