Charges Dropped in the Mount Hope PD Traffic Stop Case

This week, following public release of the footage showing the arrest of Brian Beckett by Officer Aaron Shrewsbury, of the Mount Hope WV Police Department, the prosecutor on the case filed a motion requesting dismissal of all of the charges, which was granted by the Court. The pending charges of obstruction, disorderly conduct, speeding, and reckless driving were all dismissed and Mr. Beckett was released from bond.

The prosecutor noted in his motion that, “A review of the evidence does not support prosecution of the case.”

This is great news. Many thanks to Mr. Beckett’s criminal defense attorney on the case, Jody Wooten, for a successful conclusion. This doesn’t automatically create civil liability in a federal civil rights lawsuit, but it does foreclose the defense from using the criminal charges, or any criminal conviction, against us in a civil lawsuit. It was also the right thing to do. Our investigation continues in the meantime, both in regards to this incident, as well as into the Nathan Nelson case, where my client had his jaw fractured in two places by the same police officer. Many questions still remain, and information received is still being examined and sorted out.

One of the interesting things I’ve learned is that the police department in this tiny West Virginia town apparently takes up around 50% of the town’s budget. I’ve received lots of tips from credible sources about multiple allegations of corruption surrounding this. So I’ll be taking a deep dive into these issues.

Here’s the dismissal motion and ensuing orders from the Court:

New Bluefield Police Department Footage Shows Arrest of Hiram Tolliver

For some unknown reason, following police vehicle pursuits, the suspects rarely make it to jail without suffering violent injuries. They always tend to resist, or get accidentally injured in some way. I’m about to show you brand new footage showing my client, Hiram Tolliver being taken into custody by the Bluefield, West Virginia Police, after leading them on a brief chase. It’s not all that clear why he was fleeing, or why they were chasing him. Other than an allegations of hearing screeching tires, he wasn’t suspected of committing any prior crime. On May 5, 2022, Bluefield Police Department Officer D.R. Barker was assisting the city manager at an intersection in Bluefield, West Virginia. He claims that he heard a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. He claims that he heard the screeching of tires “where the vehicle was taking turns too fast.” Once the vehicle came into view he pulled in behind it and tried to stop it, but the driver fled.

According to the police reports, the pursuit began at 9:29 p.m. Body cam footage shows that the pursuit ended at around 9:36 p.m. – so roughly 5 or 6 minutes – at which time the driver, Hiram Tolliver, was violently taken into custody on the dead end street in front of his parents home. By around 9:48 p.m., Mr. Tolliver would end up falling off the roof of the local fire department building. That’s right, this story doesn’t end with the arrest itself. 

See the footage for yourself:

Does what we saw on the video line up with the police reports? Officer Barker wrote the following:

The vehicle then came to a stop at the dead end. The driver was then ordered out of the vehicle and to get on the ground. The driver went to the ground. When he was ordered to give us his hands, he resisted arrest. Detective K.L. Ross could not bring his hands together to effect the arrest. Defensive tactics were used to apprehend the suspect in order to effect the arrest. I was finally able to cuff the driver of the fleeing vehicle.

Patrolman Barker’s report.

Officer Barker mentioned in his report that he sustained an injury to his right hand. In fact, we can see that injury in his body cam footage. Gee, I wonder what could have inflicted such a brutal injury?

Unfortunately, similar to the missing body cam footage, we have no report from the first officer to make physical contact with Hiram, Detective Ross.

Justifiable force must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. Courts don’t generally second-guess an officer making split second decisions with 20/20 hindsight in a struggle with someone physically resisting or fighting with them. But if the facts show the arrestee has submitted to them, not resisting, and that force is applied unnecessarily, as a punishment or retaliation, rather than in an attempt to gain control or custody of the person, that is always going to be unreasonable. 

Officer Barker didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “defensive tactics” being used on Hiram. There were multiple eyewitness we may hear from later, but what does the video show? Injuries are important evidence in use of force cases, as they can help establish the level of force, and type of force, used. There were several glimpses of Hiram’s face following his arrest. You saw how one side of his face appeared to be bloodied, and the other didn’t. This matches up with subsequent photos from the hospital. You also saw how Detective Ross took Hiram from the first police cruiser all the way back to the last police cruiser, with Hiram limping, in obvious pain. Instead of providing, or making available, medical treatment for his arrestee, Detective Ross instead lectures Hiram, essentially telling him to suffer because of what he had done, endangering police officers during the pursuit. 

