Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.
Last week the Improv AZ crew decided to revise their world –famous coroner prank, only this time instead of having four people in “coroner” shirts carry a stuffed body bag on the light rail, we took it for a walk through Chandler mall.
We were hoping to raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of double takes and surprised stares of disbelief. We succeeded in that, but we also spent just enough time in the building to get the attention of mall security. Not wanting to cause any trouble, we offered to leave. They refused our offer and called Chandler Police instead. A mall cop claimed we committed “a dozen felonies.” The real cop said we could have been charged with disorderly conduct. In the end, they let us go with a warning and the mall cops banned us from Chandler mall for three months.
Of course as the group’s CLS, I did my usual research before doing this prank, and after our run in with the law, I rechecked everything.
What can mall cops really do?
Mall cops are citizens and can only make citizen arrests. If they are an agent of the property owner, they can ask people to leave and call law enforcement to arrest them for trespassing if the patrons don’t comply.
Did we commit trespassing?
I don’t think so. Shopping malls open themselves up for members of the public to enter and shop. We are, in legalese, “invitees.” If we had been asked to leave by a property owner or their agent and then refused to go, then we would have been trespassing.
Were we illegally impersonating a government official?
The way Arizona law is written, we would have to pretend to be a public servant and engage in conduct “with the intent to induce another to submit to [our] pretended official authority or to rely upon [our] pretended official acts” to be charged with impersonation. We did nothing to assert our authority against any mall patrons or anyone else.
A mall cop tried to tell us that our fake coroner badges made us guilty of a felony, but anyone looking closely at them would have seen that they were made with someone’s laminator at home. Our badges had our pictures – mine was my Twitter avatar – and the words “Coroner” and “All Access Pass.” The mall cop took our badges from us and turned them over to the Chandler police officer. After looking at them briefly, he gave them back to us.
FYI – Arizona doesn’t have coroners. It has medical examiners.
Did we commit disorderly conduct?
I think that’s a stretch at best. Arizona law defines disorderly conduct as engaging in certain behavior “with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or person or with the knowledge of doing so.” The only behavior they could have tried to pin on us was “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior.” Our conduct could have been considered disruptive, but probably not deserving of being in the same category as violent behavior. The other behaviors on the list for disorderly conduct didn’t seem to apply since we weren’t making noise, using offensive language, carrying weapons, or preventing business transactions from occurring.
Could the mall cops make our camera guy prove he’d erased the footage he shot with his phone?
Mall cops are just civilians so they probably don’t have that authority. Real cops, however, can search your phone if it’s related to an arrest. Otherwise, it looks like they’d a search warrant.
Is it illegal to walk around with a fake dead body?
I looked through Arizona statutes and didn’t find any laws against having fake dead body. I find out about some of the things you can’t do with an actual dead body:
- You can’t move a dead human body with the hopes of abandoning or concealing it.
- You can’t move a dead body from its grave without authority of law.
- You can’t steal stuff off or from a dead body.
- You can’t have sex with a dead body.
For now the four coroners are banned from Chandler mall. The mall cop gave each of us a card with the Chandler mall code of conduct on it. I’d share this list with you (it’s pretty funny) but it’s too long, and surprisingly, Chandler mall doesn’t have it available on their website.
Official Improv AZ Blog: When Mall Cops Swarm – The Coroner Prank #2
Video: Improv AZ – Coroner Prank 2, “Bob Goes To The Mall”