Mom Cited by Fireman for Using Profanity

The long arm of the law reached a Texas Wal-Mart earlier this month when a 28-year-old single mother was handcuffed and ticketed for dropping the f-bomb, according to a Houston Chronicle article.

It all started out innocently enough as Kathryn “Kristi” Fridge, her mother and her 2-year-old daughter stopped in a La Marque, Texas, Wal-Mart to grab last-minute emergency supplies in preparation for the approaching Tropical Storm Edouard.

When Fridge recognized the store was out of batteries, she vocalized her irritation to her mother. “I was like, ‘Dang.’ I looked at my mom and said, ‘They’re all —-ing gone,’” Fridge told the reporter.

Capt. Alfred Decker, the town’s assistant fire marshal who was dressed in a fire department uniform at the time, confronted Fridge on her choice of words, reportedly saying she needed to “watch her mouth”.

Fridge offered an unenthusiastic apology to the man who seemed to have come from nowhere and figured that was the end of the conversation.

As she walked away, the man demanded she come back to him. Confused by his demonstration of authority ‒ she only saw a fire department badge ‒ she protested and told him to mind his own business.

After refusing further similar orders and reportedly angering him by signing her name in sign language when he asked her to identify herself, he handcuffed her and escorted her outside to issue a citation.

Fridge eventually complied with the fire marshal, but also admitted to the reporter that she yelled to onlookers, “Can you believe this? He’s —-ing arresting me for saying —-!”

Fridge and her mother deny that she cursed at the fire marshal, saying she only cursed in a casual, personal conversation. The La Marque fire chief defends the action, saying Fridge disrupted the peace and the fire marshal had to be concerned for his own safety.

In the end, Fridge was released and ticketed for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. Texas’ penal code defines the charge as a person using “abusive, indecent, profane or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

Fridge can opt to pay a fine or to appear in court and contest the citation. She is planning to contact a criminal lawyer to fight the ticket.

Who Has the Authority to Handcuff People?

It appears that the Wal-Mart incident may have escalated due to confusion surrounding who has authority to enforce laws. Each state has different rules on who has the legal authority to arrest and/or detain people suspected of breaking the law. Below is a list of some of the people who have the authority to arrest and/or detain citizens in most states.

  • Local and State Police
  • Members of the Fire Department
  • Jail Authorities
  • Security Guards
  • Certain Military Personnel
  • You. Most states allow a citizen to detain ‒ and handcuff ‒ a suspect if he/she witnesses the person committing a felony or if police ask the person to assist in detaining a suspect. Note that this may be risky ‒ citizens don’t have the same legal protections as police and they can be held liable for, among other things, infringing on another citizen’s rights.

The above article is not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on criminal law, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.