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….

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….

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….

Current Status of Exemption Requests for Employer Mandates

We’re getting a huge volume of calls and emails on exemptions to employer mandates. This is the current general information we’ve been providing, which again, is general information. This is all based on federal law. State laws around the country may provide for different, possibly better, protections. We are currently on taking cases in West Virginia. If you’re in Kentucky, you should contact Attorney Chris Wiest, from whom I hijacked some of the below Q&As.

1. Exemption requests: Yes, you need to submit the requests to trigger legal protections.  The only legal exemptions are for medical or religious exemptions.  Yes, you need to make the request even if your employer says they are not taking or accepting them.  Yes you should do so even if your employer is requiring a pastor note and you cannot get one.  The buzz word is that you have a “sincerely held religious belief.”  You should document the what and why of that belief.  The employer can require you to answer questions about the request to determine if it is sincere.  Including asking questions about prior vaccines (if your request is based on aborted fetal cells, be prepared to answer the question on your having received prior vaccines — and answering it that you didn’t know when you received them but now do is an acceptable answer).

You can learn more about the basis for a religious exception, based on the Thomas More Society litigation in New York, here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/09/25/religious-exemptions-for-vaccines-under-title-7-and-private-employers-in-the-health-care-field/

You can learn more about the issue of whether an employer gets to question your religious beliefs here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/10/07/employers-do-not-get-to-define-religion-in-exemption-applications/


You should also document prior exposure, infection, and any antibody tests.  And send that to the employer to document the fact that giving you an exemption cannot possibly burden the employer.For medical exemptions, you need a doctors note.  It should document your particular medical condition and indicate the threat the vaccine poses to you.  These are going to be the rare exception.


2. They denied my exemption: Ask them to explain what burdens, if any, they expect to suffer from the grant of exemption.


3. What next?: As a practical matter: you are left with two choices after a denial: (a) get fired and pursue a wrongful discharge lawsuit; or (b) get the vaccine. Injunctive relief actions prior to firing may be available if your employer is a governmental entity but these are tricky unless there are blanket denials. We may be able to help in these situations.


If you are FIRED from either a private and government employer and (I) you requested a religious exemption; (II) you documented prior infection and antibodies; and (III) the employer denied the exemption, we may be able to help.


If you’re in West Virginia, the State Legislature just tentatively passed legislation created three state-law based exceptions to both public and private employer mandates. It provides for medical, religious and natural immunity exceptions. It hasn’t yet been signed by the Governor. However, since he proposed the legislation, he is expected to sign it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t become effective law until 90 days after it’s signed (because there wasn’t 2/3 majority vote).

The new law provides that:

(a) A covered employer, as defined in this section, that requires as a condition of continued employment or as a condition of hiring an individual for employment that such person receive a COVID-19 immunization or present documentation of immunization from COVID-19, shall exempt current or prospective employees from such immunization requirements upon the presentation of one of the following certifications:

(1) A certification presented to the covered employer, signed by a physician licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-3-1 et seq. or §30-14-1 et seq. of this code or an advanced practice registered nurse licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-7-1 et seq. of this code who has conducted an in person examination of the employee or prospective employee, stating that the physical condition of the current or prospective employee is such that a COVID-19 immunization is contraindicated, there exists a specific precaution to the mandated vaccine, or the current or prospective employee has developed COVID-19 antibodies from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus or suffered from and has recovered from the COVID-19 virus; or

(2) A notarized certification executed by the employee or prospective employee that is presented to the covered employer by the current or prospective employee that he or she has religious beliefs that prevent the current or prospective employee from taking the COVID-19 immunization.

So, in other words, the employer will not have discretion to question the religious sincerity of the employee, which is currently occurring on a wide basis. Therefore, any current religious applications being asserted might as well include a notarized certificate tracking this statutory language. E.g., “I, John Doe hereby certify that I have religious beliefs that prevent me from taking the COVID-19 immunization.” Additionally, any medical exemptions being asserted might as well include a physician’s certification that the employee has antibodies and/or has already suffered from and recovered from the virus.

Many have asked whether this will be applicable to federal employees. This new law applies to “covered employers,” who are defined as follows:

(A) The State of West Virginia, including any department, division, agency, bureau, board, commission, office or authority thereof, any political subdivision of the State of West Virginia including, but not limited to, any county, municipality or school district; or

(B) A business entity, including without limitation any individual, firm, partnership, joint venture, association, corporation, company, estate, trust, business trust, receiver, syndicate, club, society, or other group or combination acting as a unit, engaged in any business activity in this state, including for-profit or not-for-profit activity, that has employees.

So, no it doesn’t appear to apply to federal employees, which would probably be unconstitutional for a couple of reasons. I see no reason why employees of business entities who are federal contractors wouldn’t be covered, to the extent said employees are based in West Virginia and the business activity is based in West Virginia. As for independent federal contractors who are being subjected to the federal mandate, there would be no applicability if they don’t have a business entity as an employer who is engaging in business activity in West Virginia.

Update on the School Bus Drivers Suspended for Attending a Trump Rally

Join me live at 8pm ET tonight for an update on the Jefferson County, West Virginia school bus drivers who were suspended for attended the Trump rally on January 6, 2021. Despite being nowhere near what occurred at the Capitol, they found themselves suspended and accused of misconduct, and then later vindicated. We files suit for First Amendment retaliation. Here’s what’s happened so far in the litigation….. Freedom is Scary, Ep. No. 77. Also available on our Facebook page.

Employers Do Not Get to Define Religion in Exemption Applications

Lately I’ve been helping quite a few people with their religious exemption applications, particularly in regards to one particular hospital in West Virginia. Since I’ve talked with numerous employees, I’ve seen the identical boilerplate form email denials from the hospital – whether the employee is a physician, nurse or remote IT worker. From what I’ve been told the only religious exemptions they’ve granted have been to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Otherwise, they’ve been arguing with employees that mainstream Christianity doesn’t oppose the COVID vaccines.

Since these employers are private employers, rather than agencies of the government, the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to them. Generally they can just fire employees at-will in West Virginia. However, there are state and federal statutes which provide they can’t do so pursuant to religious discrimination. This hospital appears to be discriminating between Jehovah’s Witnesses and other belief systems. In fact, it’s really not the employer’s right to tell the employee what they believe, but rather only to determine whether the belief is sincerely-held, and to accommodate it, if doing so wouldn’t be an undue hardship to the company.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) “makes it an unlawful employment practice ‘to discharge any individual because of such individual’s religion.’” EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131, 141 (4th Cir. 2017). In other words, the law provides potentially significant protections to West Virginians who might seek a religious exemption from an employer-imposed vaccine requirement. To make out a prima facie case of that type of discrimination, an employee must show that “(1) he or she has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; (2) he or she informed the employer of this belief, and, (3) he or she was not hired or promoted, fired, or otherwise discriminated against for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement.” Henegar v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 965 F. Supp. 833, 836 (N.D.W. Va. 1997). “[A]n employer must make reasonable accommodation for the religious observances of its employees, short of incurring an undue hardship.” Consol Energy, 860 F.3d at 141. An accommodation becomes an “undue hardship” when it imposes “more than a de minimis cost” on the employer. Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84, 97 S. Ct. 2264 2277, 53 L. Ed. 2d 113 (1977).

