Yesterday we filed suit against Family Court Judge Louise Goldston of the 13th Family Court Circuit, based out of Beckley, Raleigh County, West Virginia, as well as three deputies with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, for federal civil rights violations which occurred during the March 4, 2020 search of Matt Gibson’s home following a post-divorce contempt proceeding filed by his ex-wife. If you haven’t been following the case, you can learn more here.
Here’s the full complaint, filed in federal court in the Southern District of West Virginia. It makes claims of violations of the 4th Amendment, 1st Amendment and 14th Amendment. Also a defendant is the ex-wife’s lawyer for conspiracy with a state official to violate Mr. Gibson’s civil rights.
The first of my two clients in the federal civil rights lawsuit filed yesterday against the superintendent of Jefferson County Schools had her disciplinary hearing today, where the “evidence” was presented of her alleged involvement in the violence at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. Apparently the only evidence presented was a conspicuously-absent anonymous “report.” According to the attorney at the scene, Bondy Gibson, the superintendent who leveled the accusations, refused to provide a copy of the allegations, the name of the person making the allegation, or any of the social media posts the individual referenced.
Apparently, what actually happened, is that the Board office reviewed Pam McDonald’s social media page and came to the same conclusion that all have, which is that Pam did nothing wrong and broke no laws. Unfortunately, however, the damage has already been done, and our lawsuit will continue. For instance, here’s a screenshot of a TV news story from this morning about my two clients:
Here’s another disgusting media report from WVDM, which was the direct recipient of the leak from the Jefferson County Schools smearing my clients. It announced that my clients “participated in riots in Washington D.C.” Can you imagine, your friendly school bus drivers may have rioted through the Capitol?
In case anyone misunderstood, in the WDVM article above, this was the exact quote:
The statement details that Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson was made aware on Friday of the staff members’ participation that left the Capitol Building in shambles.
It turns out that no such evidence exists, apparently. But what about the smear letter the superintendent wrote yesterday which was provided to WV Metro News, where she said this:
On Friday, January 8, 2021, I received such a report that two employees had posted threatening and inflammatory posts on their Facebook pages, had been present at the Electoral protest march on Wednesday that erupted in violence, and had violated our leave policy.
Wait, first . . . about the leave policy…. how would one go about reporting whether one of your employees violated your leave policy? Do random people have access to your employee personnel files? Or was this “person” who made the report “a friend” of yours. Sort of like the “friend” prefaced in embarrassing Dear Abby letters? Does this friend happen an office in the school administration building with a sign on the door saying something like, “Superintendent?”
Secondly, about the “threatening and inflammatory posts” my clients supposedly made….. Where are they? I’m sure they were just misplaced….. They must exist, right?
If the goal was to drag these ladies through the mud, merely for their political affiliation and viewpoints, I guess it was a job well-done. They received all sorts of well-wishes from the tolerant and compassionate commenters among us. If only someone saved some sort of record of the ugly comments which were directed at my two innocent clients in the comments section of these defamatory pieces….. That would be a great way, not only to document the ugliness of the situation, but also to hold accountable the nasty individuals behind the keyboards who so recklessly and maliciously love to destroy the lives of their fellow human beings, based only on political disagreement.
It would be a shame if some of them ended up getting sued and held accountable for their online bullying….. Just a thought.
You may have seen in the national news, and on social media, that the Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, in Jefferson County, West Virginia, decided to come after school employees who attended the Trump Rally on January 6, 2020. At least two employees, both long-time school bus drivers, who attended the rally, and who never entered any prohibited areas near the Capitol, never witnessed violence, never participated in violence, destruction of property, trespassing, etc., were suspended on January 8, 2020, and remain suspended as of this time.
This afternoon we filed a federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the Superintendent, individually, for money damages. Here’s the filing:
This is a blatant attack on the core of the First Amendment: the right to assemble and protest in a traditional forum of public speech, such as the U.S. Capitol. These clients did not pass into any prohibited area that day. They committed no crime while in Washington D.C. They’re exercise of free speech had absolutely nothing to do with their employment as school bus drivers for Jefferson County Schools. They just so happened to have a political activist superintendent.
Brand-new police body-cam footage shows an outrageous detainment and arrest of an innocent guy shopping in Walmart with his poor toddler. I break it down, explain some of the relevant law, and show what happened. This couldn’t have gone much worse. Multiple Fourth Amendment violations….. and then there’s Walmart.
Reasonable suspicion is required to perform an investigative detention. Probable cause is required to perform a warrantless arrest. The “Graham Factors” are assessed to analyze the legality of the use of force which occurred. I’d guess the police here will fail miserably on all three.
Update on the Federal Covid Tyranny Challenge: The Governor filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuit, and we responded yesterday. I think Samuel Adams said it best on October 14, 1771:
“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”
Here’s the Governor’s motion to dismiss our federal lawsuit on behalf of the Bridge Cafe & Bistro Restaurant, challenging the Stay at Home Order and the Mask Mandate:
Police officers with the Chicago PD traumatize a nude woman, who was just minding her own business in her home, which is caught on Video via bodycams. Her lawyer then dismisses her case because he misunderstood the law. Oops. You may have seen this case in the news, but I go behind the headlines and examine the incompetence not reported in the news, and explain what the law is for civil rights lawsuits following search warrant cases where there’s a wrong address and plain ‘ole incompetence.
You have to either allege that the warrant was invalid, or if that can’t be done, you have to attack the affidavit supporting the warrant. To succeed, Plaintiffs must prove Defendants “deliberately or with a ‘reckless disregard for the truth’ made material false statements in [their] affidavit” which were necessary to the magistrate’s finding of probable cause. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627 (quotingFranks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 155–56 (1978). Or, Plaintiffs must show Defendants omitted “material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the affidavit misleading.’” Id.
“To determine materiality, a court must excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether or not the ‘corrected’ warrant affidavit would establish probable cause.” Id. (internal quotations removed). “If the ‘corrected’ warrant affidavit establishes probable cause, no civil liability lies against the officer.”
“Reckless disregard can be established by evidence that an officer acted with a high degree of awareness of a statement’s probable falsity,” meaning an officer had “serious doubts as to the truth of his statements or had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information he reported.” Id. (internal quotations removed). For omissions, “reckless disregard can be established by evidence that a police officer failed to inform the judicial officer of facts [he] knew would negate probable cause.” Id. (internal quotations removed). However, negligence or innocent mistake “will not provide a basis for a constitutional violation.” Id. (quoting Franks, 438 U.S. at 171).
In 2018, West Virginia passed a wonderful pro-2nd Amendment piece of legislation, titled HB 4187, a.k.a. the “Parking Lot Bill,” which took effect on June 8, 2018. The bill prohibited businesses from banning firearms from vehicles in their parking lots. It also prohibited the hiring and firing of employees based on their possession of firearms.
About a year later, a national gun control group, which is really “Everytown for Gun Safety,” financed by Michael Bloomberg, using the b.s. name, “Coalition Against Domestic Violence.” Ironically, this group would forcibly disarm the very group they’re supposed to be advocating for. Victims of domestic violence would not have the option of defending themselves with firearms, from their would-be attackers, because they would have their employers enact policies (which corporations generally do) requiring that no firearms can be kept, even in their employees’ parked cars. Here’s the original lawsuit, in its entirety:
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey is the named defendant in the suit. His lawyers filed a motion to dismiss.
Last week, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver denied the motion. I had to read it for myself, since many were instantly outraged. Judge Copenhaver is as good as it gets. He was first appointed by President Ford, and is a workaholic, even in his 90s. I had the honor of trying a jury trial in front of him a few years back. Here is his ruling:
Keep in mind, that this is a ruling in a motion to dismiss – not a ruling on the merits of the challenge. It’s an easy standard for plaintiffs to pass in most cases. So, what were the grounds for allowing the lawsuit to proceed? Even though the gun control group is advocating for the restriction of the individual rights of West Virginia citizens, they’ve disguised their claims as seeking constitutional protections for a collection of domestic violence advocacy groups who are apparently horrified of armed attackers hiding guns in parking lots.
The motion was actually only seeking dismissal on grounds of “standing” and “ripeness,” which are both technical arguments not quite reaching the constitutionality issues. The Court rightly held that groups should be able to challenge the constitutionality of state statutes in federal court, and that they should be able to do so prior to any enforcement actions – not just afterwards. So this is a bit of a nothing-burger. At some point there will need to be a ruling on the constitutional issues.
One of the claims which will need to be decided, isn that the Parking Lot Bill violates the First Amendment – that there’s a free speech component to the being able to prohibit firearms on your business or organization property, if you don’t like guns. It will be interesting to see what happens with that, because it’s not all that different fro the claim we made in the same federal court last week in our challenge of the Governor’s mask mandate. Many laughed when I argued that compliance (or noncompliance) with a mask mandate was protected free speech. So let’s see if this similar argument gets any traction.
I had two separate federal civil rights lawsuits where excessive force incidents were captured on video by the exact same camera. One of them resulted in an epic legal drama, which established law still used today. In fact, this case is now discussed in two different law school text books on civil rights law. It was an amazing journey, and I spent several years in Parkersburg, West Virginia litigating these cases.
The first video was the “Sawyer” case. Here was my quote from the front page of the Charleston Gazette newspaper, back when the appellate decision was issued:
“Today the citizens of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia North Carolina and South Carolina have more constitutional protections than they did yesterday,” John Bryan, Sawyer’s attorney, wrote in a statement.
“As a result of today’s ruling, which affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, law enforcement officers will be taught to treat people differently, and that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences. Because of Brian Sawyer, and the federal court system, millions of people have more freedom. And that is something I am very proud of.”
Here is the order issued by the Southern District of West Virginia, throwing out the jury verdict, and finding as a matter of law, that the officer committed excessive force. I still haven’t heard of anything like this happening in any other case:
And here is the Fourth Circuit opinion affirming the order. Despite being labeled “unpublished,” as per the court rules, this opinion has now made its way into two different law school text books on civil rights law:
Yesterday afternoon we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the police officers involved in the viral video showing police (without a warrant) forcing my client, James Walkup, to crawl to his own front door, only to have his head smashed with a boot on his front porch. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is:
This happened in the Western end of Greenbrier County, West Virginia. And here’s the filed lawsuit, now pending in the Beckley Division of the Southern District of West Virginia. We made claims for unlawful search and seizure, as well as use of excessive force. The defendants are one Rainelle, WV police officer and two West Virginia State Troopers.
The Civil Rights Lawyer explains how and when a citizen can sue the police for excessive force under federal civil rights law. It seems that everyone has an opinion on police use of force in recent months. In this video, I’ll explain the law of excessive force, which dictates when a justified use of force becomes an unlawful use of force and a federal civil rights violation. This has been my primary practice area the past decade or so, so I’ll point out some of the practical lessons I’ve learned along the way.