A Jacksonville man has been charged by West Palm Beach police with inciting a riot. The man allegedly challenged the deputy chief to a fight and encouraged protesters. Fifty-one-year-old Anthony Richard Couse III is charged with inciting a riot, which is a first-degree felony in Florida and carries a potential sentence of up to 30 years behind bars. He is also charged with resisting arrest without violence and assault on a police officer.
According to police, Couse confronted Deputy Police Chief Rick Morris and challenged him to remove his shirt for some fisticuffs. He also yelled “fuck the police” and otherwise encouraged other protesters to do the same. The police removed him from the scene, and some other protesters attempted to disrupt the process. The police said that Couse also resisted arrest.
The Florida Statute is One Line Long
Essentially, there is no guidance in the statute on what constitutes incitement. Something as trivial as yelling “f the police” can be interpreted as incitement. The problem, of course, is what constitutes the free speech of an individual and what constitutes illegal or unprotected speech. Traditionally, any call to violence has been interpreted as unprotected speech which can be punished under the law.
While Couse did challenge the officer to a fight, which was not brilliant, he did not strike any officer at the scene. Nor did he cause anything that could be interpreted as violence. That would constitute “assault” on an officer if they can prove the defendant was making a credible threat of violence. Assault in Florida is only the threat of violence. Battery is unlawful touching or striking.
Yelling obscenities at police officers and chanting things they find unpleasant does not rise to the standard of illegal incitement. I would be shocked if the incitement charge was not dropped and the man was charged with resisting arrest and threatening a police officer. However, assault, legally defined demands that the threat be credible and the officer against whom the threat was made feels in fear of bodily harm.
As for the incitement statute, there are very few people who are ever charged with it. There are three such individuals in West Palm Beach who’ve been charged with incitement following the George Floyd protests. The law needs to clearly define acts and speech that constitute incitement since it carries a 30-year penalty and is a first-degree offense.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with inciting riots, call the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. We will protect your rights, ensure that you aren’t being charged inappropriately, and get you a result you can live with.