Pubdate: Tue, 17 May 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: David Foster


TRENTON - Two charges filed by a city police officer against Edward 
Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, may go up in smoke.

The criminal activity allegedly occurred when Forchion appeared in a 
video that was shot outside his restaurant on May 10 and was 
subsequently posted to social media. In the clip, Trenton cops are at 
his restaurant when the weed advocate repeatedly calls officer 
Herbert Flowers a "pedophile" and a "big boy who (expletive) with 
little girls."

In the video, Flowers appears to laugh off the verbal assault and at 
one point puts his arms in the arm with a smile, responding "Yep, you said it."

But several days later, Forchion was taken out of his eatery and pot 
temple in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct and cyber-harassment.

"I can't believe this dude handed me such a platform to speak about 
free speech," Forchion said Monday in a Facebook post, calling the 
charges bullst. "Since officer tender-butt Flowers reads my 
(Facebook) I want to Thank you Officer Flowers I didn't have a lawyer 
until u made a ASS of yourself filing phoney/false charges because 
your feeling got hurt. Ps don't get Butthurt in the future just keep 
it moving."

But Forchion is not alone in believing the charges are unjust.

Attorney Edward Heyburn said Monday he is assuming all of Forchion's 
criminal and civil rights civil cases following the "preposterous" arrest.

"Trenton is filled with corrupt cops and that corruption goes all the 
way up to Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri," Heyburn said. "Not 
only are the charges unconstitutional, they're absurd and they make a 
mockery of what the law was actually intended to prevent. It's a 
scare tactic because they know that my client doesn't have a lot of money."

Adding to the outcry, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil 
Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey also said Monday that neither of 
the charges "appear to be sustainable."

In the disorderly persons complaint, Flowers cites "offensive 
language" against law enforcement officers in a public and social 
media forum as the crux of the charge.

ACLU attorney Alexander Shalom said the offensive language charge in 
the disorderly conduct statute has been ruled unconstitutional by the 
state appellate courts three decades ago.

"It wasn't ruled unconstitutional last week or last month, it was 
ruled unconstitutional in 1985," Shalom said. "So this isn't the one 
where we should give law enforcement a pass and say, 'Well, maybe 
they're not just reading all the latest cases.' This is a ticket that 
they shouldn't have written because for the last three decades, it's 
been unconstitutional to write such a ticket."

For the cyber-harassment charge, Shalom said Flowers omitted a 
necessary element of the crime in the complaint.

"The law doesn't criminalize any time you use a social networking 
site to emotionally harm someone," the ACLU attorney said, noting 
thousands of spurned lovers throughout New Jersey would then be 
violating the law. "Instead, what it criminalizes is when you post 
something that is obscene or lewd that is intended to emotionally 
harm someone. There's no allegation that's what Mr. Forchion did."

Furthermore, Shalom said calling the police officer a "pedophile" is 
"insulting and rude, but it's not obscene or lewd."

"Both of the charges should be thrown out," the ACLU attorney said. 
"It seems like the officer was using the criminal law to enforce his 
petty grievances."

Coincidentally, Forchion's attorney has filed a civil rights case 
against Flowers in another matter.

"Flowers by all accounts is a troubled cop," Heyburn said. "He's 
abused and terrorized Trenton residents for years. The Trenton police 
internal affairs has known this. They've chosen not to do anything about it."

Attorneys also picked apart the attention authorities have paid to NJ 
Weedman recently given the violent crime epidemic in the city.

Last month, Mercer County Narcotics Task Force raided Forchion's 
businesses, which includes a restaurant, religious sanctuary and 
tobacco shop, on East State Street and allegedly seized more than 
$19,000 in marijuana.

During the raid, 11 people, including Forchion, were arrested for 
various offenses. Some were apprehended in connection with 
outstanding warrants, and others were charged with new drug offenses.

His restaurant, NJ Weedman's Joint, was also shut down temporarily 
due to health violations.

"We've been reading a lot about the real and serious crime problems 
going on in Trenton," Shalom said. "Rather than enforcing low-level 
marijuana crimes and inventing crimes that don't exist, the Trenton 
police would be better suited to be focused on the real crime that's 
plaguing that city."

Heyburn claimed the prosecutor's office and police are "not focusing 
on the shooting and the killings." "What they've done is use all of 
that as a pretext to target my client and the people that frequent 
his establishment and try to put him out of business when there's 
been no issues of violence in his place whatsoever," Heyburn said, 
adding Forchion's activism is about peace. "They may not like his 
message saying, 'FK the police,' but this is America. I think 
sometimes Trenton officials forget that it is America, they think 
that they run this place like Nazi Germany. I'm going to make sure 
that my client's rights are protected as well as other people that 
are victims of the Trenton police."

During Forchion's arrest, police also charged him with marijuana 
possession because Heyburn said police found "a roach" on the brim of his hat.

"There obviously have been no lab reports to indicate it was actual 
marijuana or whether it was just paper," Heyburn said.

Heyburn intends to reach out to Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, who has 
advocated for community policing.

"He's at the top of the food chain," the attorney said. "He's 
allowing the police to terrorize his residents so he has some 
responsibility here. His hands aren't clean. He can't expect that the 
Trenton residents are going to trust the police when he's sitting 
back allowing them to file bogus charges."

Trenton Police Director Ernest Parrey did not immediately return a 
message seeking comment.

Trentonian staff writer Penny Ray contributed to this report
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom