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Police Officer Suing To Keep 'Oink' License Plate

11:54 AM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
Provided by ACLU to IndyStar
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Rodney Vawter saw his personalized license plate as a joke. But the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles didn't - and the Greenfield policeman says he has gone to court in an effort to get the agency to understand.

The plate used by Rodney G. Vawter reads "0INK," which he considers "an ironic statement of pride in his profession," according to a lawsuit against the BMV filed by Vawter on May 2. The officer is represented in his suit by attorney Kenneth Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

The suit 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.

After allowing Vawter to use the plate for three years and renewing it in March of this year, the BMV sent Vawter a letter in April revoking his use of the plate and supplying him with a paper 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."

Constitutionality questioned

Vawter's lawsuit argues that the statute is unconstitutional.

"If the state is going to offer specialized plates," Falk said by phone on Friday, "it cannot use a standard (for denial of some requests) as vague as 'offensive or misleading.' We can't have speech restricted by such vague terms."

For now, the officer has removed his personalized plate in compliance with the BMV's order, the lawsuit states.

Not the only 'oink' plate

Vawter used a numeral zero to represent the "o" in "oink," the lawsuit states, because another Indiana plate-holder had already reserved and received a plate with the word "oink" using the letter.

Efforts to reach Vawter were unsuccessful. He serves as the Greenfield Police Department's lead crime-scene investigator.

A BMV spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

This is not the first time personalized plates have been an issue for the BMV. For years, the agency denied slogans that referred to God or religion. The agency has reversed that prohibition, however, and now allows religious slogans.

Rejected slogans from past years, according to Star archives, include "GOPOSTAL" because officials considered it offensive. Also denied, on the basis of being misleading, have been plates reading "THE GUV" and "IM A COP" because, officials said, the people requesting them were not governors or police officers.

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