There's a Guy Named Johnny Bones, and He's Causing Drama in the City of Tombstone

There's a gentleman in Tombstone who goes by the name of Johnny Bones, and he's causing a ruckus.

Bones was arrested in February, and the American Civil Liberties Union now says Bones is being subjected to "malicious, unconstitutional" prosecution.

There's some real Wild West stuff going on here.

According to a report from the Tombstone Marshal's Office, Tombstone Councilmen Randall Davis and Jim Doherty came into the marshal's office asking what they were going to do about Bones -- who is known to the justice system as Ronald Koch.

The councilmen explained they've been getting complaints about Bones busking (street performing) for a few days, and violating some rules, including busking without a permit.

One of the deputies told the councilmen he looked up some cases, which made him believe the ordinance was unconstitutional.

According to deputy's report, "[Davis] informed me that it was not up to me to say if something was unconstitutional or not, but that it was up to the courts."

Even though the deputy said Bones had been performing in that same spot for the last six years he'd been in town, believed Bones wasn't disturbing the peace, and thought Davis was feeding him some "BS" about the circumstances, he went ahead and cited Bones anyway.

New Times phoned up Davis over at his shooting gallery, and he explained Bones was causing problems by blocking a thoroughfare for pedestrians, and would occasionally infringe on someone's private property.

That's when the council got involved, moving Bones about 100 feet away from that spot -- Davis says it's prime real estate in front of the O.K. Corral -- and passing the ordinance requiring a busking permit.

Then Davis and a couple other city officials found out Bones had gone to the ACLU, after a letter arrived at city hall claiming Bones' First Amendment rights were being violated.

"This brings a modern meaning to the O.K. Corral mentality when council members write a law directed at Johnny Bones' constitutionally protected activities and use this law to order Johnny's arrest  despite the objections of law enforcement,"  ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda says in a statement. "These overzealous politicians demonstrate a lack of concern for First Amendment protections and for the tab to Tombstone taxpayers resulting from litigation needed to insure these fundamental rights."

The ACLU's argument doesn't seem to sit too well with Davis, as he's not exactly Bones' biggest fan.

"He's a convicted felon -- murderer," Davis tells New Times. "He says he's been performing in Tombstone for five years -- two of those five years he was performing in prison. He won't conform to anything that's normal society."

Even though the ACLU defended Bones' actual performance, saying it "provides a window into Tombstone's past; tourists listen to Johnny play the bones, have their photos taken with him, and learn a bit about Tombstone's rich history," Davis still isn't a fan.

"I don't like it," Davis says. "But I have to admit, to the tourists and the kids, I guess it's enjoyable."

On the subject of the ordinance, Davis says he thinks the city's OK with designating him to a certain area, but he concedes they may have to do away with charging Bones and others with permit fees.

Bones has until April 19 to respond to the charges, so we'll have to wait to see how the drama plays out.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley