The Chicago Cell-Phone Jammer Is a Folk Hero and a Felon

Yeah, he shouldn’t have done it. But don’t you kind of want to? Photo: Chicago Police Department

Is this man a folk hero, a crank, a criminal, or all three? In Chicago, Dennis Nicholl has become notorious for riding the trains with a 12-pack of Old Style beer at his feet and what one commuter called a “technological weapon of social destruction” in his hands. Riders noticed that their calls dropped when they got near the man’s cumbersome device. Now the 63-year-old Nicholl — known as the Chicago cell-phone jammer — faces felony charges for his novel method of finding some damn peace and quiet.

Cell-phone jammers are prohibited under federal law, as they disrupt not only telephones but all radio communications, police radar, and GPS signals in their immediate area. Under those rules, Nicholl was arrested on Tuesday in a rather low-grade sting operation. A cop, riding alongside him in plainclothes, tried to make a call while in Nicholl’s makeshift quiet car, and when it wouldn’t go through he threw a pair of handcuffs on him at the next station.

Using or selling a cell-phone jammer in the U.S. can result in jail time or a fine of up to $16,000. The judge in Nicholl’s case released him on $10,000 bail, as his lawyer defended the man who, he said, was just trying to find some peace. The jam-master posted bail and walked out of jail on Wednesday.

The Chicago Cell-Phone Jammer: Hero or Criminal?