Court: Transit agency cleared in platform preachers' arrests

AP News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2018 6:07 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of New Jersey Transit in a dispute over the arrest of two men who were preaching on a train platform in 2012.

Don Karns and Robert Parker sued the transit agency after they were arrested at the Princeton Junction station for not having the proper permit and failing to leave the platform.

Both were charged with obstruction and defiant trespass. Karns was acquitted and the obstruction charge against Parker was dismissed; he was convicted on the trespass charge but that was later reversed.

Among other claims, their lawsuit alleged violations of their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection, and claimed that the officers didn't have probable cause to arrest them.

In a 2-1 ruling last week, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those arguments and held that as an arm of the state, NJ Transit was allowed immunity from the claims.

The court added that the officers had probable clause because they had told Karns and Parker that they weren't permitted to be on the platform without a permit but the two men acted as though they would remain there regardless.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jane Roth wrote that under existing case law NJ Transit shouldn't be given immunity as an arm of the state, and that the majority opinion allowed NJ Transit and its officers to "wiggle through" a loophole.