Oskaloosa Students observing local government received a first-hand look at threats to their peers and the First Amendment at the city council meeting Thursday night.
The police chief here told a group of high school students to "expect problems" and said that they could be cited for an illegal public gathering if found in groups of more than five.
"There is a stature in the city of Oskaloosa that says anything over five is an illegal gathering, so anytime there is over five of you together, you can be cited for an illegal public gathering," Police Chief Rick Jones said.
County Attorney Mike Hayes, contacted by telephone, hung up on a reporter when asked about the comments.
Jones made the comments following a recent report of vandalism to a sign and a county car.
He made the remarks to five students who were observing the meeting as part of a high school government class.
City officials have been frustrated with groups of teens smoking and causing vandalism.
Hayes said the ordinance was the same as adopted in the municipal code by most Kansas towns, including Lawrence.
However, the ordinance says it is unlawful for more than five people to gather with the intent of engaging in disorderly conduct or a riot.
"If kids are standing together swearing at another group of kids, that's disorderly conduct," Hayes said.
But Jones made no mention of disorderly conduct when he told students he could cite them in groups of five or more.
Asked about that, Hayes said to a reporter, "I'm not going to argue with you. You can call your legal attorney and ask for legal advice. This conversation is terminated." He then hung up.
Jones told the students, "I'm not trying to pick on you, but until I get the damage stopped and find out who is doing it, expect problems."
The students at the meeting are not suspects in the vandalism.
"Neither myself nor my officers are out to be hard on you," Jones said. "We're out there to uphold the law and help people out. Until we get some of this stuff straightened up, things are going to be tough."