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Clearwater woman seeks dismissal in french fries arrest

Jean Merola attends a hearing with son Tom Merola on Friday. Prosecutors say she did not move her car at a McDonald’s drive-through as asked by employees after ordering unsalted french fries.

BILL SERNE | Times

Jean Merola attends a hearing with son Tom Merola on Friday. Prosecutors say she did not move her car at a McDonald’s drive-through as asked by employees after ordering unsalted french fries.

A defense attorney argued Friday for the dismissal of the case against a 76-year-old woman arrested after arguing with a police officer over whether she blocked the drive-through lane at a McDonald's while waiting for an order of french fries.

But County Judge Patrick Caddell did not rule immediately on the defense motion for dismissal during a pretrial hearing. He said he would do that later.

Jean Merola of Clearwater is scheduled to go on trial July 10. She faces an $88 fine if convicted on a charge of violating a city ordinance by obstructing a right of way Jan. 17.

That day, the McDonald's employees had asked Merola to pull her car forward to wait for a medium order of unsalted fries. Clearwater police Officer Matthew Parco, who was behind Merola, said he couldn't get by and asked her to move. Parco said Merola cursed at him and called him names. Merola said the officer blasted his horn and harassed her. The grandmother of eight was arrested, handcuffed and booked into the Pinellas County Jail.

Merola's attorney, Steven Andrews, said the case should be dismissed because Merola didn't willfully block the drive-through and it was Parco's cruiser, not her Lincoln Town Car, that blocked traffic. Assistant State Attorney Robin Allweiss said Merola didn't move to the spot where McDonald's employees directed her.

"Obviously," Judge Caddell quipped, "the potatoes had the thickest skin of anyone that day."

Police administrators later cleared Parco of accusations he acted inappropriately when he arrested Merola.

But last month Parco resigned after internal affairs investigators concluded that he had lied to a supervisor. The internal affairs case had nothing to do with Merola's arrest. Instead, it concerned allegations that Parco behaved inappropriately March 29 when responding to a child-custody call.

Witnesses told investigators that he offered a 15-year-old girl chewing tobacco, fired his Taser into his cruiser windshield to demonstrate how it worked and showed the teen a computer video of a cow being Tasered. He denied doing those things, but electronic usage logs on the computer and Taser indicated otherwise.

During Friday's hearing, Andrews said he wants to cross-examine Parco about the internal affairs case that led to his departure if Merola's case goes to trial. Allweiss said she had case law against such a cross-examination.

Caddell suggested that questioning a witness about matters related to his truthfulness may well fly in his court.

Clearwater woman seeks dismissal in french fries arrest 06/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 16, 2008 2:05pm]
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