Metro

Sorry, burning rubber is not a form of protected speech, police in Maine say

A student burned rubber in front of a Maine police officer after reading that he could on a satirical news site.
New Maine News
A student burned rubber in front of a Maine police officer after reading that he could on a satirical news site.

You can’t believe everything that you read.

A student at a high school in Oakland, Maine — population approximately 7,000 — learned that valuable lesson last week after he was informed by a police officer who pulled him over for spinning his tires that burning rubber, in fact, is not a “right to free speech.”

Sergeant Tracey Frost, a school resource officer in the town just outside of Augusta, said he was on duty in his cruiser last Wednesday near Messalonskee High School when he made eye contact with a student who was driving a “souped-up” truck.

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As the student held the officer’s gaze, he proceeded to “chirp” his tires right in front of Frost, causing the wheels to spin while the vehicle remained in place.

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Frost said he pulled the student over and asked him point-blank: “Really? Have you lost your mind?!”

The student, confident he did nothing wrong, told Frost, “You can’t do anything about it anymore,” Frost said, and then pulled out his smartphone to show the officer a news article that claimed Maine’s Supreme Court had ruled recently that burning rubber is “now protected free speech.”

Turns out, the so-called news article was written by “New Maine News,” a popular satirical website that posts content similar to what one might find on “The Onion.”

“When he showed me the article, I started laughing on the side of the road,” said Frost, who was familiar with the website. “He had an interesting reaction to that. It took me a minute or two to explain to him that this is not a legitimate website.”

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Frost figured that would be obvious because the fake article includes a quote from a chief justice that reads, “What good is a huge truck? What good are fat tires, a screaming exhaust set-up, and a killer big block if all that power can’t be used to make a statement?”

Following the interaction, Frost hopped on the Oakland Police Department’s Facebook page, which he manages, and wrote about what had transpired between himself and the student. The post was shared more than 1,200 times, including by the New Maine News.

Frost said he took a light-hearted approach to reprimanding the student. Rather than issuing him a ticket for burning rubber right in front of an officer, Frost “chewed him out a little bit, because that’s what a good police officer does” — and then educated him about double-checking news sources in a time when information online is often questionable.

“I used the opportunity as a matter of education,” said Frost, who has been a resource officer in town for 11 years. “I figured the amount of kids who are going to pick on him at the high school about it was either equal or worse to giving him a summons. . . . He got off with a life lesson, and we all moved on.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.