Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case – Motion for Summary Judgment Filed

Today we filed a motion for summary judgment in the federal civil rights lawsuit against Family Court Judge Louise Goldston, arguing that she should be denied judicial immunity, as well as foreclosed from even arguing at trial that her actions didn’t violate the Constitution. In other words, the jury trial in her case should be limited to the issue of damages only. It’s unusual for the plaintiff in a lawsuit to file such a motion, but in this case, not only were her actions caught on video, but also already declared by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to have been unlawful and unethical.

On March 1, 2022, I finally had the opportunity to take Defendant Goldston’s deposition, which marked the 4th time she has testified under oath about the matter, by my count. The first several times she testified in her judicial disciplinary proceedings, when she was still facing possible suspension by the Supreme Court, she admitted that she made mistakes and acted unlawfully, and that she had violated multiple canons of judicial ethics. During her deposition however, with threat of suspension behind her, she was completely defiant, testifying that she is essentially above the law; that she doesn’t believe she did anything wrong; that the Supreme Court was wrong; that the disciplinary authorities engaged in a conspiracy against her; that she doesn’t regret threatening to arrest Mr. Gibson; and that she might even “do it again.” You really have to read it to believe it, which is why I’ve also attached the transcript of her deposition, below….

Federal Judge Finds a Pattern of Illegal Drug Task Force Search Warrants in West Virginia

Reuters reported a few days ago on a recent set of court orders from a federal judge in West Virginia finding a troubling pattern of illegal search warrants obtained by drug task force officers.

In December, Goodwin issued an order suppressing evidence seized from a house in 2021. The judge questioned the accuracy of certain statements made by law enforcement in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant of the defendant’s house. The government has since filed a new indictment.

After the judge issued the suppression order, the U.S. attorney’s office sent two investigators to interview the state magistrate judge who issued the search warrant. Goodwin said it was “improper” for investigators to seek such an interview and for the judge to entertain it.

“It is inherently intimidating to send federal officers to question a state magistrate judge,” Goodwin wrote, “and it is clearly out of bounds for the magistrate judge to provide the interview regarding his judicial decision-making in a matter pending before this court.”

Reuters published yet another article today expanding on the earlier report, noting that more than one federal judge in West Virginia, as well as a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that this particular drug task force in West Virginia has been engaged in unconstitutional violations pertaining to search warrants.

Goodwin, in fact, has criticized the practices of the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network (MDENT) in particular in at least three other decisions since 2017, a review of court records shows. The MDENT is composed of officers from agencies including the Charleston Police and Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the state police.

The judge tossed out evidence in a drug case last year, holding that the Charleston Police, MDENT, and a Kanawha County magistrate had again failed to respect constitutional limits on searches and seizures. The MDENT’s warrant was based on “unsourced and undescribed” information that someone was selling drugs and the discovery of three marijuana stems in the trash from that person’s home – which the judge said was clearly insufficient.

“I fear this is becoming a pattern,” Goodwin wrote on April 28, 2021, pointing to a similar ruling in another MDENT case from a week earlier.

The MDENT has also been admonished for what courts described as open and purposeful disregard of the legal limits on searches and seizures by at least one other judge of the Southern District of West Virginia, and in a unanimous opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is the same federal court who presided over the Keith Sizemore case I litigated, where the Court denied a police officer qualified immunity in a civil rights lawsuit for providing false information in a search warrant application.

What you’re about to see, demonstrated in black and white courtesy of the federal judiciary, is proof of a pattern and practice of police misconduct. This is a documented pattern of Fourth Amendment violations, where drug task force officers knowingly violate the Constitution, with the complicity, or ignorance, of multiple state-level magistrate judges, who are not required to have law degrees to hold office, and who generally don’t. Moreover, many times the state-level magistrates, elected in countywide elections, are themselves retired law enforcement officers.

West Virginia is in serious need of search warrant reform. By the way, federal investigators in West Virginia, so I’m told, are required to go to Circuit Court judges, rather than magistrates, in federal criminal investigations in West Virginia.

Here’s the Court’s ruling on the motion for reconsideration in the case of U.S. v. Lark, as cited in the Reuters article:

Here’s the original suppression order which the government was seeking reconsideration in the Lark case. Note that the federal prosecutors here are not interested in actually having the Court reconsider the admissibility of the evidence, but rather solely with the career prospects of the police officer found by the federal judge to have provided false information in a search warrant application:

Here are the other suppression orders to which the Court referred in the Lark orders, of which I’m aware.

