Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: Story of his arrest for jaywalking makes its way around the world

Historians in the News

It took a few days, but the story of the arrest of historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto for jaywalking in Atlanta at the AHA has now been picked up by the media around the world.

HNN broke the story on Sunday morning. On Tuesday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran its first story.

On Wednesday morning (EST) the London Evening Standard put the story on its frontpage, emphasizing Professor Fernandez-Armesto's British credentials:

The prominent academic, professor of global environmental history at Queen Mary College, University of London, and a member of Oxford University's modern history faculty, said he had been subjected to"very humiliating procedures" and even had his box of peppermints confiscated.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a second story Wednesday morning based on an interview with the arresting officer:

The Atlanta police officer being investigated for his treatment of a prominent British historian said Tuesday that Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is not the innocent abroad he claims to be.

The Tufts University professor, who was arrested last Thursday and charged with disorderly conduct, contends he was assaulted without provocation for merely jaywalking across Courtland Street. But Officer Kevin Leonpacher insists he is no rogue cop and suggests perhaps the professor is a bit of a scofflaw.

Leonpacher said the professor repeatedly refused to cooperate when asked why he did not heed the officer's instructions.

"I told him, it's gonna be awful silly if I have to take you to jail for jaywalking," said Leonpacher, a native of Niceville, Fla."I used an excessive amount of discretion."...

"Five times I asked him to stop," the officer said. He then asked him if he was hearing impaired. Once Fernandez-Armesto confirmed he wasn't, Leonpacher said he grabbed the professor's arm."I let him go when he turned around to face me," he said. Leonpacher then says he repeatedly asked Fernandez-Armesto for his identification, but the professor responded by asking for the officer's I.D.

When the historian allegedly repeatedly refused to produce ID (Fernandez-Armesto said he left his passport in his hotel room and was flummoxed when he realized he did not have it), Leonpacher said he told him he was under arrest. As he put his hands behind his back,"he pulled away and grabbed me. He said 'leave me alone, let me go.' I told him 'you're under arrest, stop resisting.'"

Leonpacher, half Fernandez-Armesto's 56 years, contends he could not handcuff the professor by himself."He was swinging, kicking wildly," Leonpacher said. Backup was called to assist in his detainment. They arrived almost immediately, Leonpacher said. According to the incident report, the cop quoted the professor as saying,"Well now I believe that you are the police."

The AHA council said Sunday that it would ask local officials who helped stage the convention to lodge a protest with city officials. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the mayor has ordered an internal investigation.

On Wednesday morning the Associated Press sent the story out on the wires with the photo published by HNN, which was taken by HNN Assistant Editor Jonathan Dresner with his Panasonic Lumix. Dresner is Assistant Professor of East Asian History at the University of Hawai`i at Hilo.

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  • Atlanta police report

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    More Comments:

    adam richard schrepfer - 1/12/2007

    I think that it is professional to address a police officer when spoken to or to cooperate with the police.

    Chris d Taylor - 1/10/2007

    Im a local atlantan. Im not suprised. On Sep. 10th of 2006, the APD harrassed me & threatened me with jail, even though i was well within my legal rights. I went to the Turkish Festival to dance & enjoy a day in the public park (Piedmont Park), but because i was wearing my bellydancing outfit to dance to Turkish music, (and because im a guy), i was harrassed! I hope that professor gets a good lawyer, and sues Atlanta.