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NEWS: Alexandria, VA Opera Singer Arrested for Busking

William Hobarth’s An Election Entertainment, an illustration of disorderly musicianship.

[Note: This story has been updated to incorporate an additional statement from the Alexandria Police Department. – 9/03/2016]

[Additional note: A statement from the City of Alexandria has been added at the end. – 9/07/2016]

It started out as a normal day for Krista Monique Clouse of Alexandria, VA. The opera singer and professional busker arrived at King Street and Lee Street and set up for work in front of Comfort One Shoes. Her equipment? A Bluetooth speaker, the music player on her smartphone, and a soprano voice trained at Boston and Brigham Young Universities. Her day’s agenda? To sing through the afternoon into the night, until the crowds flocking to Old Alexandria and its waterfront were well and firmly headed home. The day’s true ending? Getting arrested by the Alexandria Police Department and being booked at the police station for disorderly conduct.

Ask a street musician if busking is legal and you’ll probably hear some variation on “Music is protected under the Constitution.” This belief stems from a famous court case that began in Alexandria, VA itself during the 1980s, Davenport vs. City of Alexandria Virginia, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the City of Alexandria’s ban on busking in the city’s central business district – an area encompassing King Street and Lee – was unconstitutional. As with much of case law, what a court decision means and what people think it means often diverge – whether those people be lawyers, police officers, or musicians. On Friday, the latter two had a rather unfortunate difference of interpretation.

Around 9:45 PM, Clouse was getting ready to sing Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, a classical music favorite that she normally sang to a recorded orchestral accompaniment playing out of a small Bluetooth speaker. A small group of police officers approached, informed her that her singing was in violation of City Ordinance Sec. 11-5-4b.

Clouse responded that her singing with the recorded accompaniment was a protected constitutional right, referencing Davenport vs. City of Alexandria Virginia. One of the officers responded that he would arrest Clouse if she did not cease her singing.

Old Alexandria is rather like Asheville, NC – a famous busking place, with a large population of professional street musicians who know the territory and are generally on good terms with local merchants, who notice when the musicians go on vacation and customers don’t linger as long or spend as much money. The busking tradition goes quite a ways back in this town, and is even listed as a crowd draw on the Visit Alexandria website. For Krista Monique Clouse and her husband Larry Clouse (also a professional street musician), the streets of Old Alexandria were both work and home, a place where five years’ work intersected with their courtship, marriage, and raising a daughter who sat in on day-long sings and charmed passersby.

A photograph of Krista Monique Clouse on stage at the First Lady's Luncheon on April 15, 2015.
A photograph of Krista Monique Clouse on stage at the First Lady’s Luncheon on April 15, 2015.

To Alexandria’s busking veterans, performing in prime spots like King St & Union and King St & Lee follows a simple and straightforward first-come-first-serve basis, with the early bird getting less of the worm and more of the tips from passersby. Musicians who came early enough to get a prime spot that day tend to stay put (through various tradeoffs with friends and companions) until they leave. It is, if you display enough talent, a great place to pick up leads for gigs – like singing at a dinner hosted by Michelle Obama in April of last year, where Krista Monique Clouse was accompanied on the piano by her husband Larry. It is also a small enough town where you tend to get to know people; according to Clouse, she had spoken to one of the arresting police officers just the week prior about performing in the spot.

After hearing the officer’s warning, Clouse proceeded to sing the Ave Maria; the officers responded by arresting her, placing Clouse in handcuffs while they frisked and patted her down on the open street. Then they whisked her off to the police station to book her for disorderly conduct, a charge which in the State of Virginia is directed towards persons engaged in violent or drunken behavior, or who disrupt weddings and funerals. The charge is also applied on occasion to persons protesting at political events.

No statement from the Alexandria, VA Police Department was available at press time.

Update (9/03/2016): Crystal Nosal, the Senior Public Information Officer for the Alexandria Police Department, stated that Krista Monique Clouse was charged with a noise violation for use of amplified sound without a permit, and that she refused four orders to desist in her use of amplified sound. In a statement, Clouse stated that “disorderly conduct” was cited multiple times by the arresting officers and during the intake process; no disagreement was made that the final charge was for a noise violation.

