Why You Shouldn’t Fart on a West Virginia Police Officer

In the iconic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his coconut-clopping compatriarts make their way to a French-controlled castle. There, the party is met by a French guard, asking him if they enter the castle as part of their search for the Grail. From atop the castle’s walls, the guard rejects their request and instead taunts the Englishmen below, saying “I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal-food-trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.” (You can watch the scene here, on YouTube.)

It’s funny, but in West Virginia, it may be illegal. The “fart in younr general direction” part, that is.

Under West Virginia Law — §61-2-9(c) if you want to look it up — “any person who unlawfully and intentionally makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature to the person of another or unlawfully and intentionally causes physical harm to another person is guilty of a misdemeanor.” That’s how the state defines the crime of “battery,” as of this writing. In 2006, the law may have been slightly different but, for our purposes, not appreciably. Let’s say that our fictional Frenchman actually did fart in the general direction the Knights of the Round Table. Technically speaking, that gas can cause physical harm to King Arthur and company. Is his farting a violation of §61-2-9(c)?

Probably not. But that didn’t stop a West Virginian police district from pressing charges.

The accused batterer, in this case, wasn’t a British actor with an overwrought French accent. It was a 34-year-old steelworker named Jose Cruz. One evening in 2006, Cruz was pulled over by police officers for driving without his headlights on. Noticing his slurred speech, the officers suspected that he was driving drunk, a suspicion reaffirmed by the results of three field sobriety tests. The officers handcuffed Cruz and took him to the police station where officers administered a breathalyzer exam — all things one would expect. He was then brought for fingerprinting. That’s when things turned foul.

According to the complaint (available here), Cruz didn’t take kindly to being fingerprinted. In retaliation, he “lifted his leg and passed gas loudly on (Patrolman) Parsons… then fanned the air with his hand in front of his rear. The complaint further claimed that “the gas was very odorous and created contact of an insulting or provoking nature with [the officer]” — which is to say, the fart met the definition of battery. Cruz, already a lock to be charged with driving under the influence, now had a battery charge also added to his list of woes. All because he, allegedly, intentionally farted in the general direction of the booking officer.

Cruz didn’t deny farting nor of waving the fart toward the cop, at least not initially. He told The Smoking Gun that “while he ‘farted multiple times,’ it ‘wasn’t directly in [the cop’s] face.’” Further, he said that his attempts to push the noxious cloud toward the officer was intentional but warranted — Cruz admitted to that, but said it was in retaliation for the cop insisting he take a breath test while he was having an asthma attack (saying “‘Here, put that in your Breathalyzer,” per his own admission). Later, per NBC News, he’d change that story a bit — while still admitting to farting and, ultimately, waving it toward the officers, he denied that the fart was originally intended to be some sort of chemical warfare. Rather, he had told the officers that he had an upset stomach and wished to use the bathroom, but they denied his request and the fart just came out — as he told NBC, “I couldn’t hold it no more.” The police didn’t seem to care, though, and pressed charges nonetheless.

Prosecutors, though, didn’t see the harm in such a mighty wind. They decided that Cruz’s actions weren’t worth prosecuting — well, the flatulent actions, at least. Just a few days after Cruz was booked, they dropped the battery-by-flatulence charges (but still pursued the DUI). So if you’re in West Virginia, and pass gas in someone’s general direction, you may want to hope you get the same prosecutor assigned to your case.

Bonus fact: According to the book “Does It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence” (yes, that’s real), zebras can be quite gassy — and that may be evolution’s way of providing the striped equines with an extra defense mechanism. Per the book, “zebra farts can be heard from long across the plains of Africa,” which at first seems like an argument against flatulence-as-defense. But the book continues: “This is particularly common when they are startled and begin to run — the motion propels the gas from their bodies and they often fart loudly with each stride.”

From the Archives: A Mighty Wind: An unquestionable example of fart-driven-battery, recorded in Edo-period Japanese art.