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Cussing Canoeist Convicted in Michigan

Court: Man is found guilty under a century-old state prohibition on swearing around children. He could be sentenced to 90 days in jail.

June 12, 1999| From Associated Press

STANDISH, Mich. — A man accused of unleashing a string of curse words after he tumbled out of his canoe last summer was convicted Friday of violating an 1897 ban on swearing in front of children.

Jurors in rural Arenac County, 130 miles north of Detroit, deliberated less than an hour before convicting Timothy Boomer, 25. The factory worker from the Detroit suburbs could be jailed for 90 days.

Boomer did not show any reaction when the verdict was read.

He did not deny he let off steam after his canoe hit a rock on the Rifle River last summer, but he said he didn't see any children and that his shouts were in jest.

"Timothy Boomer at worst said an 'f-word' or two when he fell into the Rifle River," defense attorney William Street told the jury in his closing statement. "It was not the sort of event that has now been exaggerated and blown all out of proportion. The people literally are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill."

But Richard Vollbach, the prosecutor, said witnesses testified that Boomer "used the 'f-word' at least a few dozen times with children present . . . anywhere between 25 and, I believe, 70 times. They described Mr. Boomer with veins popping out of his neck; he was enraged."

Police began patrolling the river last summer after representatives of campgrounds and property owners in the area complained that drunken, rowdy boaters were getting out of hand. A sheriff's deputy who was patrolling the Rifle River ticketed Boomer.

Street, who was defending Boomer on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, conceded that Boomer was part of a group that had been drinking beer on the river. But that didn't justify the cussing charge, he said.

"As much as they would like to have been able to ticket Timothy Boomer for being drunk, for being disorderly, they didn't bring the charge because they didn't have the facts," Street said. "So they scraped 102 years deep into the bottom of the Michigan Criminal Code to bring this offense to the top."

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