Update (9/07/2016): The City of Alexandria released this statement today:

City of Alexandria to Review Noise Ordinances Regarding Street Performers

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2016
The City of Alexandria is reviewing noise ordinances regarding busking, following the recent arrest of a street performer.
Shortly before 10 p.m. on Friday, September 2, an Alexandria police sergeant observed Krista Clouse performing near the corner of King and N. Lee Streets in Old Town.  The sergeant informed Ms. Clouse that while she was free to continue singing, she could not use a speaker system without a permit.  After the singer continued to use the speaker system, she was arrested and brought before a magistrate.  The magistrate issued a warrant for a misdemeanor noise violation and released Ms. Clouse pending a trial date.
After reviewing the arrest, the Commonwealth’s Attorney advised the City that this type of noise violation should have first been addressed by a civil notice of violation.  If a written order to cease or abate was thereafter issued, and a person refused to comply with the written order, a criminal arrest would have been appropriate.  As a result, the case will not be prosecuted, and the charge will be dropped.
“I would like to publicly apologize to Ms. Clouse for the way this situation was handled,” said City Manager Mark B. Jinks.  “While we are obligated to enforce certain restrictions, we did not follow the correct procedure in this case.”
The City is reviewing this arrest and the general application of noise ordinances to street performers, so that performers, enforcement staff, and the community have a clear understanding of the rules.  The City’s goal is to ensure that performers’ rights are protected while also addressing neighborhood concerns and maintaining Alexandria’s active street performance scene.
During the initial review period, police officers and other enforcement staff will seek voluntarily compliance if noise violations are reported or observed.  By mid-September, the City will issue clear guidelines to staff and the community regarding enforcement.  Staff will follow with a comprehensive review of all City noise ordinances and will recommend any needed changes to City Council.
For media inquiries, contact Craig T. Fifer, Director of Communications and Public Information, at craig.fifer@alexandriava.gov or 703.746.3965.



From the City of Alexandria, VA Noise Code (italics added):

Sec. 11-5-4 Noises prohibited–enumeration.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to make, continue, or cause to be made or continued any excessive, unnecessary or unusually loud noise or any noise which unreasonably annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, health, safety, welfare, or environment of others, within the limits of the city.

(b) The following acts, among others, are declared to be unlawful, but this enumeration shall not be deemed to be exclusive, namely:

[…]

Sound reproduction device. The using or operating of any radio receiving set, musical instrument, phonograph, or other machine or device for the producing or reproducing of sound, or permitting the same to be played, used or operated in such manner as to disturb unreasonably the comfort, health, peace, safety, or welfare and environment of the neighboring inhabitants. The operation of any set, instrument, phonograph, machine or device between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. in such manner as to be plainly audible across property boundaries at a distance of 50 feet from the building, structure or vehicle in which it is located shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this section, except such operation by a public service company or the city to restore and maintain services provided by it.



From the Code of Virginia:

18.2-415. Disorderly conduct in public places

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he:
A. In any street, highway, public building, or while in or on a public conveyance, or public place engages in conduct having a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, such conduct is directed; or

B. Willfully or being intoxicated, whether willfully or not, and whether such intoxication results from self-administered alcohol or other drug of whatever nature, disrupts any funeral, memorial service, or meeting of the governing body of any political subdivision of this Commonwealth or a division or agency thereof, or of any school, literary society or place of religious worship, if the disruption (i) prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct of the funeral, memorial service, or meeting or (ii) has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, the disruption is directed; or
C. Willfully or while intoxicated, whether willfully or not, and whether such intoxication results from self-administered alcohol or other drug of whatever nature, disrupts the operation of any school or any activity conducted or sponsored by any school, if the disruption (i) prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct of the operation or activity or (ii) has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, the disruption is directed.
However, the conduct prohibited under subdivision A, B or C of this section shall not be deemed to include the utterance or display of any words or to include conduct otherwise made punishable under this title.The person in charge of any such building, place, conveyance, meeting, operation or activity may eject therefrom any person who violates any provision of this section, with the aid, if necessary, of any persons who may be called upon for such purpose.The governing bodies of counties, cities and towns are authorized to adopt ordinances prohibiting and punishing the acts and conduct prohibited by this section, provided that the punishment fixed therefor shall not exceed that prescribed for a Class 1 misdemeanor. A person violating any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

 

 

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and a contributing writer for The Boston Music Intelligencer. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America‘s 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.

http://basilconsidine.org
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