On the morning of February 1, 2022, 57 year old Benjamin Quarles was running errands in downtown Minden, Louisiana, after dropping off his wife for a medical appointment. She was a dialysis patient. Mr. Quarles is a school bus driver with no criminal record. As he approached an intersection, he stopped at a red light. While stopped, his car was struck from behind by an 18-wheeler dump truck. The impact pushed Mr. Quarles’ car into the intersection. He had violated no criminal or traffic laws.
Mr. Quarles stayed inside his vehicle. Shortly afterwards, two Minden Police Officers arrived at the scene. body cam footage captured what happened. Due to his wife’s condition, Mr. Quarles was apprehensive about the officers’ germs. As the officers approached him, he communicated to the officers that he wanted to keep his distance from them. For cops, this is sort of like rolling up your window most of the way at a traffic stop. They love that. This is a direct affront to their authority in their eyes. They see it as disrespect. Instead of actually communicating, which is what they’re supposed to be doing in these situations, they instead escalate and retaliate.
The officers yelled to Mr. Quarles that he was under arrest and to step out of the car. Mr. Quarles moved his left leg from inside the passenger compartment of the car and placed it on the ground outside the car. He looked at Officer McClaren and asked, “help me out of the car.” The officers refused. Mr. Quarles then, with his foot still outside the car, grabbed his cell phone off the console, before getting out of the car. At that moment, Mr. Quarles was pepper sprayed by Officer Hammontree, and yanked from his car by the two officers.
Mr. Quarles was forcibly thrown to the ground. Then Officers McClaran and Hammontree left him lying on the ground, handcuffed and injured, with his mask soaked in pepper spray. He was left there on the ground until the ambulance arrived. He was transported to a local hospital emergency room for treatment. The entire time he was in the hospital, Mr. Quarles was guarded by two Minden police officers. How brave of them. Protect and Serve. That’s their motto. Mr. Quarles was then put in a cage for a period of time, until his brother came and bailed him out. When he got his car back, he found it had been ransacked, presumably because it had been searched by the officers, obviously looking for the hidden cash and drugs. They didn’t find the cash and drugs, but they did apparently find a $30 Circle K gift card, as it was missing from the car after the officers finished with it.
At the time this happened, Mr. Quarles was the victim of a traffic accident that was someone else’s’ fault. He had committed no crime. The subsequent accident report determined that he did nothing wrong. The two officers never bothered to determine whether Mr. Quarles was injured in the accident. They just escalated and retaliated, due to a perceived disrespect of their non-existent authority.
There can be no doubt that due to the show of force by the officers, telling him he was under arrest, using force on him, pulling him out of the car, that he was subjected to a warrantless arrest at that point. A warrantless arrest requires probable cause that Mr. Quarles had committed some crime. There was no allegation of any crime having been committed. The officers charged him with a violation of Louisiana’s “Resisting an Officer” statute, i.e., “resisting arrest.” At his initial court appearance on March 2, 2022, that charge was dismissed on the motion of the prosecutor. The charge was most likely dismissed because the officers did not possess any probable cause to believe that Mr. Quarles had committed any crime prior to him being seized. The chicken cannot come before the egg.
It’s always necessary to resolve the criminal charges before filing a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit. There are several reasons for this. Depending on the circumstances, a conviction of one or more of the criminal charges arising from the incident can bar a successful 1983 suit. For instance, if the claim is for false arrest, meaning a warrantless arrest performed in the absence of probable cause, one wouldn’t want to plead guilty to the facts you’re alleging didn’t exist. It can get complicated, but that’s the general idea. This is one of the first things I generally have to tell people. Sometimes getting rid of the criminal charges is easy; sometimes it’s not.
In this case, a section 1983 civil lawsuit was filed and was just recently amended. It appears that the government is fighting hard against it. There is a pending motion to dismiss. What should government have done? They should have apologized and compensated for violating the man’s civil rights. If they didn’t have the evidence to even take the criminal case to a trial, they should compensate him. Then there’s the injuries they inflicted on him. They should compensate him for that. Why? Use of excessive force by police officers against an arrestee, or anyone really, is a Fourth Amendment violation. They are liable for damages, assuming they’re not awarded qualified immunity.
At some point there will be a ruling on qualified immunity in this particular case – probably after depositions are taken and there’s testimony for the court to analyze. I’ll try to keep an eye on this one, as I’m curious to see what happens here. I’ll be rooting for Mr. Quarles.