Compare the screenshot from the video with the hospital photo. Clearly the facial damage was caused during the initial arrest, not the drop from the roof:

Photo showing the facial injuries in the hospital, which appear to match the injuries seen in the initial arrest footage.

Given everything that just happened, as well as the officers’ allegations that Hiram had almost killed several police officers and resisted arrest, to the extent of requiring “defensive tactics,” they wouldn’t un-handcuff him to walk him into the police department for processing would they? Apparently they did, and according to them, Hiram made a run for it just as they were entering the police department door. He jumped over a guardrail, and onto the roof of the fire department, running across the roof and jumping off the roof onto the asphalt 16 feet below. Here’s the only police report to document the roof incident:

Patrolman Hamm’s report.

The officer who was present for the fire department jump wrote in his report that the first thing he did when he reached Hiram, injured on the asphalt, was handcuff him. Indeed, those handcuffs can be seen in the body cam footage, despite what appears to be a compound fracture of his arm and wrist. There didn’t appear to be much concern by the Bluefield Police Department about the constitutional responsibilities and obligations placed on the government after taking a citizen into custody. Government officials have a duty to provide medical treatment. They have a duty to ensure the safety of their arrestees. 

Hiram was airlifted to Charleston Area Medical Center and underwent extensive surgery, treatment and rehabilitation. Why would Hiram have tried to get away? Perhaps he was scared. You could hear that during his arrest, when it sounded like he was being struck by the officers, he was crying out to his parents, who were eyewitnesses, that he was in fear for his life. If he was really trying to flee, why would he pull onto his parents’ dead end street and stop in front of his parents’ home. Perhaps he was scared that the police were going to hurt him? Perhaps he thought there would be safety in witnesses. It’s not all that far-fetched that the fire department roof jump resulted because Hiram thought he would be killed inside the police department and ran for his life? 

There were indeed multiple eyewitnesses. In the video, you can hear one of the officers threatening them to get back in their home, and to stop watching the use of force being inflicted on Hiram. I’ll continue investigating and will have more on this later, so subscribe to the email updates to follow along.

SCOTUS Issues Landmark Second Amendment Opinion in NYSRPA v. Bruen

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right to carry firearms in public. Ultimately, the Court held that: “New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.” The ruling specifically challenged the law in New York, but will also apply to the eight other states that still maintain “may-issue” gun permitting laws, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

In 2008, the Supreme Court recognized the right to bear arms as an individual right in District of Columbia v. Heller. Two years after Heller, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court ruled that this right applied against the states, and not just Congress.

The Bruen litigation challenged concealed-carry restrictions under N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(2)(f) that requires a showing of “proper cause” for the issuance of a carry permit. Lower courts upheld the New York law, but there were ample constitutional concerns over its vague standard, such as showing that you are “of good moral character.” New York wanted to exercise discretion in deciding who needs to carry guns in public, while gun owners rightfully argued that the law flips the constitutional presumption onto gun owners, rather than the government.

The 6-3 majority opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined by Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Chief Justice Roberts, rejected the “two-step” approach often employed by lower courts since the McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, saying that the Constitution “demands a test rooted in the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by history.”

The Court expressly held that “when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.” Quoting the McDonald plurality opinion, the Court held that: “The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” 

The Court said that: “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.” 

Prior to today, the SCOTUS had only established a right to have a handgun in one’s home under the Second Amendment. Now, as was hoped for, and widely expected, the Court has now recognized that the right to “bear” arms includes the right to do so outside the home. States such as New York obviously still have numerous gun laws in place which restrict and affect this right. Going forward, Justice Thomas’s opinion means that courts should uphold gun restrictions only if there is a tradition of such regulation in U.S. history.

Thomas correctly notes that in 1791, there was no broad prohibition on the public carry of firearms, with their exclusion only being limited to certain “sensitive places.” Some of the more low-information politicians and commentators out there today argue that only muskets were available in 1791, and that therefore we should now be limited to muskets. Setting aside the obvious flaws in their logic, which would likewise render the First Amendment inapplicable to modern forms of communication and technology, the story of America is interwoven with the invention, use, and perfection of, the American Longrifle. Which by its very definition is not a musket, and which was used respectively in war, acts of self defense, as well as for other uses such as recreation and hunting. One could also point out that cannons were indeed available in 1791, including ships full of them, lawfully available for private ownership and operation.

