A West Scranton woman could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300 for allegedly shouting profanities at an overflowing toilet while inside her Luzerne Street home. Dawn Herb, whose potty mouth caught the attention of an off-duty police officer, was charged with disorderly conduct recently, prompting her to fire off a letter to the editor and vow to fight the charge.
“It doesn’t make any sense. I was in my house. It’s not like I was outside or drunk,” said Ms. Herb, who resides at 924 Luzerne St. along with her four young children. “A cop can charge you with disorderly conduct for disrespecting them?”
The obscenities hit the fan when she battled her overflowing toilet around 8 p.m. Thursday, she said.
Although Ms. Herb doesn’t recall exactly what she said, she admitted that she was frustrated and let more than a few choice words fly. Unfortunately, it was near an open bathroom window.
“The toilet was overflowing and leaking down into the kitchen and I was yelling (for my daughter) to get the mop,” she said. “A guy is yelling, ‘Shut the f— up,’ and I yelled back, ‘Mind your own business.’ ”
Her next-door neighbor, Patrick Gilman, a city police officer who was off-duty at the time, apparently had enough of Ms. Herb’s foul mouth and asked her to keep it down, police said. When Ms. Herb didn’t stop, he called the police.
Patrolman Gerald Tallo responded and charged Ms. Herb with disorderly conduct.
The citation accuses the defendant of using obscene language or gestures “with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm or recklessly (creating) a risk …”
“There was no intent to do anything,” Ms. Herb said. “I just feel so violated and irritated … I don’t even have a criminal record.”
Efforts to reach Patrolmen Gilman and Tallo were unsuccessful.
Scranton Public Safety Director Ray Hayes said if anyone feels they were unjustly accused, they can address it before a judge.
“At the end of the day, the opinion that counts is of the magisterial judge,” he said. “It may be something open to interpretation. The officer has his own and this person had the opposite opinion.”
The use of obscene language or gestures is an offense under the state criminal code. But cursing at a police officer isn’t a punishable offense, said Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union based in Philadelphia.
“It cannot be the basis for a citation. You can’t prosecute somebody for swearing at a cop or a toilet,” she said. “We bring one of these cases a year and sue some police departments because they do not remember that they are not the language police.”