Is there a protected First Amendment right to flip the bird, or give the middle finger, to police officers? This footage comes to us from Riverside, California from “Joshing U” on Youtube, showing his arrest, for what he claims was retaliation in response to his giving the middle finger to a California Highway Patrol officer. Back in April I did a video on the same topic, involving my client, Corey Lambert.
The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to spoken words, but rather include gestures and other expressive conduct, even if vulgar or offensive to some. For example, in Cohen v. California (1971), the Supreme Court held that an individual wearing a jacket bearing the words “F**k the Draft” in a courthouse corridor could not be prosecuted for disturbing the peace.
Consistent with this precedent, although “the gesture generally known as ‘giving the finger’ … is widely regarded as an offensive insult,” Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. N.Y. State Liquor Auth. , (2d Cir. 1998), it is a gesture that is generally protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g. , Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard (6th Cir. 2019) (“Any reasonable [police] officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”); Garcia v. City of New Hope (8th Cir. 2021) (“[Plaintiff’s] raising his middle finger at [a police officer] is a rude and offensive gesture but nonetheless, under current precedent, is a constitutionally protected speech activity.”); Batyukova v. Doege(5th Cir. 2021) (same); accord Swartz v. Insogna (2d Cir. 2013) (holding that giving the middle finger could not support arrest for disorderly conduct); see generally Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law , 41 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 1403, 1407–08, 1434 (2008) (observing that the middle finger can express a variety of emotions—such as anger, frustration, defiance, protest, excitement—or even “possess[ ] political or artistic value”).
In April we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Marshall County, as well as Deputy Jason Johnson for a vicious K9 attack against our client, Kandi Wood, that took place during her arrest for a probation violation. They filed a motion to dismiss all claims and asserted qualified immunity. The Court just ruled, depriving the deputy of qualified immunity and ordering the lawsuit forward, including the Monell (pattern/practice/policy) claim against the county for their K9 policy.
My client, Wendell Marcum, was arrested in his own front yard by deputies with the Brooke County Sherriff’s Department, for cursing during his interaction with them about a dog complaint. Yesterday we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Wheeling Division of the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging multiple violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First Amendment. Can the police perform a warrantless arrest of a man standing in his own front yard, for cursing and asking them to leave his property?
The law is clearly established that an individual has a First Amendment right to express profanity during an interaction with law enforcement. SeeCohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1972); see also Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974) (The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a conviction under a Louisiana statute that had provided that “It shall be unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”).
The Supreme Court held in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) that, “absent exigent circumstances, an arrest in the home or curtilage area around the home must be accomplished by means of an arrest warrant….” In Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit held that police officers must have probable cause plus either a warrant, or exigent circumstances, to perform a search or seizure within the curtilage of a person’s home, and that if asked to leave, officers are required to leave and seek a warrant.
Supreme Court jurisprudence extends heightened Fourth Amendment protections beyond just the interior of the home itself, but also to the “curtilage,” which is the “land immediately surrounding and associated with the home,” because the curtilage is “considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984). The Fourth Circuit has made clear that a warrantless search of curtilage is presumed to be unreasonable. Covey v. Assessor of Ohio Cnty., 777 F.3d 186 (4th Cir. 2015).
WV law creates the possibility for a criminal charge (disorderly conduct) due to a subject’s expression of profanity where: (1) The person is in a “public place” and where he (2) Disturbs the peace of others by “violent, profane, indecent or boisterous conduct or language; and (3) is requested to desist by a law enforcement officer and doesn’t. The West Virginia Supreme Court held in 2015 that the word “others” in W. Va. Code Section 61-6-1b (“disorderly conduct”) does not include law enforcement officers, but rather than some other third party must be present and actually offended by the subject’s conduct, in order to commit the criminal offense of “disorderly conduct.” Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015).
Kentucky Civil Rights Lawyer Chris Wiest just filed a federal lawsuit in Ohio alleging multiple constitutional violations occurring during the arrest of Demetrius Kerns, which was caught on viral bodycam footage. You may have seen Chris on some of my prior videos. He joined me to talk about the footage and the lawsuit.
This video comes to us from Hampton, Virginia, where a local high school math teacher got pulled out of his own car at gunpoint by a police officer, who mistakenly believed the car to be stolen. This happens all across the country, where police agencies have policies to perform so-called “high risk” or “felony” stops where their computer tells them a car is stolen. Often this results in innocent people being held at gunpoint by their government.
Here’s a prior post I did on the same issue for another video that goes further into the case law from similar incidents.
A civil jury in Wayne County, Michigan just awarded a $9.3 million dollar verdict against a Dearborn police officer after he performed an unconstitutional arrest of a kid on a bicycle. The false arrest and ensuing excessive force during the “rough arrest” was captured on officers’ bodycams.
The Loveland Police Department has released bodycam footage for an incident in which former 28-year-old officer Russell Maranto hit a suspect who was in protective custody in May of this year. The rookie cop was fired three days later. Does it violate an arrestee/detainee’s constitutional rights to be hit by a police officer while handcuffed? What about if the person spits on the officer?
The driver of a black GMC Sierra, who led the Arkansas State Police on an absolutely insane high-speed pursuit, did actually have legs. However, dash cam video shows that his legs appeared to be injured and totally limp, as officers dragged him across the road, handcuffed, and shoved him into the rear of a police car. Was that a constitutional violation?
On May 20, 2023, at 3:21 p.m. Arkansas State Police Trooper Jackson Shumate initiated a traffic stop on a black GMC Sierra, at US Highway 67 South at the 3 mile marker along with Trooper T. Van Schoyck and Trooper A. Escamilla. The vehicle was known to be driven by 42-year-old Christopher Monroe. Arkansas State Police said before this chase, Monroe was already wanted for drug traffic charges out of Sherwood, Arkansas. On May 4th, 2023 he fled from ASP before doing the same on the 19th. Ten days prior, police in Rockwell County, Texas put out a warrant for his arrest for evading in a motor vehicle.
Police attempted to box him in, bur failed and the chase was on. At one point early in the interaction Trooper T. Van Schoyck attempts to PIT the vehicle but ends up failing and sliding into a concrete barrier instead. Despite that failure to stop the vehicle, the police continue to chase Monroe as speeds climb. Monroe and the police cars following him cross over the Arkansas River going around 120 mph (193 km/h). Monroe then turns around and makes it only a few blocks before being hit from behind by police, which causes him to roll his truck. The GMC eventually hits a brick wall and comes to a stop on its wheels.
Because of how forceful the crash is, the police car itself almost flips. Later, Monroe is removed from the car by police who had surrounded it. Police found 64 grams of ecstasy, 100 grams of meth, 436 grams of cocaine, 89 grams of fentanyl pills, 182 grams of marijuana, 12 grams of heroin, and 46 grams of Xanax. Along with a Taurus handgun and numerous drug paraphernalia, Monroe also had $8,612 in cash in the car. He was charged with trafficking fentanyl and cocaine, possession of narcotics and methamphetamine with intent to deliver, felony fleeing, simultaneous possession of drugs and a firearm, aggravated assault of law enforcement and criminal mischief.
An arrestee has a constitutional right to be provided with medical care if there was a known, serious need for medical care. A serious medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.
Deliberate indifference is established only if there is actual knowledge of a substantial risk that the arrestee required medical treatment and if the Defendants disregarded that risk by intentionally refusing or failing to take reasonable measures to deal with the problem. Mere negligence or inadvertence does not constitute deliberate indifference.
A judge in Hamilton County, Tennessee, dismissed a 44-count indictment against a former Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office deputy Friday morning. This is the same officer featured in a prior video, detailing the multiple lawsuits against him, including the time he forcibly baptized a woman he arrested.
More here on the Klaver traffic stop, including a breakdown on the law regarding the length of traffic stops.
Have you seen these videos where innocent people get pulled over by the police due to a mistaken belief that their car is stolen? Then the police point their firearms at them and treat them like a criminal, before realizing the mistake. That can’t be constitutional, can it?
In April of this year, several people, including one child, were pulled over by the Lehi City Police when an officer said he received an alert and confirmed from dispatch that a vehicle had been stolen after running a license plate. The only problem was, it was a mistake. The vehicle was not stolen. The department has not explained the reason the officer ran their license plate in the first place.
They get pulled over and next thing you know, they see police officers approaching with guns pointed at them. One of the vehicle’s occupants pulled out his cell phone and began recording the incident. One thing led to another. The media began to report on it. KUTV reported that a high-risk traffic stop was performed on the vehicle, because according to the police statement, “routine protocol is to have guns pointed at the vehicle during a high-risk vehicle stop.”
A statement released Monday by the Central Utah Emergency Communications Center revealed that the dispatcher failed to recognize that the flagged information they reported back to the officer was actually a NCIC wanted HIT which was verified only by a partial vehicle identification number taken down in the incident which was never confirmed. The incomplete VIN of the stolen vehicle was identical to a string of seven numbers from the VIN of the vehicle that was wrongly pulled over. So, “the dispatcher failed to see that the actual plate number given was not stolen,” according to the Lehi Police Department statement. They said they have taken corrective action with the dispatcher involved.
