Downtown honker beats the rap
Villarreal, a 21-year-old Dayton resident, called the ticket issued by McMinnville police “absurd and ridiculous.” Cynthia Kaufman Noble, McMinnville Municipal Court prosecutor, said it was unconstitutional.
Defense attorney Al Hansen of McMinnville, who took the case on a pro bono basis, argued the citation infringed on Villarreal’s right to free expression under the First Amendment. Concluding he was correct, Kaufman Noble filed a motion for dismissal and it was granted.
Villarreal was cited about 7 p.m. March 9 for honking in support of demonstrators gathered by the US Bank Plaza.
He was judged to have violated Oregon Revised Statute 815.225, which limits use of automotive sound equipment. It forbids “any unnecessary or unreasonably loud or harsh sound by means of a horn or other warning device.”
In an interview at the time, Villarreal told the News-Register he was westbound on Northeast Third Street with three friends when he came upon a 99 percenter vigil that was just ending. Between the corner at Union Block, across Davis Street from the bank, to the corner of Harvest Fresh, one block to the west, he honked six to eight times, he said.
He gave this account of the ensuing stop:
As he turned right onto Cowls, a patrol car came up behind him with its emergency lights activated, and he pulled over. After checking his license, insurance and registration, the officer told him he was being cited for a noise violation.
He told the officer he was just honking in support of the protesters. The officer responded — wrongly, according to the court determination — “Your horn is not a freedom of speech. This was not an emergency.”
Villarreal said other passing motorists also honked, and the officer must have heardthem. He wondered why he was singled out.
Capt. Matt Scales said he was singled out because he continued to honk his horn well after passing the protesters — an action he readily conceded.
When Villarreal first appeared before Municipal Court Judge Kevin Kinney on April 25, he was found guilty. His fine was reduced from $160 to $130, but a $30 fee was added to cover court costs, as he chose to argue his case before the judge.
Villarreal opted to appeal.
Muncipal Court charges $35 for processing appeal filings and Yamhill County Circuit Court charges $240 for hearing them. Both fees are non-refundable, regardless of the outcome, so that put Villarreal out $275.
However, Hansen agreed to represent him on appeal at no charge, and the protesters took up a collection to help him with his other costs.
“I called the city attorney and said, ‘I don’t think what the officer did, which was charge someone for exercising their constitutional right, is constitutional,’” Hansen said. “The ORS was overruled on constitutional grounds, which is what I argued.”
Hansen said he was ready to take the case to trial had the court not granted his motion to dismiss. He said he wished the dismissal hadn’t taken so long, which delayed resolution.
He noted some of the 99 percenters carried signs encouraging motorists to honk in support of their cause.
“All he was doing was honking to show his support,” Hansen said of his exuberant young client.
Villarreal said he was extremely pleased the case has been dismissed.
In addition to thanking Hansen, he expressed his gratitude to the 99 percenters who helped him cover the costs he incurred.
“They raised the money for the right thing, so the police can’t take advantage of people,” he said.
To this day, Villarreal doesn’t understand why he was cited in the first place.
“There were people honking all day,” he said. “As the officer was writing the citation, I could hear people driving down Third Street honking.”