It was no laughing matter when Rockville Centre resident Robert Schiavelli was issued tickets on Feb. 12 and 13 for disturbing the peace with his loud laughter.
Schiavelli was given two appearance tickets for his guffaws, which annoyed one of his neighbors to the point where the police were called. He appeared in village court last week, where his lawyer’s motion to dismiss the charges was rejected.
Each ticket carries a fine of $250 or up to 15 days in jail. Village code states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to make … any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which annoys, disturbs or injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.” Schiavelli’s lawyer, Andrew Campanelli, vowed to fight the charges, saying that the ordinance is too vague to be enforced.
“It has no description — it doesn’t say a time of day, it doesn’t say a place, it doesn’t say you have to disrupt anything,” Campanelli said. “Basically, it says if you commit any act anyone else finds annoying or offensive. So it defines the act based on how its perceived by others. Somebody could walk around with a shirt that says ‘I hate George Bush’ or ‘I hate Obama.’ Other people might find that offensive. You’re going to spend 15 days in jail for that?”
According to Campanelli, Schiavelli has been taunted by his neighbor. Schiavelli’s response, Campanelli said, is to laugh. “He was laughing inside his own home,” Campanelli said. “The window was open but the screen was down, so he wasn’t sticking his head outside. He’s laughing in his own home at six in the afternoon. And he’s facing 30 days in jail for that.”
Campanelli added that he has refused to let his client take a plea, and will fight the charges. “The fact that someone called the police for that is absurd,” he said. “But it’s even more absurd that the police would actually give him a summons. I’m not letting him take a plea to any violation for simply laughing. If I have to take this to federal court, I will.”
According to Rockville Centre Police Commissioner Charles Gennario, Schiavelli wasn’t ticketed for his laughter, but for his behavior.
“It was a repeated act of harassment geared towards the neighbors,” Gennario said. “It’s not really a laugh. It’s like a guttural cackle.”
Gennario explained that officers had been called to that area many times before. The police had previously tried to settle the dispute between the neighbors, but to no avail.
“The officer, on a few occasions, had observed [Schiavelli’s] harassing behavior, and he felt the best thing to do was to get it into the village court so it could be dealt with as a dispute between neighbors before it escalated,” said Gennario.
Campanelli filed motions earlier this week to dismiss the case to both the village prosecutor and the village.