Here’s the suppression order from the Keith Sizemore case, to which I referred earlier. This was the criminal case:

And here’s the opinion from the subsequent civil lawsuit. Note that this was a different drug task force than is featured in the other opinions, but same federal Court, and same underlying issues:

It would be interesting to find out if a single one of these police officers who were determined by the federal judiciary to have provided false information in a search warrant application were ever thereafter placed on a “Brady List” for disclosure to criminal defendants in cases involving these officers…..

Update, 3/17/22: The West Virginia Record reported that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia has an open investigation into the matter.

Deanna Eder, public affairs officer for Thompson, declined to comment in the pending case. But she did issue a statement to The West Virginia Record about Goodwin’s concerns.

“Upon taking office on October 13, 2021, U.S. Will Thompson began a thorough review of all of his office’s policies and procedures to determine what, if any, changes were needed,” Eder told The Record. “The United States Attorney served as a state circuit court judge for almost 15 years prior to his role as U.S. Attorney and brings that experience analyzing constitutional and suppression issues to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“As a result of his review of policies and procedures, and prior to the order in the Lark case, U.S. Attorney Thompson implemented a new process for reviewing search warrant applications. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reviewed the court’s order in the Lark matter and takes the Court’s concerns seriously.”

6th Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity for Arrest of Man Wearing “F” the Police Shirt

In 2016, police officers in Ohio pulled a man out of a crowd because he was wearing a “F” the police T-shirt, taunted him about the shirt, and ultimately arrested him under a “disorderly conduct” law. A few days ago, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion denying qualified immunity to these officers in the pending civil rights lawsuit. I recently discussed a West Virginia case where police apparently thought they had the power to be the language police. This has been a widespread problem for many years. It’s not really that the police have sensitive ears, or that they’re concerned about the sensitive nature of innocent bystanders. It’s about respecting what they perceive to be their authority, as well as for use as a pretext to harass or detain people who are relevant to their interests.

The Court emphasized once again that it’s illegal for police officers to arrest people for using profane language alone, including the “F” word:

“The fighting words exception is very limited because it is inconsistent with the general principle of free speech recognized in our First Amendment jurisprudence.” Baskin v. Smith, 50 F. App’x 731, 736 (6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, “profanity alone is insufficient to establish criminal behavior.” Wilson v. Martin, 549 F. App’x 309, 311 (6th Cir. 2013)….

Further, both the Supreme Court and this court have made clear that “police officers . . . ‘are expected to exercise greater restraint in their response than the average citizen.’” Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 718 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Greene, 310 F.3d at 896). “Police officers are held to a higher standard than average citizens, because the First Amendment requires that they ‘tolerate coarse criticism.’” D.D., 645 F. App’x at 425 (quoting Kennedy, 635 F.3d at 216); see also City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462–63 (1987) (“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or to challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”)….

We have routinely protected the use of profanity when unaccompanied by other conduct that could be construed as disorderly. See Sandul, 119 F.3d at 1255 (“[T]he use of the ‘f-word’ in and of itself is not criminal conduct.”)….

We therefore conclude that the First Amendment protected Wood’s speech and thus his disorderly conduct arrest lacked probable cause. This conclusion is consistent with those of other circuits to have considered similar issues. See Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 776 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[T]he First Amendment protects even profanity-laden speech directed at police officers. Police officers reasonably may be expected to exercise a higher degree of restraint than the average citizen and should be less likely to be provoked into misbehavior by such speech.” (citing City of Houston, 482 U.S. at 461)); United States v. Poocha, 259 F.3d 1077, 1082 (9th Cir. 2001) (holding that yelling “fuck you” at an officer was not likely to provoke a violent response and “[c]riticism of the police, profane or otherwise, is not a crime”); Buffkins v. City of Omaha, 922 F.2d 465, 472 (8th Cir. 1990) (plaintiff’s “use of the word ‘asshole’ could not reasonably have prompted a violent response from the arresting officers”).

The Court denied Qualified Immunity to the officers, finding that the case law was full of similar examples of illegal arrests, where officers were found to have violated constitutional rights by making similar arrests, including in cases out of Ohio, where this incident occurred. As the U.S. Supreme Court has held, “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,” a “conclusion [that] finds a familiar echo in the common law.”

Not only did the Sixth Circuit find that the officers had committed a false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but they also likely committed the civil rights violation of First Amendment retaliation. The three general elements of a First Amendment Retaliation claim are that:

  1. “that he engaged in constitutionally protected speech,”
  2. “that he suffered an adverse action likely to chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in protected speech,” and
  3. “that the protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to take the adverse action.”

[T]he defendants do not contest that Wood’s shirt was constitutionally protected speech, nor could they. Wood’s “Fuck the Police” shirt was clearly protected speech. “It is well-established that ‘absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, a State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of a four-letter expletive a criminal offense.’” Sandul, 119 F.3d at 1254–55 (alterations omitted) (quoting Cohen, 403 U.S. at 26)…..

Here, police officers removed Wood from a public event under armed escort. That act was neither “‘inconsequential’ as a matter of law,” Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 585 (6th Cir. 2012), nor just a “petty slight[] or minor annoyance[],” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 548 U.S. at 68. Wood satisfies the adverse action element….

While the defendants argue that they removed Wood from the fairgrounds because he was filming people, Wood alleges that Blair walked up to him flanked by the defendants and yelled “Where’s this shirt? I want to see this shirt.” DE 55-2, Wood Dep., Page ID 468. As the officers surrounded Wood and escorted him from the building, one of them said to Wood, “You’ve been given an order to vacate the property. So you’re leaving.” Troutman Cam #1, 00:32–35. While walking Wood through the fairgrounds, with Wood repeatedly questioning whether the defendants had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, one of the officers said they were “escorting . . . [Wood] to the front gate.” Johnson Cam 2:29–35. And while en route to jail, one officer said to Wood, “How’s that work? You got a shirt that said, ‘f the police,’ but you want us to uphold the Constitution?” Troutman Cam #2, 17:15–21. A reasonable jury, considering these facts, could conclude the officers were motivated to surround Wood and require him to leave in part because he wore a shirt that said “Fuck the Police.” We reverse the grant of summary judgment to the defendants on this claim.

Thus the case was sent back to the trial court so that the case could proceed to jury trial. You would think that police agencies and officers would get the memo by now that profane language alone doesn’t somehow trigger martial law….

11th Circuit: Officer Granted Qualified Immunity After Shooting Innocent Homeowner at Wrong Address

In June of 2016 in Henry County, Georgia. Police sergeant Patrick Snook arrived at the wrong house and shot and killed the innocent homeowner, William David Powell, standing in his driveway. Sharon Powell, his wife, fled a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force against the officer. The Northern District of GA ultimately granted Summary Judgment in favor of the officer, granting him qualified immunity from standing trial in the civil case. She appealed to the 11th Circuit, which issued a published opinion on February 8. Here’s the full opinion, which you should read. Below I will post my takeaways and the basic law on police shootings.

An officer may use deadly force when he:

(1) “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others” or “that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm;” 

(2) reasonably believes that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent es- cape; and 

(3) has given some warning about the possible use of deadly force, if feasible. 

Quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11-12 (1985).

This case focused on “Garner Factor” number 3. Is an officer required, as a bright line rule, to issue a warning prior to firing at a homeowner who appears with a gun? The Court held no. Only if “feasible.”

On the subject of warnings, we “have declined to fashion an inflexible rule that, in order to avoid civil liability, an officer must always warn his suspect before firing — particularly where such a warning might easily have cost the officer his life.” Penley, 605 F.3d at 854 n.6 (cleaned up); see also Carr v. Tatangelo, 338 F.3d 1259, 1269 n.19 (11th Cir. 2003). And the Supreme Court has instructed us that a plaintiff “cannot establish a Fourth Amendment violation based merely on bad tactics that result in a deadly confrontation that could have been avoided.” City & Cnty. of San Francisco v. Sheehan, 135 S. Ct. 1765, 1777 (2015) (quotation marks omitted)…..

While it’s clear that in some circumstances an officer must warn before using deadly force where it’s feasible to do so, Garner, 471 U.S. at 11–12, decisions addressing how soon an officer is required to give a warning to an unarmed suspect do not clearly establish anything about whether or when a warning is required for armed suspects raising a firearm in the direction of an officer. See Garner, 471 U.S. at 4, 21 (unarmed teen burglary suspect); Perez, 809 F.3d at 1217 (unarmed man lying on his stomach); Lundgren, 814 F.2d at 603 n.1 (store owner who did not threaten the officer with a weapon). There is no obviously clear, any-reasonable-officer-would-know rule that when faced with the threat of deadly force, an officer must give an armed suspect a warning at the earliest possible moment. See White, 137 S. Ct. at 552 (concluding, where late-arriving officer shot armed suspect without giving a warning, it was not an obvious case under Garner’s general principles). Instead, what’s clearly established is that it “is reasonable, and therefore constitutionally permissible, for an officer to use deadly force when he has probable cause to believe that his own life is in peril.” Tillis v. Brown, 12 F.4th 1291, 1298 (11th Cir. 2021) (quotation marks omitted). 

https://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201913340.pdf

But see, Betton v. Belue, 942 F.3d 184 (4th Cir. 2019), from the Fourth Circuit, which was almost identical factually, but came out the other way. The difference? There was a factual dispute regarding whether the homeowner pointed the gun at the officer. That small detail probably made the difference, as the Court had to assume that the homeowner did not point the gun.

If Officer Belue or another officer had identified themselves as members of law enforcement, Officer Belue reasonably may have believed that Betton’s presence while holding a firearm posed a deadly threat to the officers. Cooper , 735 F.3d at 159 ; Elliott , 99 F.3d at 644. And had Betton disobeyed a command given by the officers, such as to drop his weapon or to “come out” with his hands raised, Officer Belue reasonably may have feared for his safety upon observing Betton holding a gun at his side. See, e.g. , Sigman v. Town of Chapel Hill , 161 F.3d 782 (4th Cir. 1998) (officer was justified in using deadly force after suspect failed to obey command to stop advancing toward officer while carrying a knife). However, under our precedent, Officer Belue’s failure to employ any of these protective measures rendered his use of force unreasonable.

Case of Michigan Man Sitting in WV Jail Begs the Question: Do Police Need a Warrant to Enter/Search/Seize an RV or Motorhome?

In my last video I featured the case of a Michigan man currently rotting in a West Virginia jail for the high crime of traveling through West Virginia with a few hemp plants, possibly marijuana, I don’t know. A video of him refusing to consent to police entering his RV was shown in a Youtube video by the Real News Network, highlighting the actions of the Milton Police Department (which is in Cabell County, WV), including the fact that they take in a huge amount of fines as a result of their policing, despite having only around 2,500 residents. This begs the question, first of all, in general, do police need a warrant to enter, search, seize, etc., an RV or motorhome? Or is it just like regular automobiles, where only probable cause is required, rather than a warrant? Here’s the video, and below I’ll post an explanation of the applicable law:

Do police need a warrant to search an RV?

The Fourth Amendment generally requires the police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. There is a well-established exception to this requirement, however, for automobile searches. See, e.g., Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925). Under this exception, “[i]f a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment thus permits police to search the vehicle without more.” Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940, 116 S.Ct. 2485, 135 L.Ed.2d 1031 (1996). Thus, once police have probable cause, they may search “every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.” Id. 

In California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390, 105 S.Ct. 2066, 85 L.Ed.2d 406 (1985), the Supreme Court held that a mobile home, on the facts presented, was more characteristic of an automobile than a fixed residence. 

The Court did look to the nature of the location where the vehicle was discovered, but only to ascertain whether the vehicle itself was, in an ontological sense, in use as a “movable vessel” or as a fixed residence. Hence, the Court’s reference to a “place not regularly used for residential purposes,” Carney, 471 U.S. at 392, 105 S.Ct. 2066 — from which the police would be less likely to infer that the object was residential in nature — served as a guidepost to determine, whether the object encountered was a vehicle or a residence. 

Summed up: was the RV on a public road, or situated such that it is reasonable to conclude that the RV was not being used as a residence?

1. Is the vehicle readily mobile? Absent an immediate search and seizure, could it have quickly been moved beyond reach of the police? Was the vehicle licensed “to operate on public streets” and subject to inspection as a motor vehicle?

2. Was the vehicle so situated that an objective observer would conclude that it was eing used not as a residence, but as a vehicle?

3. The search still must be reasonable under the circumstances. Was the search that occurred otherwise reasonable as would have been approved by a neutral judge had the officer applied for a search warrant?

If the vehicle can be categorized somewhere within the realm of a residence, rather than an automobile, then a warrant may be required. As with many search and seizure issues, the result will turn on the particular facts of each case. Or they should anyways…..

Brooke County Man Arrested in his Yard for Cursing – Lawsuit Incoming

Brooke County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department deputies were called out to a neighbor’s complaint about dogs getting out of their yard. When they approached and talked to the dog’s owner, on private property, they were asked to leave. Some swear words were utilized by the dog’s owner. The cops then protect and serve the man, as shown and described in the video.

