CORRY, Pa. (AP) — The parents of two students who were charged and fined $50 each for having an offensive sign at a Pennsylvania high school football game are suing the police, county prosecutor, and school officials, saying the teenagers’ free speech and other civil rights were violated.
The federal lawsuit, which only identified the two students by initials, was filed Tuesday by Gerald and Amy Clabbatz, of Corry, and Edward and Lauri Sekerak, of Columbus.
The Clabbatzes’ 16-year-old son and the Sekeraks’ 17-year-old son were cited following Corry High School’s homecoming game Sept. 27 against Northwestern High School. The sign read “#32 sucks,” an apparent reference to a player who wore No. 32 for the opposing team.
A local judge found the boys guilty of disorderly conduct but an Erie County Common Pleas judge in November overturned the conviction on the grounds that the offensive sign was protected speech and not “fighting words” unprotected by law.
The lawsuit argues that the boys didn’t confront visiting fans with the sign, but simply walked by with it before a visiting fan crumpled it up.
A Corry police receptionist said the department would not comment on the lawsuit. School district administrators didn’t immediately return calls and emails seeking comment Wednesday.
Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, who is also being sued, declined comment but confirmed he had spoken to the fathers of the two boys. Daneri’s office defended the charges when they were appealed to the county judge.
Both fathers told the Erie Times News, which first reported on the lawsuit, that Daneri has apologized.
“The DA’s taking a beating on this, but it should have never gotten there,” the 16-year-old’s father said.
The father of the older student said, “What we found out about this case is that freedom of speech isn’t free.”