West Virginia lies within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit specifically has warned employers that it’s not their place to question the correctness or plausibility of an employee’s religious understandings:

It is not Consol’s place as an employer, nor ours as a court, to question the correctness or even the plausibility of Butcher’s religious understandings. See Emp’t Div., Dep’t of Human Res. of Or. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 887, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990) (“Repeatedly and in many different contexts, we have warned that courts must not presume to determine … the plausibility of a religious claim.”). Butcher’s religious beliefs are protected whether or not his pastor agrees with them, cf. Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div. , 450 U.S. 707, 715–16, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 67 L.Ed.2d 624 (1981) (protection of religious beliefs not limited to beliefs shared by religious sect), and whether or not Butcher’s pastor—or Consol, or the manufacturer of Consol’s scanning system—thinks that Butcher, in seeking to protect his religious conscience, has drawn the line in the right place, see id. at 715, 101 S.Ct. 1425 (“[I]t is not for us to say that the line [the religious objector] drew was an unreasonable one.”). So long as there is sufficient evidence that Butcher’s beliefs are sincerely held—which the jury specifically found, and Consol does not dispute—and conflict with Consol’s employment requirement, that is the end of the matter.


U.S. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (4th Cir. 2017) (emphasis added). 

Certainly, for employees who are now working remotely, it would be difficult for the employer to claim that further accommodation during a pandemic is an undue hardship. The Fourth Circuit addressed this in the Consol Energy case:

Indeed, once we take out of this case any suggestion that Butcher may have misunderstood the Book of Revelation or the significance of the Mark of the Beast, there is very little left. This case does not present, for instance, the complicated questions that sometimes arise when an employer asserts as a defense to a religious accommodation claim that the requested accommodation would not be feasible, and would instead impose an “undue hardship” on its operations. See Firestone Fibers , 515 F.3d at 311–12 ; TransWorld Airlines , 432 U.S. at 79–85, 97 S.Ct. 2264 (considering whether requested religious accommodation was feasible). Quite the contrary: Consol expressly conceded that allowing Butcher to bypass the scan by entering his identification number into a keypad would impose no additional burdens or costs on the company. And Consol knew this, of course, because it had provided precisely that accommodation to two other employees who needed it for non-religious reasons—and then, in the very same email, refused to give equal regard to Butcher’s request for a religious accommodation. In light of all of this evidence, we have no reason to question the jury’s determination that Consol should be held liable for its response to a conflict between Butcher’s sincere religious beliefs and its scanner-system requirements.

U.S. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (4th Cir. 2017) (emphasis added). 

Another thing this hospital has been doing is informing employees that they aren’t being disciplined or terminated, but instead are choosing to “voluntarily” resign. The Fourth Circuit rejected that claim already in the same case I’ve already cited:

“According to Consol, Butcher was not disciplined or terminated but instead voluntarily retired, and the jury’s contrary finding of constructive discharge cannot be sustained on the evidence introduced at trial.”…. 

We agree with the district court that there exists substantial evidence that Butcher was put in an intolerable position when Consol refused to accommodate his religious objection, requiring him to use a scanner system that Butcher sincerely believed would render him a follower of the Antichrist, “tormented with fire and brimstone.” J.A. 683–84. This goes well beyond the kind of run-of-the-mill “dissatisfaction with work assignments, [ ] feeling of being unfairly criticized, or difficult or unpleasant working conditions” that we have viewed as falling short of objective intolerability. Cf. Carter v. Ball , 33 F.3d 450, 459 (4th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). And like the district court, we do not think that the future prospect of a successful grievance under a collective bargaining agreement—even assuming, contrary to the union’s determination, that the collective bargaining agreement at issue here allowed for a grievance based on a right to religious accommodation—would do anything to alleviate the immediate intolerability of Butcher’s circumstances.

U.S. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (4th Cir. 2017) (emphasis added). 

Thus, despite this hospital’s attempts at mislabeling the termination of their employees as “voluntary” resignations, they will still remain potentially liable because their intention is to force the employee out – to give them no choice of staying. That’s either a termination, or a constructive termination. The remedy here is to file a charge with the EEOC, after which the charge will run its course with the EEOC and then litigation for religious discrimination can ensue – hopefully to a jury for a large award of damages.

Here’s a link to the EEOC website where you go through their online portal in order to file an EEOC charge for religious discrimination against an employer:

https://www.eeoc.gov/how-file-charge-employment-discrimination

Does the First Amendment Only Apply to Media? Is There a Right to Record?

Do you have to be a journalist to have First Amendment protections to film in public? Is there a right to record police or other government officials in public? Let me tell you what the federal courts have said…..

To record what there is for the eye to see, or the ear to hear, corroborates or lays aside subjective impressions for objective facts. Hence to record is to see and hear more accurately. Recordings also facilitate discussion because of the ease in which they can be widely distributed via different forms of media. Accordingly, recording police activity in public falls squarely within the First Amendment right of access to information. As no doubt the press has this right, so does the public. See PG Publ’g. Co. v. Aichele, 705 F.3d 91, 99 (3d Cir. 2013); Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 684, 92 S.Ct. 2646, 33 L.Ed.2d 626 (1972) (quoting Fields v. City of Phila., 862 F.3d 353, 359 (3rd Cir. 2017)).

Under the First Amendment’s right of access to information the public has the commensurate right to record—photograph, film, or audio record—police officers conducting official police activity in public areas. Fields v. City of Phila., 862 F.3d 353, 360 (3rd Cir. 2017) (“The First Amendment protects actual photos, videos, and recordings, and for this protection to have meaning the Amendment must also protect the act of creating that material.” (citation omitted)); See also ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 599–600 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 651, 184 L.Ed.2d 459 (2012) (holding that an Illinois eavesdropping statute did not protect police officers from a civilian openly recording them with a cell phone); Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 689 (5th Cir. 2017) (“[T]he First Amendment protects the act of making film, as there is no fixed First Amendment line between the act of creating speech and the speech itself.” (quotation omitted); W. Watersheds Project v. Michael, 869 F.3d 1189 (10th Cir. 2017) (agreeing with several sister circuits that recording the conduct of officials in general is protected First Amendment speech); Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 79 (1st Cir.2011) (holding there is an “unambiguous[ ]” constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public); Smith v. Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332, 1333 (11th Cir.2000) (finding plaintiffs “had a First Amendment right, subject to reasonable time, manner and place restrictions, to photograph or videotape police conduct”); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436, 439 (9th Cir.1995) (recognizing plaintiff’s videotaping of police officers as a “First Amendment right to film matters of public interest”). 

Furthermore, there can be no doubt that the public has the right to record police officers and government officials from the vantage point of standing on their own private property – and indeed, standing in their own front yard, or within their home.

Can the recordings then be seized by police?

Recently, the Fourth Circuit observed in the context of a claim of seizure of cell phone video footage by law enforcement, that we live “[i]n an era in which cell phones are increasingly used to capture much of what happens in daily life” and that such recordings are protected from seizure by law enforcement under the Fourth Amendment. Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook, 931 F.3d 307, 329 (4th Cir. 2019).

But, keep in mind, they could still be subject to seizure without a warrant under the exigent circumstances doctrine…..

The “Outlaw Barber” Arrested for Refusing to Close During the Lockdown Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

Today we filed suit in the case of the “Outlaw Barber,” Winerd “Les” Jenkins, a 73 year old combat veteran and former 27-year Deputy U.S. Marshall, who was arrested for refusing to close his barbershop during the Governor’s lockdown in April of 2020. We filed a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit in federal court, in the Northern District of West Virginia.

The case was detailed last year in a Federalist article titled, West Virginia Barber’s Arrest Shows Failings Of The Bureaucratic State:

When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.

His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.

He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer. The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order.

We asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. It’s already been assigned a case number. Read it for yourself:

I’ve already revealed the body cam footage from one of the deputies, which caught much of the interaction on video:

The Constitutional Rights of Parents – with TN Divorce Attorney Andy Fox

Is there a constitutional right to be a parent? Join my live discussion with Tennessee Divorce Attorney Andy Fox about some of the child custody shenanigans that go on, as well as the constitutional rights to be a parent, and other things. #ChildCustody#FamilyCourt#DivorceAttorney​ Join us live at 6:30 pm ET on Freedom is Scary – Episode No. 60.