Flutist sues city over his arrest for playing music on street corner

Posted: June 29, 2007

A 65-year-old classical flutist has sued the city for violating his civil rights when he was arrested in March for playing his flute at a Center City corner.

Felix Wilkins alleges in his complaint that he was playing the flute around 4 p.m. at the corner of 18th and Chestnut Streets on March 28 when Police Officer Scott Wallace ordered him to stop.

Wilkins "asserted his right to play a musical instrument on the public streets of Philadelphia," the suit says.

The officer then arrested Wilkins for disorderly conduct, handcuffed him, and transported him to a police station where he was "detained for an extended period" and then released with a citation.

On May 7, Municipal Court Judge Gerard Kosinski dismissed the case. Noted civil-rights attorney Paul Messing filed the lawsuit for Wilkins a week later.

Wilkins' arrest came one day after police arrested Anthony Riley, 20, for singing in Rittenhouse Square. He also was charged with disorderly conduct and has a court date next week.

The Riley arrest was part of a controversial crackdown by police on musicians and performers in Rittenhouse Square based on complaints from nearby residents.

City Solicitor Romulo Diaz, responding to an outcry from some who called the Rittenhouse Square crackdown extreme and an infringement of freedom of speech, said this week that he will take comments next month in an effort to reach a compromise.

Diaz declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

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