Ferguson: Mike Rowe Gets It Wrong, Resisting Arrest Is Your Right, Court Decisions Have Ruled

Jonathan Vankin

Asked a fan question about the Ferguson protests against police violence, outspoken TV personality Mike Rowe delivered an answer being hailed as "the best response on the nationwide protests" yet delivered -- but a bit of research into court ruling and state laws shows that the former Dirty Jobs host got one key point wrong.

Rowe frequently answers questions from fans about current events and general life issues in lengthy posts on his Facebook page. On Monday, a fan asked the 52-year-old onetime Ford Motor Company pitchman his opinions on the recent protests, sparked by the killings by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.

After a lengthy and mostly "this one said this, that one said that" response about his experience discussing the protests at a recent dinner party, Rowe delivered his own opinion.

"I'm all for rooting out bad cops. But let's not stop there. If we're serious about saving lives, and eliminating the confrontations that lead to the demise of Garner and Brown, let's also condemn the stupidity that leads so many Americans to resist arrest. I don't care if you're white, black, red, periwinkle, burnt umber, or chartreuse -- resisting arrest is not a right, it's a crime. And it's never a good idea."

In fact, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that resisting unlawful arrest is not only a citizen's right -- but that citizens even have the right to kill a police officer who is forcefully attempting an unlawful arrest under the same principles of self-defense that govern any assault case.

The Supreme Court made that ruling nearly 115 years ago, and the decision on the case of John Bad Elk v. United States has never been overturned.

The question, of course, is what constitutes an "unlawful" arrest. As former Reno, Nevada, police officer Tim Dees wrote recently, "an arrest made in error is not necessarily unlawful if the officer's belief that the arrest was lawful was reasonable."

Also, just because the Supreme Court made a ruling in 1900, the law is not necessarily crystal clear today.

For example, a 20-year-old man named Matthew Lawson in Florida sued police there in 2011 after he fought back against police who were arresting him on a bogus drug charge. The arrest was ruled "unlawful" by the courts, and Lawson was badly injured by the cops.

But a State's Attorney there maintained that even though a citizen may resist an unlawful arrest, it is not legal to resist with violence. The matter was never decided because Lawson accepted a monetary settlement from the police.

Many states have laws that expressly permit citizens to resist unlawful arrests, but many also explicitly prohibit resistance of arrest under circumstances.

While Mike Rowe may be right to say that resisting arrest is not good for one's health, he gets it wrong when he flatly declares resisting arrest "a crime." The actual answer is, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.