The Mobile Police Department announced it was moving forward with a charge of disorderly conduct against midtown resident Tom Herder after an internal investigation found he “became irate and started screaming profanity” at officers who were conducting an investigation into a string of burglaries in the area Feb. 1.
Mobile Police Chief James Barber said the officers confronted Herder, who was riding a bicycle and removing trash from gutters, because he was spotted in the yard of a vacant house and fit the criminal profile of a suspect implicated in as many as 10 burglaries last month. Barber said investigators interviewed both officers involved as well as five separate witnesses, all of whom described the officers’ conduct as “calm and professional.”
Barber said Herder was searched after he admitted to carrying a knife and detained because he was reluctant to turn it over. The officers initially released Herder, but arrested him shortly thereafter for continuing to “disturb the peace” after he was let go.
“It was very loud and very obscene,” Barber said, adding that “at no point did the officers elevate their voices.”
The investigation was spurred at the request of Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who was responding to Herder’s account of the arrest on social media. Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said it “was the right thing to do,” calling Herder an “upstanding member of the community.” Herder is a former Marine employed as watershed coordinator for the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program.
Barber said he had discussed the findings of the investigation with the mayor and Stimpson “was in absolute agreement the officers acted appropriately.”
Barber also confirmed that it was not a crime to shout at or curse at an officer, but the charge was based on “horrible profanities” that at least one resident could hear above the volume of their television set.
“Police officers are required to have thick skin and we take scorn and ridicule as to how we perform our duties,” he said, but the officers had “no other recourse but to restore peace of neighborhood by taking Mr. Herder into custody.”
Herder’s attorney, Josh Briskman, said he was “disappointed” with the decision, calling the search and arrest “unconstitutional.”
“Theses issues are replete right now,” he said, mentioning recent backlash against stop-and-frisk in New York City. “You can’t stop somebody for no reason. I’d like to talk to these five witnesses. I think a more credible version will emerge showing the police stopped an innocent person for no reason whatsoever and then tried to justify an arrest with trumped-up facts.”