An Indiana woman intended her bumper sticker reading "unmarked police car" as a joke, but two police officers didn't think it was funny. Now, they're being sued in federal court for allegedly violating the woman's free speech rights, and officials aren't laughing.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of 56-year-old Pamela Konchinsky of Franklin. The complaint says Konchinsky was followed by two squad cars when she pulled into a parking garage near the mall where she works in downtown Indianapolis. The first car had its lights flashing. Konchinsky knew she hadn't violated any traffic laws.
The officers told her to remain in her minivan after asking for her license and registration, and then scolded her for the sticker taped in the rear window of her minivan.
One of the officers warned her during the June 17 incident that someone would think she was impersonating a police officer, and that someone might shoot at her, believing her to be an officer.
The bumper stickers proclaiming "unmarked police car" sell for $2.50 online. Konchinsky, the mother of one adult and one school-age child, works three jobs. She had received the sticker as a gift from a friend and taped it to the inside of her minivan's rear window about seven months ago.
"It's a joke — it's ironic," Kelly Eskew, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, told The Indianapolis Star. "It's like you or I wearing a T-shirt that says, 'Undercover cop.'"
But the officers took the issue seriously, and didn't allow Konchinsky to leave until she had removed the sticker from the window.
She didn't receive a citation, but the fuss made her late for work and her pay was docked as a result.
The lawsuit filed late last week claims the officers violated Konchinsky's First Amendment right to freedom of speech and her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
Indianapolis corporation counsel Samantha DeWester said her office doesn't comment on pending litigation, but she did tell the Star that "We take every lawsuit against the city extremely seriously."
Indianapolis police spokesman Officer Chris Wilburn said police don't comment on pending litigation, either.
The complaint seeks to recover Konchinsky's lost wages and other costs, including legal fees.
"Ms. Konchinsky has not put the bumper sticker back on the minivan but wishes to do so as a humorous and ironic expression," the complaint reads.