Maryland street performer arrested for refusing to stop playing his amplified horn

A Maryland man is facing charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, stemming from an incident where police said he refused to stop playing an amplified instrument in public.

Japheth Clark, 34, has played his horn in downtown Frederick on weekends for about three years. 

Even after moving to Hagerstown recently, Clark said he returned downtown on the weekend of June 22 to play his instrument during a Frederick Pride event.

Clark said an officer with Frederick police told him he couldn’t play the instrument that was amplified through a speaker without a permit.

"I was very confused about that because I’ve been here every weekend," Clark said. "I know people say, ‘Hey, if you speed every day for three years and nobody said anything, it doesn’t make it right.’ No, but if I’m here and there’s no permit law that says I can’t do it and you tell me I can’t do it, and you threaten to arrest me…something I love to do, and I’ve been street performing, as long as I have been playing, it feels strange. It feels like, why today?" 

According to the charging documents obtained by FOX 5, an officer advised Clark he was not allowed to amplify the sound of the instrument. However, the officer said Clark could play the instrument without amplification.

"Clark advised if he did not use the speaker, he would not be heard. I [officer] advised Clark, he was still not permitted to use the speaker to amplify the sound," the charging document states.

It goes on to say, Clark said he would amplify the instrument using the speaker and the officer said he would be placed under arrest if he did so.

"Clark began to scream at the top of his lungs to leave him alone," the report states.

After noticing people begin to raise their phones and start filming, the officer reportedly asked dispatchers to send more officers.

"I again informed Clark he was under arrest and again, he began to scream at the top of his lungs to leave him alone. I grabbed his arm along with another officer in an attempt to place Clark in handcuffs. Clark began to tense up, pull away, and scream he was not under arrest," the court documents state.

Clark told FOX 5, he felt "targeted."

"I don’t know. It’s a strange feeling that you get. So, I protested my removal. Apparently, protesting my removal got me arrested," he said. "I asked them to leave me alone and do not bother me. I have been playing here for three years and why now to bother me? I also just said, ‘I’m just a guy playing a horn. I’m not doing anything that’s actually threatening to anybody.’ Why me?"

Japheth Clark, 34, has played his horn in downtown Frederick on weekends for about three years. 

The charging documents specifically cite Frederick City 15-21.2, which addresses noise prohibitions:

"It is unlawful for any person or persons to play, use, operate or permit to be played, used or operated, any radio, tape recorder, cassette player or other machine or device for reproducing sound, if the sound generated is audible at a distance of fifty (50) feet from the device producing the sound and if the device is located in or on either of the following:

  1. Any public property, including any public street, highway, building, sidewalk, park, parking lot or thoroughfare; or
  2. Any motor vehicle on a public street, highway or public space."

Clark said in the years he has been playing music downtown, he has never been given warnings before.

"Today, not a lot of people are out. I could play my horn, and you could hear me all the way down the street," he said Thursday. "There could be Gay Pride. Thousands of people are walking by and I could play the same volume, but you can’t hear me across the street."

Frederick police addressed the arrest on Facebook, dispelling rumors that a Taser was used during the event.

"As is standard procedure, an internal review process is being conducted and the department is thoroughly investigating the incident. However, at this time we are able to confirm that a Taser was not used," the post reads. "All Frederick Police Department officers are equipped with body-worn cameras. We will release any and all relevant footage in accordance with our policy once the internal review process is complete."

Some Facebook users came to the defense of the police.

"Thank you FPD. That guy isn’t a bad horn player, but most of the sound is loud accompaniment blasting from big speakers. You can hear him from Frederick Social all the way to the library. When there’s a festival, he really should back down and not drown out the performers with permits. I’m certain you guys warned him several times," one person commented.

Others came to Clark’s defense.

"I am very concerned about this incident. I have seen this person many times peaceably playing trumpet around the creek. He is friendly and has done absolutely nothing to trouble anyone around any time I have been in the area. FPD owes the public a detailed description of the circumstances. The department has a high bar to clear to convince me and others that their actions are justified," another person wrote.

Clark posted a video on his YouTube recalling the experience.

"I didn’t want to be alone in that. I wanted people to see this is what I got arrested for, this is what happened. Yes, I stood up for myself, but I didn’t want to go quietly. Not in a way to stir up violence or hatred towards police, but I just didn’t want to be alone," he told FOX 5, explaining why he chose to speak out.

According to online records, a hearing on the matter is set for Aug. 7.

"I know people want to talk about police brutality, or they want to paint Black Lives Matter. This has nothing to do with police brutality. It has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter. It’s just simply has to do with, am I allowed to play here or not? And is the law fair for me to do this freely and not harming my first amendment rights?" he said. "From my unprofessional, unlicensed opinion…playing my horn 50 feet away, it seems like that’s the easy way to say, you can’t do this. You got to shut this down. Now, I can’t perform, or I can’t express myself. That itself, is what I was protesting against and what I would make this about."

FOX 5 asked police whether a complaint was made against Clark’s playing and if there were any warnings given prior to the arrest. 

A spokesperson said because there is an internal review ongoing, the department would not be commenting beyond what has already been released.