In response to the opinion, New York Governor Kathy Hochul expressed that she believed the opinion to be “absolutely shocking that they have taken away our right to have reasonable restrictions.” We can see where this is headed in blue states such as New York. What happens when state and local governments refuse to enforce federal constitutional law, such as the Bruen decision? The remedy available to citizens is to sue under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 (i.e., a federal civil rights lawsuit).

But no so fast, since this is where qualified immunity comes in. There’s usually a lag period in between a change in the law and the time in which the federal courts will hold governmental officials (police officers) liable under Section 1983 for civil rights violations. The excuse is generally that police officers can’t be expected to know of every change in the law as it occurs and should be given what is essentially a grace period. Will that happen here if lawsuits are necessary (which I guarantee they will be), and if so, how long will that grace period last? We shall see…. It doesn’t help that federal law enforcement is already announcing their “respectful” disagreement with the opinion.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release today:

“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the Second Amendment forbids New York’s reasonable requirement that individuals seeking to carry a concealed handgun must show that they need to do so for self-defense. The Department of Justice remains committed to saving innocent lives by enforcing and defending federal firearms laws, partnering with state, local and tribal authorities and using all legally available tools to tackle the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our communities.”

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-statement-supreme-court-ruling-new-york-state-rifle-pistol-association-inc

Wait, how does separation of powers work? Also, which Article or Amendment to the Constitution creates and governs the DOJ? I suppose the Framers should have provided an option for an agency of the executive branch to “respectfully disagree” with a “conclusion” of the Supreme Court.

Qualified immunity will not be a defense to cities and county governments who adopt policies and practices that violate federal constitutional rights, now including the Second Amendment as defined by Bruen. This is because political subdivisions cannot assert qualified immunity, as per the U.S. Supreme Court, who created qualified immunity out of thin air in the first place. State governments, on the other hand, have no need to assert federal qualified immunity, because they cannot be sued for money damages in federal courts.

Here is the full opinion in NYSRPA v. Bruen:

Local Town Victimizes Innocent Motorists with Officer Perjury Pottymouth

On January 31, 2022, Brian Beckett was traveling home from work, driving Northbound on WV Route 19 in Mount Hope, West Virginia. It was around 5:45 p.m. He ended up getting pulled over for speeding by Mount Hope Police Department officer Aaron Shrewsbury. Instead of getting a speeding ticket, or even a warning, Mr. Beckett ended up being pulled out of his car and arrested for obstructing an officer, disorderly conduct, speeding, and reckless driving.

Mr. Beckett was driving home from an industrial work site in a nearby county. He’s not a criminal – not out selling drugs or committing crimes – just trying to drive down the road. He had a dash camera recording, which appears to show that he was driving safely. It doesn’t indicate his speed, but that’s not what this video is about. Officer Shrewsbury would subsequently swear under oath in his criminal complaint affidavit, seeking court authorization for Mr. Beckett’s arrest, that not only did he radar Mr. Beckett speeding, but that “as I was catching up to the vehicle, I noticed the vehicle weaving through traffic recklessly” but that “I was able to pull behind the vehicle and get it stopped….” Take a look at the dash cam footage from Mr. Beckett’s car just prior to the traffic stop, and see if that statement appears to you to be true.

Mr. Beckett used his personal cell phone to record his interaction with Officer Shrewsbury. Despite the officer stopping the video and attempting to delete the recording from Mr. Beckett’s phone, the officer couldn’t access it. During arrest processing, the officer was placing the phone in front of Mr. Beckett’s face in order to attempt to unlock the phone using facial recognition, to no avail. So he was unable to delete this footage, which shows the encounter, what led to Mr. Beckett’s arrest, and the fact that Officer Shrewsbury stopped the recording.

So Officer Shrewsbury immediately arrested Mr. Beckett for obstruction for not rolling his window down all the way. He never bothered to ask Mr. Beckett for his license, registration, proof of insurance, or even his name. He just demanded that the window be rolled down all the way, not providing a reason – just because he demanded it. Then immediately removed him from the car and arrested him. The officer never even identified himself, the reason he pulled him over, or explained any legitimate reason he required the window rolled down. 

In the subsequent criminal complaint, no allegation was made or charged that it is illegal in West Virginia to not roll one’s window down completely during a traffic stop. He was merely charged with obstruction. Under West Virginia’s obstruction statute, the plain language of the statute establishes that a person is guilty of obstruction when he, “by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs or attempts to hinder or obstruct a law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity.” The Fourth Circuit recently examined the statute:

As West Virginia’s high court has “succinct[ly]” explained, to secure a conviction under section 61-5-17(a), the State must show “forcible or illegal conduct that interferes with a police officer’s discharge of official duties.” State v. Davis, 229 W.Va. 695, 735 S.E.2d 570, 573 (2012) (quoting State v. Carney, 222 W.Va. 152, 663 S.E.2d 606, 611 (2008) ). Because conduct can obstruct an officer if it is either forcible or illegal, a person may be guilty of obstruction “whether or not force be actually present.” Johnson , 59 S.E.2d at 487. However, where “force is not involved to effect an obstruction,” the resulting obstruction itself is insufficient to establish the illegality required by section 61-5-17. Carney , 663 S.E.2d at 611. That is, when force is not used, obstruction lies only where an illegal act is performed. This is because “lawful conduct is not sufficient to establish the statutory offense.” Id. 

Of particular relevance to our inquiry here, West Virginia courts have held that “when done in an orderly manner, merely questioning or remonstrating with an officer while he or she is performing his or her duty, does not ordinarily constitute the offense of obstructing an officer.” State v. Srnsky, 213 W.Va. 412, 582 S.E.2d 859, 867 (2003) (quoting State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 373 S.E.2d 484, 486 (W. Va. 1988)). 

Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook, 931 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2019).

At no point did Mr. Beckett refuse to participate in the traffic stop being conducted by Officer Shrewsbury. He rolled the window down partially. He was clearly visible through the non-tinted glass, his hands were visible and non-threatening; he hadn’t refused to provide his license, registration and proof of insurance. He hadn’t refused to identify himself, or to do any act he was required by law to perform. Moreover, I’m aware of no State law, nor did Officer Shrewsbury identify one in the charging documents, requiring motorists who are subjected to traffic stops in West Virginia to roll their windows completely down as a matter of routine. 

It appears that this arrest occurred in the absence of probable cause, and therefore in violation of the Fourth Amendment. But it didn’t stop there. 

Officer Shrewsbury also alleged that, after pulling Mr. Beckett from the vehicle and placing him in handcuffs, while walking Mr. Beckett to the police cruiser, that Mr. Beckett remarked that “this was bullshit.” Officer Shrewsbury wrote in his criminal complaint affidavit that, “I then informed Mr. Beckett to stop cussing and placed him inside my vehicle.”

Under West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute, no probable cause could exist for a warrantless arrest for disorderly conduct by virtue of saying, “this was bullshit.” First of all, if that were possible, such would be a First Amendment violation, as the West Virginia Supreme Court warned law enforcement back ini 1988:

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”  

State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 773-74 373 S.E.2d 484, 486-87 (1988).

First Amendment issues aside, merely using bad language in the presence of a supposedly-sensitive police officer, cannot violate West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute. Not that I expect law enforcement to actually learn the law, but there is a 2015 West Virginia Supreme Court case directly on point. In Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015), the West Virginia Supreme Court held specifically that the WV disorderly conduct statute, while potentially criminalizing profane language under some circumstances, in public and in front of other people who complain, does not criminalize profane language used by a citizen during their interaction with law enforcement.

If that’s not enough, the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a clear message through its rulings, such as in Cohen v. California (1971) and Lewis v. City of New Orleans (1974) that free speech, however offensive or controversial to sensitive virgin-eared police officers, is afforded a high level of protection. 

Officer Shrewsbury didn’t even allege in his criminal complaint affidavit that a third party had overheard Mr. Beckett’s alleged use of the word bullshit, or complained about it. Nevertheless, the local magistrate signed off on it, approving it as probable cause under West Virginia law. Which is a disgrace, given the fact that the State Supreme Court clearly warned otherwise about seven years earlier.

Also a disgrace to our Constitution, is the fact that these charges are still pending against Mr. Beckett. The individual police officers like this you see in these videos never do it alone. Behind the scenes are politicians and prosecutors. 

In fact, the politicians and prosecutors behind the scenes of this Officer Aaron Shrewsbury should explain why this police officer is allowed to victimize citizens in the first place, given the fact that he had previously lost his certification to be a police officer in West Virginia while working at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office for “Dishonesty – willful falsification of information.” No, unfortunately I’m not making that up. That’s right – the same police officer who filed false and incorrect charges against Mr. Beckett, has somehow in the past managed to screw up his job so badly that he lost his certification to be a police officer, for lying as a police officer. Truly unbelievable. But also not unbelievable. 

Also not surprisingly, other complaints have surfaced about Officer Shrewbury. This one may sound familiar. August 15, 2021, a few months before Mr. Beckett’s incident, a 20 year old kid from Ohio was driving through this same area, and ends up getting arrested by Officer Shrewsbury for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. And listen to this, the kid says, according to Shrewsbury’s report, “this is fucking bullshit.” That incident ended in Officer Shrewsbury punching that kid in the face, and then placing him handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser, with a blood covered face and broken jaw, which required surgery to fix. 

The kid was finally able to get help from another police officer at the scene. He said hey, I need help. When asked why he needed help, the kid said, “my tooth is in my lap.” The officer then looked at him and saw a large amount of blood coming from his face and on his shirt. That officer then promptly took the kid to the hospital, which began a long period of medical treatment to fix the damage caused by Officer Shrewsbury.

More about this incident shortly, but the question begs, why do the politicians and prosecutors turn this man loose on the public. You can see from this video the way in which he appears to hold regular citizens in contempt, treating them like garbage to be discarded.

If you have any information about Officer Shrewsbury, who as far as I know is still out there interacting with the public, please reach out.

Small Town Cops Exposed on Video and Held Accountable in Court

The small town police department in Westover, West Virginia was recently exposed for their corruption and misconduct. Take a look at this dash cam video featuring two police officers who won the town a 1.1 million dollar settlement in two lawsuits, including the brutal use of force captured in this disgraceful body cam footage.

Here’s the text of the lawsuit itself, with all of the allegations:

But there’s more…. Accusations of corruption surfaced, which is shocking, I know.

The over 90-minute meeting that involved former Westover Police Chief Rick Panico, Lt. John Morgan, Westover city attorney Tim Stranko and Westover City Councilman Steve Andryzcik took place in September 2020. The meeting came on the heels of Panico’s resignation and the release of a letter signed by 11 Westover Police officers calling for the removal of Officer Aaron Dalton for a number of abuses of power….

The conversation during the meeting was mostly focused on the conduct of Mayor Johnson and his relationship with Officer Aaron Dalton. Pancio and Morgan described concerns that Mayor Johnson subverted the chain of command within the police department and created an environment that made it impossible to hold Dalton accountable for his actions.

Dalton is facing multiple lawsuits over civil rights violations and more accusations came to light in the meeting, including claims that Dalton had sexual intercourse with a woman while on duty and later was harassing her. Pancio claimed in the meeting that Mayor Johnson told him to “make it go away.”

This reminds me of the time I spent in Parkersburg, West Virginia years ago, where the mayor held an excessive force planning meeting with all the local police officers, resulting in at least one blowing the whistle on him….

Pro-Federal Law Enforcement Civil Rights Rulings This Week from SCOTUS and the First Circuit

The SCOTUS issued an opinion in Egbert v. Boule this week, which made clear that it’s close to impossible to sue federal law enforcement officers for civil rights violations. They essentially declared that border patrol agents have absolute immunity from civil liability due to “national security” grounds. There is some traditional basis of “Bivens” liability still in existence for non-border related law enforcement police-type activities, but for reasons I’ve explained before, it’s hardly worth pursuing anyways….

Also, more shockingly, the First Circuit issued an opinion en banc in U.S. v. Moore-Bush, which found that it probably was not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment for ATF agents to set up a 24/7 live feed camera on a utility pole outside a suspect’s home for a period of 8 months. This was a criminal case dispute over suppression issues.

Update: Family Court Judge Case Set for Trial in July

Here’s a quick update on the status of the Family Court Judge Search Case federal civil rights lawsuit. As of right now, we’re scheduled for a jury trial beginning on July 19.

Pastor Arrested for Watering Neighbor’s Flowers

An Alabama pastor, who was helping a neighbor by watering her roses, was confronted by police after another (Karen) neighbor reported a suspicious person. After police arrived, they demanded ID from the pastor, as well as full submission to their authority. The pastor stood up for his rights and refused to be harassed. So, they arrested him for obstruction, of course, i.e., contempt of cop. Was he required to provide ID? What is reasonable suspicion?

First, was it a “consensual encounter,” or was it a seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)). Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).5… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018)).

If a seizure occurred, i.e., investigatory detention, there must have been reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a “commonsense, nontechnical” standard that relies on the judgment of experienced law enforcement officers, “not legal technicians.” See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). To support a finding of reasonable suspicion, we require the detaining officer “to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.” See United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir.2011). (United States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2015)).

 – Must be PARTICULARIZED to the individual – not categorical or generalized

 – SHOULD be based on suspicion of ILLEGAL CONDUCT (but some cases hold that an amalgamation of legal conduct can equal suspicion of criminal conduct under some circumstances.

For an ensuing arrest to be justified, assuming reasonable suspicion existed, probable cause must exist. Probable cause exists when the “facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is com- mitting, or is about to commit an offense.”  – Michigan v. DeFillippo (SCOTUS 1979).

Whether Alabama has a state law requiring an ID to be produced under the circumstances, is of course going to be based on Alabama law, which is also probably going to require more information about what they officers knew, and when they knew it. But as I explain in the video, this seems like your everyday, “respect muh authoritah” situation. It was most likely clear that the pastor wasn’t a burglar. But his reaction to the police resulted in them feeling the need to protect and serve him, despite the fact that no crime had been committed (except of course an alleged process crime).

Link to the media report.

Street Preacher Arrested in Bluefield, WV for Graphic Anti-Abortion Signs

Edgar Orea brought me this footage. He’s a street preacher who was arrested in Bluefield, West Virginia for the content of his protected First Amendment speech. Edgar and his wife moved to Bluefield in order to serve the people of nearby McDowell County, West Virginia, which is the poorest county in the entire nation. But from the very beginning, they were harassed by the Bluefield Police Department, as you’ll see in the video. The police objected to the content of their message. In this particular incident, they actually arrested Mr. Orea and took him to jail based on the content of his anti-abortion sign, which showed an aborted fetus.

There was a similar case litigated in Kentucky: World Wide Street Preachers’ v. City of Owensboro, 342 F.Supp.2d 634 (W.D. Ky. 2004). In that case, another street preacher was arrested in a public park for showing a large sign with a similar photograph of an aborted fetus. The police claimed that this was causing public alarm and was likely to cause a confrontation. So they cited the individual, but otherwise didn’t arrest him or interfere with his other activities. The Court held:

A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4, 69 S.Ct. 894, 93 L.Ed. 1131 (1949)….

In light of Supreme Court precedent, the Court cannot find that the Plaintiffs’ sign, no matter how gruesome or how objectionable it may be, constitutes “fighting words.” The Plaintiffs’ speech, whether one agrees with it or not, was certainly not of “slight social value.” Rather, their speech was a powerful, albeit graphic commentary on a societal debate that divides many Americans. Furthermore, their speech was not directed at any particular person. Their speech commented on a highly significant social issue and was calculated to challenge people, to unsettle them, and even to anger them, but not to insult them. Such social commentary is not only protected under Supreme Court precedent but also is highly valued in the marketplace of ideas in our free society. 

Here, the Bluefield Police Department did much more than issue a citation, but rather placed Mr. Orea in handcuffs and carted him off for incarceration. Then they refused to return his signs, except for one. They charged him with two criminal misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and obstruction, two favorites of law enforcement officers for arresting people who have committed no crime. Fortunately, the charges were dismissed by the Court following a motion to dismiss based on the First Amendment.

Raleigh County Deputies Continue to Enable the Family Court Search Judge in Defiance of the Supreme Court

The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case have requested qualified immunity from the federal court in their motion for summary judgment in the pending civil lawsuit. Unfortunately for them, they can’t claim judicial immunity, as the judge has, even where following orders of a judge. So they’re stuck with qualified immunity. But will they get it? Their depositions have been taken, and frankly, their testimony was quite shocking. Despite the fact that the WV Supreme Court declared in no certain terms that judges do not search homes, and that the March 4, 2020 search of Mr. Gibson’s house was unconstitutional and “serious misconduct,” both the defendant judge, as well as her current and former bailiffs, continue to defy the Supreme Court, even threatening to do it again.

Here’s Raleigh County’s motion, in full. The gist of their argument is that, even if they participated in a civil rights violation, they should be dismissed from liability, because it was a reasonable mistake of law, which is the basic argument for qualified immunity. Moreover, the department itself claims they didn’t have a formal policy which caused, or substantially contributed to, the civil rights violation. As you’ll see below, the arguments of their lawyers don’t match the testimony of the actual officers, who clearly admit to an ongoing policy of illegal judicial searches, and who apparently have no respect for the law whatsoever.

