Once again, a police officer films himself committing a civil rights violation. This is an extremely important issue. It’s already super easy for police officers to stop and detain an innocent person just following a driver long enough and looking for one of the hundreds of available traffic law violations, or even by just lying about observing a traffic law violation. We’ve all known compulsive liars. They justify their behavior in their own minds by convincing themselves that they’re telling the truth – or that it’s for a good cause. When it comes to police officers and constitutional rights, our freedom hangs in the balance. It’s a slippery slope, so there can be no compromise.
In this footage we see an unlawful stop, based completely on a lie, documented by the officers’ own dash cam footage. It makes no difference, legally speaking, whether the lie was malicious, or done with good intentions. This is where most of us will encounter police officers. This is also where police officers can easily get away with racial profiling or other discrimination or harassment of innocent people. The threshold is very, very low for police officers to lawfully stop a vehicle and detain the driver. Where they are caught doing so illegally, there needs to be consequences and accountability.
Fortunately, there may be some accountability coming for these police officers. This footage comes to us from a fantastic new video released by the Institute for Justice, detailing a section 1983 lawsuit they just filed this month in Louisiana. I’ll post a link to the video and press release by the IJ in the description. I also urge you to donate to their cause. They do fantastic work protecting our freedom.
On June 15, 2022, Mario Rosales and his passenger Gracie, were driving in Alexandria, Louisiana. They both worked for an HVAC business and had just left from work. It was around 5 p.m. In his red Mustang, while sitting at a traffic light, Mario properly signaled a left turn and then proceeded to turn left. Two police officers with the Alexandria Police Department, Jim Lewis and Samuel Terrell, were behind him. The officers had no reason to suspect that Mario had committed any crime, including a traffic violation. His tags were current. The vehicle was in proper working order and didn’t appear to give rise to any justification for a traffic stop. There was no lawful reason for the stop.
Here’s the full raw footage:
In the end, due to the fishing expedition, the officers end up charging Mario with three violations: failure to signal, and two hyper-technical violations pertaining to residence and vehicle registration. Fortunately, all three charges were dismissed. Assuming that someone on a bench somewhere was looking at this footage and measuring it against the Constitution, those charges had to be dismissed. Why? Because the initial stop was illegal. Therefore, everything that happened afterwards is fruit of the poisonous tree. Well, the failure to signal was easily disproved by the video footage. But the two hyper-technical residency violations would also have to be thrown out because they were only discovered as a result of the officers’ illegal behavior.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a crime or traffic violation in order to justify a traffic stop detainment. In order to have valid reasonable suspicion here, the officers must have had some belief particular to Mario, based on the totality of the circumstances, that Mario committed some violation. Just a hunch by Officer Fifth Amendment here is not enough. His instincts are either way, way off, or he racially profiled Mario. Or maybe he just doesn’t like Mustangs. Either option violates the Fourth Amendment.
Even if there was a failure to signal, what other problems would we have here? As I explained in a previous video about traffic stops: The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop. Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes.
As we saw in the footage, this wasn’t just a regular traffic stop, Officer Fifth Amendment chose to take Mario out of his car, for an extended period of time and question him about criminal allegations completely unrelated to the supposed reason for the stop. For that to be legal, the officer would need to have separate reasonable suspicion particular to Mario – not just anyone and everyone he stops – that Mario may be involved in the suspected illegal activity. Thus even if the failure to signal allegation wasn’t a lie, the Fourth Amendment would still be violated. And then there’s a First Amendment violation in there for refusing Mario and Gracie the option of filming these lying police officers. That is well explained in the IJ’s complaint
Here’s the complaint: