This guy in Texas pulls into a Buc-ees to get gas. Next thing you know, a police officer “stops” him while he’s trying to pump gas, claiming that traffic violations were committed on his way through the parking lot. When the guy expresses criticism of the officer, he ends up being arrested for not sufficiently respecting the badge. Is future crime an arrestable offense?
This footage shows a man being confronted, arrested and tased by police officers, after he pulled over on the side of the road to observe and record a traffic stop involving his son. Did he have a right to observe and record the traffic stop? Or can the police make him leave – or worse?
Kenneth Espinoza was driving to a shop to get his truck serviced. His son was following him separately in another vehicle. But then, his son was pulled over by a deputy with the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office, for allegedly following too closely to the police car. His father then pulled over behind the deputy to observe the stop and wait for his son.
But that’s not the main story here. Rather, the story becomes the officers on the scene getting butthurt about the father observing and waiting behind the stop. In the bodycam video, Deputy Henry Trujillo is seen walking up to the father’s window. He tells Espinoza he needs to leave the scene, or else he’ll be charged. Espinoza refuses, but moments later can be seen then attempting to leave the scene, at which point the deputies prevent him from leaving, including by pointing weapons at him.
The footage then shows the father being tased multiple times, including while handcuffed.
Prosecutors have now dropped all charges against Espinoza. He had been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. Espinoza’s lawsuit also alleges that Deputy Trujillo shouldn’t have even been a deputy in the first place, due to his criminal history. In 1997 he was charged with felony menacing with a weapon, which was pled down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The following year, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment. According to the father’s attorney, that conviction should have barred Trujillo from becoming certified as a police officer in Colorado. There were also multiple restraining orders filed against Trujillo, including a 2006 domestic abuse allegation, including a stalking and assault allegation from 2007. Apparently a protective order was entered against him.
But there’s more. Trujillo was apparently forced to resign from the sheriff’s office in 2009 due to a conviction that is now sealed. What was it? We don’t know. Because it’s sealed. But then, he was rehired in 2010. Then in 2018 he was promoted. Now he’s third in command. The Las Animas County Sheriff released a statement saying he has asked for help from an outside agency to review the actions of his deputies. He said that Deputy Trujillo is still on active duty.
What is the law here? Did the father have a right to wait and observe at his son’s traffic stop? The bodycam footage indicates that the father was not just waiting and observing the stop, but also recording the stop. That’s the most important fact here.
It just so happens that Colorado, which is in the 10th federal circuit, is where case law just dropped last year on this very issue. And it’s not good for the officers. The case is: Irizarry v. Yehia, 38 F.4th 1282 (10th Cir. 2022). Here’s the backstory:
Early in the morning on May 26, 2019, Abade Irizarry, a YouTube journalist and blogger, was filming a DUI traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado. Officer Ahmed Yehia arrived on the scene and stood in front of Mr. Irizarry, obstructing his filming of the stop. When Mr. Irizarry and a fellow journalist objected, Officer Yehia shined a flashlight into Mr. Irizarry’s camera and then drove his police cruiser at the two journalists.
Mr. Irizarry is a “Youtube journalist and blogger” who “regularly publishes stories about police brutality and conduct or misconduct.” On May 26, 2019, he and three other “YouTube journalists/bloggers” were filming a DUI traffic stop with their cell phones and cameras “for later broadcast, live-streaming, premiers, and archiving for their respective social medial channel[s].”
Here’s what the court held:
Filming the police performing their duties in public is protected activity. Police Officers in Colorado will be deprived of qualified immunity where they violate a citizen’s First Amendment right to film police performing their duties in public and take retaliatory actions against them. Officers standing in front of a camera, threatening violence, including aiming police cruisers at the individual, violate the First Amendment.
On February 10, 2023, Corey Lambert was driving down the road and he gave the middle finger to a police officer who was driving by. That police officer then, in response to the middle finger, initiated a traffic stop. This occurred in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The officer was Coby Engle from the Martinsburg Police Department.
Here’s what he wrote in his report:
I witnessed a white male driver later identified as Corey Lambert, driving a Chevy pickup truck traveling east bound on Mall Drive. When I passed Corey I witnessed him giving an improper hand signal prior to turning left onto Mall Access Road. I then turned around and initiated my emergency lights and sirens and conducted a traffic stop in the parking lot of Grand Home Furnishings on Mall Loop.
When I approached Corey I advised to him the reason for the stop. Corey later stated that he was not indicating his direction [of] travel in his vehicle with his hand signaling and that he was simply giving me the middle finger.
Due to this being a municipal violation of hand and arm signals 339.10 I then asked Corey multiple times for his driver license registration and proof of insurance. He told me multiple times that the didn’t have to provide me with these documents.
At this time Pfc. Boursiquot told Corey again that if he didn’t provide us with these documents that he would be placed under arrest. Corey continued to not comply with our demands. Corey was then placed under arrest at this time and transported back to the Martinsburg City Police Station for processing.
Believe it or not, Corey was then held on a cash only bond for four days and three nights, following his arrest. He was charged with municipal violations of improper hand signal and two counts of obstruction. Then, because the charges were municipal, instead of a real court and real judge, it went to the municipal court, which so they told us on the phone, claims not to be a “court of record,” and as such apparently keep no paperwork. But they told us that the result was that the improper signaling charge was dismissed. One count of obstruction was dismissed. And he was convicted of one count of obstruction.
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”).
The LA County Sheriff’s Department recently showed up at a family’s home, entered without a warrant and then placed the teenage kids in handcuffs. No crime had been committed. No explanation was given. The family posted the surveillance footage on Tik Tok and it went viral. The sheriff’s department then responded, claiming that they received a call from a concerned citizen, and that upon arrival, the door was open.
This is newly-released body cam footage showing police officers in New London, Connecticut confronting First Amendment auditors in their department parking lot. It ultimately resulted in the police officer being suspended. You see a lot of these – but not necessarily a lot of them that result in police officer discipline and policy change. This is one of those rare ones.
Daniel Kokoszka, who as I understand it runs a Youtube channel called The Constitution State, began filming at the New London Police Department on August 20, 2022. They were located in the department parking lot, which is a public location. Thus they were located in a public place where they were legally allowed to be, filming only things that they could readily observe with their eyes. Shortly afterwards, the auditors encountered Lt. Joshua Bergeson. He would end up receiving an 8 day suspension and mandated retraining after the video footage was posted to Youtube.
Sylvia Gonzalez became the first Hispanic councilwoman elected in her hometown of Castle Hills, Texas. She was elected on a platform of reform, based on her neighbors’ complaints about the current incompetent town leadership, including the city manager. Her first act as councilwoman was to present a citizens’ petition to remove the incompetent city manager. The entrenched swamp creatures had other plans, however. The city manager and other city officials conspired to have Sylvia arrested and charged for a bogus criminal violation.
The Institute for Justice took her case and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for First Amendment Retaliation. You can learn much more information about the case on the IJ’s website and view the legal filings here.
“Castle Hills officials seem to believe that they are above the law because they are the law,” said Anya Bidwell, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Sylvia. “But criticism isn’t criminal, it is a constitutional right. And it is patently unconstitutional for an official to use the police to stifle speech and retaliate against political opponents.”
Last year I did a video on that case, which had been lost at the Fifth Circuit. Now the Institute for Justice is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Anya Bidwell about the case. Like Patrick Jaicomo, who I got to interview about the James King case recently, Anya is one of the top civil rights attorneys in the country. She spent her childhood in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. At 16, she left her family behind and came to America on a university scholarship. Her upbringing motivated her to study law and become an advocate for a strong, independent judiciary.
If you want to help, please consider supporting the Institute for Justice, either by donating or by following and sharing their content.
The biggest police scandal in the country right now is going down in West Virginia – and almost nobody even knows about it. It hasn’t made national news yet. One reporter in West Virginia exposed it and things have escalated. This is another one of those cases where this Youtube channel has inadvertently helped to expose government misconduct. This goes to show what an absolute necessity free speech is to our freedom.
A couple weeks ago I released an anonymous whistleblower letter from a state trooper, making specific allegations against the top leadership. I had no idea this would happen, but apparently that kicked off what is essentially a civil war inside the West Virginia State Police that seems to have been brewing. Since my first video on this with the whistleblower’s allegations, that whistleblower has been arrested. His lawyer is alleging a coverup conspiracy going all the way to the top of the state police.
Now, more breaking news, as of last night it was revealed that the Governor has ordered the seizure of the cell phones and electronic data of almost all the top leadership at the state police. Crazy, crazy stuff. This is big. People should know about this, because the implications are enormous.
On February 17, I posted a video with breaking news about the scandal at the West Virginia State Police, publishing for the first time the salacious details being alleged. I’ll link that video in the description, as well as the link to the letter itself.
Here’s my original video:
The initial version of that video title included the allegation that the head of the state police had been terminated. Within hours of the posting of that video, I was contacted by his attorney and told that he had in fact not been terminated, demanding a correction, which I did. It apparently started to snowball from there. I started getting all sorts of contacts from current and retired law enforcement officers with messages of support, as well as additional information.
Then I started getting additional anonymous letters. I didn’t publish any of those and I don’t intend to at this point. Instead, not really wanting to be within the middle of a law enforcement civil war, I provided those letters to the appropriate authorities. Maybe the time will come that that will happen. One of those letters, however, made reverse accusations against the trooper later disclosed to be the alleged whistleblower, Joey Comer. That was the first time I heard his name; never talked to the guy. He’s not the one who gave me the letter.
But I did start to hear through my contacts that the whistleblower, or whistleblowers – because it seemed to me that it was more than one individual, from the amount of information provided – were worried that retaliation was coming.
Then, sure enough, on February 24, 2023, the leadership at the WVSP issued a press release announcing that the alleged whistleblower, Joseph Comer, a current member of the West Virginia State Police, was arrested and charged with domestic battery and felony strangulation.
Okay, wow. So they arrested the whistleblower. But there’s more….
Then, on the same day, February 24, 2023 the attorney for the alleged whistleblower gives an interview to the media alleging that the arrest was in retaliation because he was the suspected whistleblower. Before we get to the allegations against Comer, let’s look at the timing. He was arrested the day before he was scheduled to testify at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge about “corruption that was going on” within the state police. Comer’s lawyer said that the “top brass” of the state police had been subpoenaed to testify at that hearing, where they had intended to expose their misconduct through evidence in their possession.
So this hearing is set to take place Friday morning. Thursday afternoon at 4:12 p.m., an attorney for the state police filed a motion seeking to prevent the agency’s top staff from having to testify and be subjected to questioning. Then at 11 p.m. Thursday night, the whistleblower received a call from other state troopers telling him they were coming to his home to pick up his gun and his badge because there had been a domestic violence protection order filed against him.
Comer’s lawyer said that the head of the state police had traveled to the vicinity where his client worked as a trooper and told several people that he knew who the whistleblower was, and that he had a hearing on Friday morning, and that he was going to “take care of him.”
The underlying allegations that they arrested the alleged whistleblower on were domestic violence in nature. According to a criminal complaint filed in Ritchie County Magistrate Court, on Dec. 5, in the gravel parking lot of the Sleep Inn in Ellenboro, Comer grabbed a woman around her neck during a scheduled child custody exchange. The woman reported that she had bruises on both sides of her neck. The alleged incident resulted in the strangulation charge, a felony. The second criminal complaint alleges that on Dec. 12, 2022, in the gravel parking lot of the Sleep Inn in Ellenboro, a woman said she was struck in the head with a sippy cup that Comer threw at her during a scheduled child custody exchange. The woman told troopers that the incident left her with a black eye, according to the court documents. The records do not indicate if the woman who reported both alleged incidents is the same person, but sources say the alleged victim, who is also a trooper, shares a child with Comer. One of the anonymous letters I received said something to this effect.
One of the important constitutional issues that the Institute for Justice is currently litigating is the ability to sue the government when they file criminal charges against someone in retaliation for their protected speech. There’s some bad law out there saying that, if probable cause exists, no matter the bad motive, you can’t sue them for First Amendment retaliation. Even if it was.
Here, there’s a similar concern. Certainly the state police didn’t create the allegations whole-cloth. But let’s look at the dates. One of the incidents is alleged to have occurred on December 5; the other on December 12. Yet they didn’t charge him until February 24 – the day before the hearing at which he was set to expose corruption among the state police leadership. Moreover, the alleged victim of those incidents is herself a state trooper. I would agree with Comer’s lawyer, that just doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
I was told that more was coming out. Well, last night it did. Last night a third media report came out and it’s a bombshell. I had been hearing that this was occurring, but now it’s verified. Last week, the main headquarters of the West Virginia State Police was searched by the Department of Homeland Security. That’s the state-level DHS. This was done at the order of the Governor. Here’s the actual order from the Governor, ordering:
Cahill, the head of the state police, was directed by the Governor to grant any and all necessary access to systems or data that was requested.
The media outlet obtained one of those duty logs and posted in their story on their website. They’ve since deleted the screenshot, but I saved it. It’s a duty log entry from Sgt. B.L. Keefer addressing the search and attempted apprehension of Comer when the warrant was issued for his arrest on Feb. 23.
In the duty log entry, Keefer wrote that he was called at home to contact/locate Comer and “relay him to WVSP Parkersburg, under the premise of him being served with a DVP.” Keefer wrote that he spent several hours searching for Comer and learned that “senior staff was attempting to ‘ping’ his cell phone and utilize LPRs in searching for Cpl. Comer’s whereabouts.” The log entry indicated “WVSP senior staffers” had discussed calling out additional manpower.
The sergeant wrote that he had been advised Comer had a hearing the next morning at State Police headquarters, where he could be “easily served at that time, with his legal counsel present.” “Additionally, this sergeant, still under the assumption that his search was still centered around a DVP service, believed that the orders originating at WVSP HQ were definitely overkill based on the very small bit of information he had been previously provided,” Keefer wrote. Despite all of this, Keefer said he continued searching for Comer in very desolate areas of Jackson County, near Comer’s home. Keefer said he was not able to locate Comer but learned the next morning that there were actually felony and misdemeanor warrants issued for his arrest, along with the DVP.
“This sergeant is now strongly questioning the decision by the WVSP senior staff in not informing the sole member they sent to locate Corporal Comer, and not informing this sergeant of the felony and misdemeanor warrants, that were most assuredly in effect at the time of the search,” the entry stated. “This sergeant has since learned that the WVSP senior staff has taken the position that they were afraid that Corporal Comer was a ‘threat’ that needed immediate attention, but failed to inform the very member that they ordered to ‘bring him in.'”
Keefer went on to question why, if Comer was considered a threat, he was not provided with the information as part of officer safety protocols. “If Corporal Comer had truly been a ‘threat,’ and any information had leaked to him from the ‘victim’ or any other person who had information that this sergeant most certainly was not provided, then that placed this officer at an undue risk, and that is inexcusable,” Keefer wrote. Keefer ended the entry by writing, “This sergeant is making this note on the duty log as an abridged history, and record, of this event, as the current WVSP administration efficacy and trustworthiness is called into question.”
So, it sounds like the trooper they sent to arrest the alleged whistleblower, is now himself blowing the whistle, implying that the arrest was political and corrupt and in retaliation against Comer. If this is the case, it appears that the evidence has now been seized. Are they going to find communications between the state police leadership and others about locating and arresting the alleged whistleblower either in retaliation for what he disclosed, or to prevent him from testifying at the hearing the following day? I’d love to read through those text messages and emails. How much do you want to bet there are communications about yours truly? Maybe I’ll get to find out eventually.
One thing people have already asked me: did they need warrants to seize evidence from the senior state police staff? In general, I can answer that. I once had a case where we sued a sheriff for placing a GPS tracker on a deputy’s cruiser without a warrant, and then using that data to indict him on numerous felonies. The result in that case was that the federal court said that since the agency owned the cruiser, and the investigation was technically employment related, that no warrant was needed. I suspect the present situation would fall within those same parameters and therefore no warrant is necessary.
The state Department of Homeland Security is currently investigating the matter and is expected to conclude no later than April. If you have information you want to provide, you can find my contact information at thecivilrightslawyer.com, where I will also post links to the stories I discussed in this video.
This issue is important because the major problem with policing in America, in my opinion, is the lack of accountability. Here in West Virginia, when politicians, or judges, or lawyers get investigated and are found to have engaged in misconduct, that becomes public record. The public can see the reports; the conclusions. Law enforcement? Not so much. They have been able to successfully seal their employment records under the guise of employee privacy. In reality, they are our employees, and we should know about any substantiated misconduct.
One of the excessive force cases we’ve been following just settled, and you may or may not be surprised at the settlement amount. This is the one in Kentucky where a man was arrested inside his parents’ home and was beaten – not terribly – but still beaten, by two Kentucky State Troopers. Then the dad goes to get his cell phone and starts filming. The troopers then took the phone and deleted the footage. Well, as sometimes happens, the parents had interior surveillance cameras that the cops did not know about. My buddy Chris Wiest files a lawsuit against them; puts them under oath at their depositions, and asks them about it. Both troopers denied striking the guy. Unfortunately for them, they had been caught on camera.
On April 9, 2020, Kentucky State Troopers James Cameron Wright, Thomas Czartorski, and a third trooper, Kevin Dreisbach, went to the Hornbacks’ home in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, to arrest 29-year-old Alex Hornback for a missed appearance in Jefferson District Court. Hornback’s mother and father met them at the door and led Wright and Czartorski to the basement, where their son was, while Dreisbach covered the rear of the house.
Czartorski and Wright testified in their January 2021 depositions that they had a relatively calm interaction with Hornback, despite taking him to the floor, and that they didn’t use any other force or strike him.The Hornbacks’ lawyer later released a home-security video contradicting the troopers’ statements. The video showed Wright grabbing Hornback around the neck and slinging him to the floor, though Hornback was not visibly resisting. The video also showed Czartorski striking Hornback four times on the legs with his flashlight. Wright hit Hornback twice in the back with his right forearm and appeared to have his left knee on Hornback’s neck, pushing his face into the floor. Hornback did not suffer any serious injuries.
Can the police pepper spray a handcuffed man just because he’s running his mouth? Here’s some brand new exclusive footage from a federal civil rights lawsuit just filed by my friend, Kentucky civil rights attorney Chris Wiest. We had a great discussion about this footage, the lawsuit he just filed on behalf of this guy, as well as some general advice he has when potential clients are interacting with police officers.
I often get the question, can public officials block me or delete my messages on social media? Isn’t that a First Amendment violation? Well, some more West Virginia news today: the Fayette County WV Sheriff’s Department has just deleted its Facebook page following negative comments they’ve received following a local incident. Here’s what the sheriff said about why he did it:
“Sorry, but I’m getting bashed and getting messages. People are just so rude and unfair….”
He said they would just delete the negative comments, but they did that once before and got sued, so the only option is to delete the page.
“We deleted comments before and got in trouble for that,” he said.
Why is the public so upset at this sheriff’s department? And what is the law on this? Can an official government social media page block you or delete your comments?
The WV ACLU has previously been involved with this issue. They actually sent a letter to the members of the WV legislature about this, attempting to warn legislators from violating First Amendment rights on social media.
So here’s the basic law. The First Amendment protects the right to criticize public officials – period. N.Y. Times v. Sullivan. But it’s not limited to newspapers. The SCOTUS has referred to social media as a “modern public square.” Packingham v. North Carolina.
When the government provides a forum for speech, such as a Facebook page, or a Youtube channel, the government actor may not exclude certain speech or actors from that forum on the basis of their viewpoints.
In 2019, the Fourth Circuit, which is applicable here in West Virginia, held that an elected official’s Facebook page on which she discussed upcoming events and community issues constituted a “public forum,” and that the official engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when she banned a constituent from her Facebook page. That was Davison v. Randall. The Court found that the official acted under color of law when she banned the constituent because she treated the Facebook page as a “tool of governance.”
Similarly, I once sued a notorious WV state senator for an under color of law civil rights violation due to a rant about a constituent on his Facebook page. I’ll link that video if you want to watch it.
Thus, it’s now settled case law in the Fourth Circuit that a constituent’s constitutional rights extend to comments made on a public official’s social media page. An official may not block protected speech on an account dedicated to their official duties. Officials may, however, delete speech that is not considered protected under the Constitution, such as speech that makes a true and immediate threat to another person, incites others to imminently violate the law, or contains obscene language, as narrowly defined by the SCOTUS in Miller v. California.
This is not limited to social media accounts that are officially noted or categorized as an “official” page of a public official. This can also extend to a public official’s personal social media accounts, if that account is used to discuss public matters or for other public purposes. This is what happened in my WV State Senate case. The courts will look at the content, not just the title.
Here, given the fact that the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page is (or rather “was”) both in title and substance, and official account, there is no question that they could not delete comments and posters based on their viewpoints. At least not unless they contained speech that is not protected, such as threats or the narrow types of obscenities, which mind you, as far as police go, as I’ve discussed in prior videos, “F the police” has been found to be protected speech.
So yes, if a law enforcement agency does not want to have their feelings hurt, or is upset by comments they’re receiving, they can delete the page. But they cannot delete viewpoints.