Posted below is our response to Raleigh County’s motion, which highlights the extremely troubling deposition testimony of two of the deputy defendants, Bobby Stump and Jeff McPeake, both current or former bailiffs of the defendant judge. Here’s a couple of highlights describing their deposition testimony:

Defendant Bobby Stump, who arrived shortly after the search and seizure began, testified that he served as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff for approximately ten years, and that during that time, he went with her to the homes of litigants “numerous times.” (Stump at 6:12-14, 19-24; 7:1-4). When asked to estimate the number, Stump stated, “There’s no way I could – over thousands of divorce cases . . . . There’s no way I could give you an accurate number. I mean, I have no idea.” (Stump at 7:19-24; 8:1)….

According to Defendant Stump, the arrest powers were utilized often while serving as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff. Stump testified that he’s arrested “dozens and dozens and dozens of people with Ms. Goldston.” (Stump at 13:22-24; 14:1-5)…. Stump testified that he personally looked for items in the home of a litigant “numerous times,” explaining, “[a]ll the judges sent me out to look for items” and that, “[i]n the middle of a court hearing they would send me out to look for items at a home.” Stump estimated this occurred dozens of times. (Stump 16:4-12)…. In fact, Stump described that he and Judge Goldston knew each other so well, that when they went into the homes of litigants, “she didn’t have to tell me anything . . . she could just give  a look and I would know what to do.” (Stump 51:4-12)….

Defendant Stump remains employed as a police officer with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office. He noted that, even after the March 4, 2020 incident, there has been no policy change within the department about bailiffs going to the homes of litigants. Indeed, Stump asserts that, “if Judge Goldston told me today to go to the house, I’d be the first one there.” (Stump 56:1-6). Even after the WVSCA declared that Judge Goldston engaged in an unlawful search of Plaintiff’s residence on March 4, 2020, Defendant Stump boldly declared, “I’ve never had a judge to ask me to come remotely [close] to breaking the law.” When asked whether he would violate the Constitution, if asked to do so by a judge, Stump responded, “I know without a doubt, no judge that I ever worked for would ever ask me to violate the law, so I’ve never been in that predicament and I can safely say I never will.” (Stump 58:19-23).

Even in the context of a criminal case, Defendant Stump testified that he would perform a warrantless search of a defendant’s home, if asked to do so by a judge, despite his decades of knowledge and experience with the search warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. This same blind allegiance, or ignorance, is what guided Stump on March 4, 2020. (Stump 60:2-21). McPeake likewise subjectively believes that a warrant is not required in order to perform a search of a litigant’s home, at the direction of a family court judge, based on the fact that the judge is personally present and directing their conduct. (McPeake 22:18-24; 23:1-4; 24:5-14, 22-24; 25:1-3).

The judge’s current bailiff, Jeff McPeake, likewise testified that he was specifically told that he was allowed to participate in home searches with judges, and that there has been no policy change since then – even after the WV Supreme Court formally censured the judge for the behavior, calling it “serious misconduct,” unconstitutional, and an “egregious abuse of process” which violated the privacy and sanctity of the victim’s home.

McPeake testified that he believed the search was authorized under department policy due to a conversation with a supervisor, Sergeant Lilly, who told him that it was fine to do so, because “we do do that from time to time.” Thereafter, no supervisor ever told McPeake not to do so. Moreover, as of the date of his deposition, he wasn’t aware of any written policy changes pertaining to bailiffs or deputies going to the home of a litigant with a judge. Nor have any of his supervisors proactively told him not to engage in similar conduct in the future, even though they’re aware that he continues to serve as a bailiff for Judge Goldston. Nevertheless, McPeake noted that his own common sense tells him he shouldn’t do it again. (McPeake 13:10-13; 40:11-24; 64:2-23; 65:9-17). It appeared to McPeake, after getting express authorization from a supervisor to participate in his first home search with a family court judge, that it seemed to be something that occurred on a regular basis. (McPeake 13:7-13; 15:3-8).

Thus, the sheriff’s department authorized the home search practice by judges, and apparently continues to authorize the unconstitutional practice, in total disregard of West Virginia law, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. If only the voters of Raleigh County had some way of holding their government officials accountable…..

Here are the deposition transcripts for both deputies: