Criminal Justice

1st Circuit upholds man's conviction for soiling courthouse bathroom

In a 57-page opinion, a federal appeals court has upheld a man’s conviction for soiling the bathroom of a federal courthouse in Portland, Maine.

Ronald Strong was convicted for the damage done to federal property in May 2011—willfully damaging the property, creating a nuisance on it, and creating a hazard on it. He was sentenced to seven days in jail. Strong had argued that his conviction must be overturned because the regulations he was charged with violating were posted inside the clerk’s office, rather than at the courthouse door. He also argued the soiling was accidental and he didn’t have the required intent. How Appealing links to the opinion (PDF).

The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t buy Strong’s arguments. According to the majority, a regulation of the General Services Administration does require notice of rules governing the building to be posted at the courthouse entrance, “but nothing in the regulation says that imperfect compliance with the exterior posting requirement nullifies a conviction for violating the prohibition.” The evidence was also sufficient to prove a willful violation, the court said.

The 57-page opinion included a photo “of the bathroom in question” but the feces-smeared facility had already been cleaned by the supervisor of the courthouse’s cleaning company. “The state of the bathroom was so bad that [the cleaning person], who had 14 years’ experience at the courthouse and training in cleaning up bodily substances, was initially at a loss for how to clean the restroom,” the majority said. She used paper towels and disinfectant, then scrubbed the restroom three times with a bleach and water solution. When the job was complete, she used a biohazard bag to discard her clothes, along with a pair of soiled boxers found in the restroom.

Strong’s troubles began when he was waiting in the courthouse security line, according to the opinion. He told a security officer he needed to use the restroom, was told he needed to be screened first, and then told the officer he was defecating in his pants. He was escorted to the restroom by the officer.

A dissent that begins at page 22 opined that the soiling was accidental and criticized the prosecution. “The momentous importance of this case surely forecasts its deserved place in the annals of federal prosecutorial history,” the dissent began.

Also weighing in on the case is the blog Hercules and the Umpire. The case isn’t “worth 57 pages of attention from a United States Court of Appeals,” according to the blog’s author, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf.

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