Charges Dropped Against Philly Teacher Who Yelled Obscenities at Cop at Rizzo Protest - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Charges Dropped Against Philly Teacher Who Yelled Obscenities at Cop at Rizzo Protest

John Sheerin was caught on video yelling profanities at a Philadelphia police officer last August. His lawyer says he lost his job with the city school district.

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    Charges Dropped Against Philly Teacher Who Yelled Obscenities at Cop at Rizzo Protest
    Courtesy of Helen Ubiñas, Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News columnist
    John Sheerin, left, during a protest at the Rizzo statue Aug. 19, 2017.

    Criminal charges were quietly dropped Friday against a longtime Philadelphia school teacher who was seen on video yelling obscenities at and offering to fight a city police officer during a protest last summer at the Rizzo statue.

    John Sheerin, 63, faced terroristic threats and harassment for the Aug. 19 incident that involved a bicycle officer at the foot of the Center City statue. Sheerin's verbal outrage was captured on video by local reporter and columnist Helen Ubiñas. (Warning: The video contains extremely graphic language.)

    The longtime elementary school teacher no longer faces criminal prosecution, but he also no longer has a job, his attorney Paul Hetznecker said Tuesday.

    Sheerin, of Crescentville, resigned from the school district in October after several weeks on suspended leave from the classroom, Hetznecker said, adding that by resigning he could begin collecting his pension and using his retirement health care.

    The teacher will look at his options for recourse in reclaiming his job, which he did not want to leave, Hetznecker said.

    A spokesman for the school district did not respond to an email seeking comment.

    "Clearly, there was no crime committed by my client. After closer examination, the district attorney realized this was not worthy of criminal prosecution," Hetznecker said. "He was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech."

    Sheerin's outrage was at least partly in response to the officer's actions, Hetznecker said, noting that Sheerin claims the officer struck the protesting teacher with his bike as the officer and other bike cops attempted to alter the police perimeter established around the controversial statue.

    "He reacted emotionally to that and probably, some of his comments were inappropriate. But they didn't rise to criminal conduct," Hetznecker said. "Was he rude and impolite in his comments? Perhaps. But there is no question he did not commit a crime."

    Sheerin's arrest was not immediate. Officers went to his house days after the protest to issue him a summonses. After his first court appearance, he was released on $5,000 bail. 

    A week after the protest and following his initial court appearance, district spokesman Lee Whack said Sheerin had already been removed from his school "pending our investigation."

    Whack also said Sheerin "had been under investigation" even prior to his arrest.

    Sheerin's case contributed to a summer of discontent involving the statue in honor of former Mayor Frank Rizzo. Several protests occurred following calls to remove the statue from public property as part of fallout from the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    One protester struck the Rizzo statue with eggs and another sprayed graffiti on it.

    In November, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the statue would be moved. Its future remains unclear. The city is in the midst of preparing a proposal to submit to the Philadelphia Art Commission for consideration.

    At the same time Sheerin faced charges, his son, Christopher Sheerin, 34, faced a simple assault charge for a fight following a pro-Trump rally in Center City last July.

    The younger Sheerin was allowed to enter into a pre-trial intervention program.