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Police officer sues over BMV revoking 'OINK' plate

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Saturday, May 25, 2013 - 6:48 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — A central Indiana police officer has filed lawsuit against the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, saying its decision to revoke his vanity license plate "0INK" was unconstitutional.

Kenneth Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, is representing Greenfield police Officer Rodney Vawter in the lawsuit and contends it is a free speech issue.

"If the state is going to offer specialized plates, it cannot use a standard (for denial of some requests) as vague as 'offensive or misleading,'" Falk told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/18gmQcg) on Friday. "We can't have speech restricted by such vague terms."

A BMV spokesman declined comment, saying the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit filed May 2 is being filed as a class-action lawsuit intended to bring relief to others denied specialized plates by the BMV. It names BMV Commissioner R. Scott Waddell, in his official capacity, as defendant.

"Corporal Vawter selected the phrase '0INK' for his license plate because, as a police officer who has been called 'pig' by arrestees, he thought it was both humorous and also a label that he wears with some degree of pride," Vawter's lawsuit states.

Vawter had the license plate for three years. After renewing it in March, the BMV sent Vawter a letter in April telling him it was revoking his plate and gave him a paper license plate pending issuance of a new one, the lawsuit states. BMV officials described the plate as "containing offensive or misleading content," the lawsuit states.

The BMV cited a state statute that allows the BMV to refuse to issue a plate that officials deem to contain arranged letters and numbers that carry "a connotation offensive to good taste and decency" or "would be misleading."