City of Oak Creek v. King
In City of Oak Creek v. King, 148 Wis. 2d 532, 436 N.W.2d 285 (1989), the supreme court considered what constitutes "otherwise disorderly conduct" under Wis. Stat. 947.01, when a news reporter followed an emergency vehicle and proceeded through a road block to an airplane crash site.
A detective found the reporter and told him that he was in a restricted area and would have to leave. While being escorted out of the area, the reporter broke from the detective, jumped a fence, sprinted to the top of a hill and began taking pictures of the crash.
When the detective caught up with the reporter, he again directed the reporter to leave the area. When the reporter refused, he was arrested for disorderly conduct.
The court began its analysis by noting that the reporter's conduct did not fall into one of the six categories specifically prohibited by statute. See City of Oak Creek, 148 Wis. 2d at 541, 436 N.W.2d at 288. Therefore, the court considered whether the conduct was "otherwise disorderly." In holding that the reporter's conduct satisfied this element, the court recognized "the importance of a coalescing of conduct and circumstances." See id. at 542, 436 N.W.2d at 288-89.
Reviewing Wisconsin case law, the court concluded that disorderly conduct often resulted from "'the inappropriateness of specific conduct because of the circumstances involved.'" See id. at 543, 436 N.W.2d at 289. The Court upheld a newspaper reporter's conviction of disorderly conduct based on the possible effect the conduct could have had on others.
In analyzing whether the reporter's conduct tended to cause a disturbance, the court pointed out that the reporter's refusal to leave a restricted area occurred within the presence of other members of the public. See id.
The court stated "in a situation which has the potential for significant crowd control problems, common sense dictates that if one person is allowed to openly defy the authority of an officer in charge, others may soon follow." See id.
The court also reasoned that it is not necessary that an actual disturbance occur in order to contravene the disorderly conduct statute; it is sufficient that there was a possibility of a disturbance under the circumstances that existed at the time. See id. at 545, 436 N.W.2d at 290.