The body cam footage features Brooke County Deputy Niles Cline (not Crane, lol). The other deputy, Shane Logston’s body cam footage didn’t survive, because the “battery was dead.” The criminal charges were dismissed with prejudice through the assistance of Attorney Alex Risovich, who in turn brought the case to me. We will now seek justice through a civil lawsuit in federal court, for the violation of this man’s federally protected civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

Lackluster’s video on the same incident:

Federal lawsuit filed against Parkersburg Police officers caught on video setting up a false arrest

Recently we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in federal court, alleging that Parkersburg, West Virginia police officers were caught on video setting up the false arrest of a man for allegedly committing battery on a police officer. Fortunately there was surveillance footage, which was shown at the man’s jury trial, resulting in his acquittal. Warrantless arrests require the existence of probable cause. If no probable cause exists, for instance in the event that the arresting officers themselves create the alleged nonexistent crime, the Fourth Amendment is violated. “False arrest” is basically a type of unreasonable search and seizure.

Here’s the complaint, and the video will follow shortly:

Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case Litigation

Recently the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals censured and fined West Virginia Family Court Judge Louise Goldston for searching the home of my client. That put an end to the judicial disciplinary proceedings over that issue. However, the federal civil rights lawsuit remains pending. Prior to the state supreme court opinion being released, Judge Goldston had filed a motion to dismiss in that case, asserting absolute judicial immunity, and we had filed our response brief, arguing essentially that judicial immunity did not apply because searching my client’s residence was not a “judicial act.”

On December 3, 2021, the federal court, sua sponte (on its own without request by a party), entered an order directing both my client and the defendant judge to file a supplemental brief opining whether the state supreme court opinion had an effect on the outcome of the federal court’s ruling, which has yet to come, those supplemental briefs being due this past Friday. Here’s the order:

Both parties filed responses on Friday afternoon, which will be posted below, in their entirety. What I think the Court was hopefully getting at, which we argued in our supplemental brief, is that the West Virginia Supreme Court opinion very well may be entirely dispositive of the main issues in the pending federal case. Why? Because Judge Goldston was the defendant in that underlying state case and had a full and fair opportunity at litigating all issues in that case. A federal court cannot thereafter rule differently. This would violate the Constitution, as we pointed out in our supplemental brief.

The West Virginia Supreme Court held conclusively that Judge Goldston was not performing a judicial act when she searched my client’s home on March 4, 2020, but rather was acting in a law enforcement executive capacity. The issue of whether the conduct complained of was a “judicial” act in nature is one of the requisites to get past absolute judicial immunity. Therefore, a federal court cannot subsequently issue a different ruling on the same issue against the same defendant. Moreover, the state supreme court also concluded under an even higher burden than a civil lawsuit requires (clear and convincing evidence) that Judge Goldston violated both the federal and state constitutions when she invaded the sanctity of my client’s home on that day. This arguably disposes of much of the civil case, by itself, assuming judicial immunity does not apply.

These are interesting and unusual issues. Thus, please feel free to read the supplemental brief I prepared. You can compare and contrast her response and reach your own conclusion. I’ll definitely provide an update once we receive the federal court’s ruling on this.

Here’s the underlying West Virginia Supreme Court opinion.

Analysis of Recent Police Videos with Guest LACKLUSTER

Join me and special guest LACKLUSTER, tonight to watch, discuss and analyze some recent police videos making the rounds, including the OIS in Tucson of the guy in the power chair. And more….. LIVE at 7pm ET – Freedom is Scary, Ep. 84.

Federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Mercer County Deputies for excessive force during “domestic disturbance” call

Today we filed a federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit alleging multiple counts of civil rights violations related to allegations of excessive force which occurred during a “domestic disturbance” call involving my client, Melvin Sargent. Following a non-violent argument with his wife, deputies from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department arrived at his home.

Due to the fact that he was open-carrying a pistol in a retention holster, as he usually did, and as he was legally entitled to do, Mr. Sargent went out of his way to raise his hands in the air and allow the officers to disarm him, following their arrival. However, as the complaint alleges, after being disarmed, he was punched in the face with a closed fist, and subjected to violence from there. His hand was boot-stomped, which resulted in a fractured hand.

After handcuffs were applied behind his back and placed in the rear of the police cruiser, his hand began to swell and cause severe pain. When he complained about the pain, the deputy violently pushed him and began punching him again. He then sprays pepper spray in his eyes for 3 to 5 seconds, and then shuts him inside the police cruiser. Afterwards the deputy walks over to Mr. Sargent’s significant other, who was filming video, where you can see his black armored knuckle gloves, covered with my client’s blood.

Here’s the filed complaint: