Florida Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison. (Photo: John Korduner/Icon SMI/Newscom)

Florida Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison. (Photo: John Korduner/Icon SMI/Newscom)

Most people would agree that deliberately interfering with ongoing police investigations should be illegal. In that light, the news that University of Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison was arrested for allegedly interfering with Officer Bear’s performance of his duties would not be surprising.

What might be surprising is that Officer Bear is a dog. At the time, he was merely sitting in a patrol car, not sniffing for contraband.

According to Officer William Arnold, Officer Bear’s handler, Morrison stuck his head in the open window of a patrol car and barked at Officer Bear while Arnold was investigating a suspicious vehicle. For this offense, Morrison was placed in cuffs.

Florida law prohibits individuals from interfering with animals while they are engaged in public service. Florida Statutes 834.19 states:

Any person who intentionally or knowingly maliciously harasses, teases, interferes with, or attempts to interfere with a police dog, fire dog, SAR dog, or police horse while the animal is in the performance of its duties commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.

There is a compelling case for preventing individuals from verbally antagonizing police dogs while they are investigating crimes. One might argue that, while human officers ought to be thick-skinned and brush off verbal abuse for the greater good of expressive freedom, dogs, which are naturally protective of their handlers, are not capable of doing so.

But Officer Bear was not investigating anything. Rather, he was sitting in the back of his handler’s police car. Morrison may indeed have distracted Officer Bear, but that wouldn’t constitute a violation of an ordinance that targets only interference with an animal “in performance of its duties.”

Morrison’s behavior was obviously obnoxious and stupid, and it may even have deserved a ticket and a civil fine. But obnoxious and stupid behavior is not, and should not be, criminal in Florida or anywhere else. Regardless of what one thinks about Morrison, this dog of a charge won’t hunt.

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