So, the vehicle stopped was not stolen, nor was it displaying a stolen plate. The vehicle occupants were released from custody after about 20 minutes and then left the scene in their vehicle. Officials of the Lehi City Police Department called the incident “rare” and “unfortunate.” But this is not an isolated occurrence. This happens all the time.
Aurora, CO: A father records from a distance as cops approach his wife, guns drawn. His three year old child, still in the vehicle. This woman thought it was just going to be a regular traffic stop. But she was wrong. Bodycam footage shows the officers discussing the fact that they’re going to perform a so-called high-risk stop, with guns drawn, as per their department policy. This was apparently the result of officers marking the wrong box on a form. The vehicle had been previously repossessed and then reclaimed. But on the form it was marked stolen by mistake.
But that wasn’t the only time. It happened to another family. A woman with her car full of kids was in a parking lot in Aurora, looking for a nail salon, when all of a sudden police descended on her, allegedly because a license plate reader flagged her car as stolen. The family in the car, kids included, were made to exit the vehicle and lay on the ground.
The car was not stolen. Another mistake. What was the mistake this time? The actual stolen vehicle flagged by the plate reader was a motorcycle with the same number – but from a different state. So yet again: innocent people in a non-stolen car; police make the mistake; yet the innocent people get guns pointed at them. Why? They say it’s their policy. Officer safety, of course.
Raymore, MO: In August of 2022, a Raymore, Missouri couple was held at gunpoint by the Raymore Police. The video went viral first on Tik Tok and then hit the TV news.
So this was another mistake situation. Their son’s truck had been stolen just days before. But then it was recovered. The police then failed to take the truck off the stolen vehicle registry. So they got the “high risk stop” or “felony stop” treatment. Like the other victims, they were pissed and no longer back the blue types. This couple’s son is actually an attorney and he’s apparently pissed too – and summed it up well.
Fairfax, VA: In October of 2022, a mom and her 5 year old and 1 year old daughters were on their way to Walmart in Fairfax County, Virginia when they noticed a police car trailing them. Next thing you know, the vehicle pulled up beside them, then the police car rammed them, the police car striking their car head-on. Guns were drawn and she was handcuffed and her kids were put in a police car. Police later just said she ended up not being the person they were looking for. Another mistake. Apparently the vehicle was listed as “wanted.” But it wasn’t.
Norwalk, CT: It can even happen to the General Manager of the Yankees, Brian Cashman. Same old story. His Jeep was stolen and then recovered. But government employees did what government employees do. They just kept the stolen classification and then gave him the “high risk stop” treatment at gunpoint. At least for a few minutes before recognizing him and kissing his ass.
This is obviously far from an isolated incident. This apparently happens all the time. There are more examples out there. What do they all have in common? Innocent people – could be your father, mother, sister, wife – all held at gunpoint by your government agents, not in response to anything they did, nor any threat presented by them. Rather, it’s just their policy.
What happened to protect and serve? These are the people police officers have sworn to protect. All to often, those individuals are victimized in the interests of officer safety. In all of these incidents, though the police will apologize, they say it’s policy. Because it’s a “high risk” or “felony” stop. But is that enough to aim a gun at someone? I argue that it’s not.
What’s the law? Here, with Lehi, Utah being in the 10th Circuit, we have two real cases that happened that the courts have contrasted:
In Maresca v. Barnalillo County (10th. Cir. 2015), officers at gunpoint ordered a family out of a suspected stolen truck. The officers forced the family of two parents and three minor children to exit the vehicle and lie face down on the highway. The officers first removed the parents, who pleaded with the officers that there had been a mistake, that they should check the father’s license, and that there were children and a dog in the car. Even though one officer on the scene considered the situation “a little weird,” the officers ignored the parents’ repeated pleas to recheck whether the vehicle was in fact stolen and proceeded to order the three children out one-by-one.
The officers then handcuffed each family member (except the youngest) and locked them in separate patrol cars, keeping their weapons trained on the family throughout despite full compliance with their orders. The court found the forceful measures unnecessary and unconstitutional, primarily because the officers had no reason to believe the family possessed firearms.
Contrast that with a more recent case, Hemry v. Ross (10th Cir. 2023), where it was reported to the officers making the stop that the driver was a fugitive murderer. The court noted that in the case of a suspected stolen car, there’s nothing specific indicating that the car’s occupant may be armed. But where the driver is believed to be an actual murderer, officers acted reasonable in holding the man at gunpoint during the stop.
The point is, without more, police officers should not be aiming firearms at people. Reasonableness is the key. Aiming guns based on clerical entries and government policy is rarely going to be reasonable. Doing so should be based on actual perceived threats presented by the persons with whom they’re dealing.