Family Court Judge Searches Home


I just uploaded this yesterday afternoon and it’s already over 12k views on Youtube. Probably because most people can relate with having been before a Family Court judge before, whereas they may not be able to automatically relate to someone involved in the criminal justice process.

This is video footage from our client, Matt Gibson, a federal law enforcement officer who had his home searched by a Family Court judge over a year after his divorce was finalized.  This just happened on March 4, 2020. I’ve never seen anything like this before, so needless to say, I’m still researching the mountain of issues here.

 

This isn’t the first viral video showing a West Virginia Family Court judge on a rampage.  Remember Chip Watkins in good ‘ole Putnam County? Man that guy was something else.

 

The Family Court involved in our video is Raleigh County, West Virginia, Judge Louise Goldston. If you know of this happening in other cases, please let me know as I continue to look into this.

UPDATE 3/11/20: Voicemail received by my client from the opposing attorney the evening prior to the hearing, which he himself scheduled. In the recording he says that the Court asked him to call him to convey a settlement offer (which sounds like he’s admitting to an ex parte communication with the judge, meaning without the other party having the opportunity to participate, which is a big no-no) and he demands $5,000.00 to stop the “hearing” which would take place the next day:

UPDATE 3/13/20: TV news segment:

 

Federal Court Rules Against us in the Walker Case. Let the appeal begin….

So we just received the Court’s ruling in the Walker v. Putnam County open carry AR-15 case, pending in federal court in Huntington, West Virginia, and as suspected would happen, the Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, which dismisses lawsuit, subject to our right to appeal to the Fourth Circuit. We absolutely are going to appeal.

Perhaps the most important part of the ruling, in my mind, was this:

In determining whether reasonable suspicion existed, the Court is mindful of the Fourth Circuit’s instruction that “where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention.” Black, 707 F.3d at 540.

What qualifies as something “more” is a developing area of law as courts face the expansion of open carry, which can arouse suspicion in combination with other innocent facts. See U.S. v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277–78 (2002) (holding that factors “susceptible of innocent explanation” may “form a particularized and objective basis” for reasonable suspicion when considered together).

The parties here only dispute whether the uncontested facts of the encounter constitute the something “more” required for reasonable suspicion to stop Walker as he openly carried his semi- automatic rifle. After considering the issue, the Court concludes reasonable suspicion existed.

Here, in my opinion, this logic is sort of like saying, “You’re not allowed to stop people open carrying a firearm in an open-carry state in order to  investigate whether they are legally allowed to possess a firearm, but . . . I’m going to allow it because police officers should be allowed to do so under certain circumstances, for the following reasons . . . .” Whereas, US v. Black provided for no exception to its bright-line rule protecting people open-carrying firearms, now exceptions are being sought for AR-15 style rifles, as well as for the proximity to a school, or a school shooting.

Of course, “innocent facts” can, combined with “more,” equal reasonable suspicion to stop an individual open-carrying a firearm in an open-carry state. But what has been ignored here, is that the only suspected crime was either 1) Michael openly carrying an AR-15, which is not a crime in West Virginia; or 2) being a prohibited person from possessing a firearm, which falls squarely within the holding of U.S. v. Black: you cannot stop and ID an open-carrier in an open carry state (without reasonable suspicion of some other crime). In other words, the mere presence of the firearm cannot be the suspected crime.

The other flawed premise of this opinion is that, even though Deputy Donahoe clearly only suspected Michael Walker of being a prohibited person (which violates Black) as illustrated by the video, and even though Donahoe showed no indication of suspicion of Michael being a school shooter at the time of the encounter, that because the standard is a subjective one, we can ignore everything Donahoe actually said/did, and focus on far-flung theories cooked up by lawyers after-the-fact.

This is the supposed reasonable suspicion justifying the stop: 1) the type of weapon Michael possessed; 2) the encounter’s proximity to a school; and 3) the encounter’s proximity to the Parkland School Shooting.  None of these facts, other than the rifle being an AR-15 style rifle, are present in the underlying facts of the case. More troubling, even if they were present in the facts of this actual encounter, we still have the same constitutional dilemma: none of the allegations are illegal. AR-15 style rifles are perfectly legal. Michael’s location, i.e., proximity to the nearest school, was completely legal; and possessing a firearm in proximity to a school shooting 900 or so miles away is certainly not illegal. Moreover, none of these facts are individualized to the encounter.

The objective standard cannot be used to mean, can we think up some hypothetical justification for a stop, after-the-fact, in order to justify the stop?  No, we can’t. The objective facts must be analyzed using the actual facts present, which is evidenced by the subjective testimony of those involved. Just because Donahoe is wrong about everything, doesn’t mean that we can throw out his testimony, and the video, and use non-individualized general data, such as weapon types and school proximities to justify searches and seizures.

In any event, as I suspected, the language I quoted above is where we’re heading. When we take this up on appeal, will the Fourth Circuit castrate U.S. v. Black so that any police officer can stop, ID, background check, and Terry Search, anyone openly carrying firearms in open carry states? After all, any good prosecutor or civil defense lawyer could think up some legal theory, based on proximity to some sensitive location: school, courthouse, post office, government building, whatever.

Once you have “reasonable suspicion,” police can then perform a Terry Search, period. There’s no uncoupling Terry Searches from investigatory detentions. An officer can choose to just run an ID and not do a Terry Search. But he will be justified under the law in doing both, should he choose to do so. The old slippery slope of civil rights.  It never goes up – only down.

The opinion also included some of the false information on AR-15 style rifles, which I had been hoping to avoid:

Here, Walker’s possession of an AR-15-style rifle under these circumstances was unusual and alarming. Whereas possessing an AR-15 at a shooting range or on one’s own property would not raise an eyebrow, there was no obvious reason for the rifle’s possession here.

Unlike a holstered handgun, like that at issue in U.S. v. Black, AR-15s are not commonly carried for self-defense. 707 F.3d at 535. Nor are they traditionally used for hunting. Seeing Walker at 6:00 p.m. in February in an urban area would further diminish an inference that Walker possessed the rifle for hunting because the sun would soon set and hunting after dark is generally prohibited.

The rifle being uncased, ready to fire at a moment’s notice, and Walker’s camouflage pants also contributed to an unusual presentation of the firearm. See Embody, 695 F.3d at 581 (finding an openly carrying man’s military-style camouflage clothing contributed to reasonable suspicion); Deffert, 111 F. Supp. 3d at 809, 810 (holding the same).

The sight was unusual and startling enough to prompt a concerned citizen to dial 9-1-1 and for Donahoe, based on his practical experience, to investigate Walker’s destination. See Deffert, 111 F. Supp. 3d at 809 (holding an officer responding to a 9-1- 1 call about a man carrying a firearm, as opposed to randomly stopping the man, supports finding reasonable suspicion); Smiscik, 49 F. Supp. 3d at 499 (holding the same).

Together, these facts would form a particularized and objective basis for an investigatory stop.

I had attempted to rebut some of this, as it came up during oral arguments on the motion. But post-argument briefing was not allowed. There was no evidence about AR-15s in general involved in the underlying case, whatsoever, except the after-the-fact testimony by the deputy that he was allegedly afraid of scary black rifles, even though he said nothing about it at the time, according to the video.

AR-15 style rifles are today the most popular firearm in America, and are widely used by people hunting. Coyote hunting takes place at dusk and at night. The video clearly shows Michael’s rifle slung over his shoulder, with muzzle pointed down.  Even Deputy Donahoe admitted that Michael was safely carrying the rifle, with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and that he even had a backpack on top of the rifle. And then there’s the fact that the Second Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with hunting…. But unfortunately, the SCOTUS hasn’t recognized a Second Amendment right outside of one’s home, as of yet.

The ruling which came down today:

The video, in case you missed it:

 

The Walker Open Carry Case Turns Into a Fight Over the “AR-15”

UPDATE 2/5/20: Here’s our reply to the defense theory of Anti-AR-15:

Central to the Reply is newly discovered evidence. The defendant police officers argued to the Court that even though there’s no indication of it from the video, they actually weren’t checking to see if Michael Walker was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, but rather that he was a potential school shooter, because it was “morning,” and a school some undetermined distance down that road was “in session.”

Well, the video was originally broadcasted on Facebook Live. Somebody was able to go back and screenshot it, and as it turns out – oops – it was actually 6:00 p.m…. I guess that explains the crickets around the 2:50 mark on the video.

WalkerLiveShot2:21:18.JPG


So, here’s the response we received from Putnam County in response to our pretrial motion asking the Court to stop the Putnam County deputies from presenting anti-AR-15 propaganda and irrelevant media reports of mass shootings at the jury trial in the Michael Walker Open Carry case.

Here was my last update, wherein I posted our motion to exclude the unrelated matters from trial, if you haven’t been following along.

This response is an outrageous attack on the Second Amendment, which ironically was filed by lawyers for West Virginia’s first so-called “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county – Putnam County.  Yesterday we all appeared at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia, for the pretrial hearing on various motions, including this one.

It was almost surreal to hear the other side argue to the Court that by virtue of the fact that Michael was safely carrying a completely legal AR-15 style rifle, in a non-threatening manner, that police should be able to search and seize him just because the AR is the “preferred weapon of mass shooters,” and so on.  Citing news media reports about the Parkland shooting.  They actually argued in court, that it would not have been suspicious if he had a shotgun, or a handgun.  It was mentioned that AR-15s aren’t used for hunting in West Virginia.  Which is of course completely false, and besides the point.

This is a reality check for people who value the Second Amendment, as well as the Fourth Amendment.  If you live in the Fourth Circuit: West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, or South Carolina, unless there’s a SCOTUS opinion on point, your constitutional interpretation/law comes from the Fourth Circuit. We’re on the edge….

Right now U.S. v. Black (2013), written by a federal appellate judge who is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, Judge Gregory, whom I’ve had the honor of arguing in front of, protects citizens who open carry firearms in open carry states.  The police cannot harass you, detain you, search you, seize you, just by virtue of the fact you have a firearm. As we know from the past, that was the original purpose of gun control measures in many of the southern states, such as North Carolina (which is where US v. Black came out of).

Black was narrowed by US v. Robinson in 2017, which said that anyone in a vehicle lawfully stopped for whatever traffic violation, or pre textual reason whatsoever, can be disarmed and searched, because firearm possession automatically makes you dangerous.   Judge Gregory wrote an amazing dissent in that en banc opinion, which specifically mentions this scenario as it pertains to West-by-God-Virginia. However, that wasn’t extended to open carriers who are not already legitimately subjected to a forced encounter with police.  Well, they’re now trying to extend this to open carriers through anti-AR-15 propaganda.

If they succeed, guess what can happen next time thousands of open carriers bring their ARs to the state capitol in peaceful protest and free speech?  It’s game on if law enforcement wants to disarm you, run your background checks, search your pockets, etc. As Judge Gregory warned in the Robinson case dissent:

In my view, states have every right to address these pressing safety concerns with generally applicable and evenhanded laws imposing modest burdens on all citizens who choose to arm themselves in public. For instance, many states—though not West Virginia— seek to reconcile police safety and a right to public carry through “duty to inform” laws, requiring any individual carrying a weapon to so inform the police whenever he or she is stopped,4 or in response to police queries.5 And if a person fails to disclose a suspected weapon to the police as required by state law, then that failure itself may give rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, justifying a protective frisk.

West Virginia, however, has taken a different approach, permitting concealed carry without the need for disclosure or temporary disarmament during traffic stops. For the reasons described above, I do not believe we may deem inherently “dangerous” any West Virginia citizen stopped for a routine traffic violation, on the sole ground that he is thought to have availed himself fully of those state-law rights to gun possession. Nor, in my view, does the Fourth Amendment allow for a regime in which the safety risks of a policy like West Virginia’s are mitigated by selective and discretionary police spot-checks and frisks of certain legally armed citizens, by way of pretextual stops or otherwise. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) (invalidating discretionary spot-checks of drivers for licenses and registrations in furtherance of roadway safety). Absent some “specific, articulable suspicion of danger” in a particular case, see United States v. Sakyi, 160 F.3d 164, 168–69 (4th Cir. 1998), West Virginia’s citizens, including its police officers, must trust their state’s considered judgment that the benefits of its approach to public gun possession outweigh the risks. See Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1133.

. . .

That is particularly so given that West Virginia does not require that people carrying firearms inform the police of their guns during traffic or other stops, even if asked. See supra at 50. Where a state has decided that gun owners have a right to carry concealed weapons without so informing the police, gun owners should not be subjected to frisks because they stand on their rights. Cf. Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1132 (“impropriety” of officer’s demand to see permit for gun being brandished in public is “particularly acute” where state has not only legalized open carry of firearms but also “does not require gun owners to produce or even carry their licenses for inquiring officers”). Under a different legal regime, different inferences could be drawn from a failure to answer an officer’s question about a gun. See supra at 50–11. But I do not think we may presume dangerousness from a failure to waive—quickly enough—a state-conferred right to conceal a weapon during a police encounter.

Again, I recognize that expanded rights to openly carry or conceal guns in public will engender genuine safety concerns on the part of police officers, as well as other citizens, who more often will find themselves confronting individuals who may be armed.

But where a sovereign state has made the judgment that its citizens safely may arm themselves in public, I do not believe we may presume that public gun possession gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, no matter what the neighborhood. And because the rest of the circumstances surrounding this otherwise unremarkable traffic stop do not add appreciably to the reasonable suspicion calculus, I must conclude that the police were without authority to frisk Robinson under Terry’s “armed and dangerous” standard.

Accordingly, I dissent.

United States v. Robinson, 846 F.3d 694, 714, 716 (2017).

Don’t forget that Heller, i.e., the Second Amendment, has not yet been extended outside one’s home. It hasn’t been applied to open carry yet, or anywhere outside the home in the Fourth Circuit – nor by SCOTUS. See United States v. Masciandaro, 638 F.3d 458, 475 (4th Cir. 2011), other courts are divided on the question, compare Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 936 (7th Cir. 2012) (recognizing that the “right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense … implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”); Palmer v. Dist. of Columbia, 59 F.Supp.3d 173, 181–82 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that Second Amendment right recognized in Heller extends beyond home), with Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 940 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he Second Amendment does not protect the right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.” (emphasis added)); Young v. Hawaii, 911 F.Supp.2d 972, 990 (D. Haw. 2012) (“[L]imitations on carrying weapons in public do[ ] not implicate activity protected by the Second Amendment.”); Williams v. State, 417 Md. 479, 10 A.3d 1167, 1178 (Md. 2011) (holding that regulations on carrying firearms outside the home are “outside of the scope of the Second Amendment, as articulated in Heller and McDonald“).

So, are Montani Semper Liberi, or not? It remains to be seen. Right now, definitely not in Putnam County. And if they get their way, neither here, nor our neighbors in Virginia, and below…..

Update on the Walker Case (Fourth Amendment Open Carry Lawsuit)

In case you’re following along with the Walker v. Donahoe, et al. Fourth Amendment open carry civil rights lawsuit, we have a jury trial scheduled for February 19, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia. As of right now it’s still on.  Both sides have asked the court for summary judgment, which basically means that both sides claim to have the law completely on their side.  The court has not ruled as of yet. Pretrial documents have been submitted, including motions in limine, which are trial issues anticipated by the parties, which are best argued prior to the start of the trial.  If you haven’t seen the video of the incident in dispute, here it is:

The defendants are seeking to exclude portions of this video showing the “investigatory detention” of Michael Walker by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.  Not surprisingly, they want the part of the video where the police officer calls Michael a “co*ksucker,” repeatedly, among other things to be kept away from the jury.  Here’s their argument:

Also not surprisingly, we strongly disagree.  Here’s our response.  The judge will decide at some point, and generally has the broad discretion to control the flow of what the jury gets to see, and what they don’t:

We also filed a few motions in limine of our own, including our attempt at stopping the defendants from bringing up the Parkland school shooting, which they have announced is their attention, and which has absolutely nothing to do with the case.  They are also seeking to make the case that because Michael had an AR-15 style rifle, that a reasonable officer could suspect him of being a potential school shooter, or something to that effect.  Which is of course highly offensive, and antithetical to both the Fourth Amendment and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

In case you’re curious about the current status of laws pertaining to the open carrying of firearms in West Virginia, check out the last post I did on it.  It should still be the same. Of course, this case could change that if it doesn’t go our way…..

Update on the Drug Task Force Civil Rights Lawsuit out from Fayette County, W. Va.

Here’s an update on the Fourth Amendment civil rights lawsuit we filed in the Sizemore case, which involved a federal criminal prosecution which was dismissed following a federal judge making a finding that officers in the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force made false statements to a magistrate in order to illegally procure a search warrant. We filed suit to establish civil liability for a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which specifically requires probable cause and a search warrant.

Well, we made it past the defendants’ motions to dismiss, and now we are proceeding to the discovery stage, which is essentially the exchange of information and the questioning of witnesses via depositions. The federal court denied the motions, and has ruled that we get to proceed.

You can look back at my last update to read their argument, as well as our response.  As I predicted then, it didn’t turn out as they expected.

From the order:

First, I must note this Court is at a loss to understand Defendants’ assertion that because this case involves “a search warrant, rather than an arrest warrant,” it therefore “does not require a showing of probable cause.” Defs.’ Mem. Mot. Dismiss [ECF Nos. 6, 9]. More confusing, Defendants cite favorably to Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), a case which describes the standard for probable cause in a search warrant. Though puzzling that this is necessary to explain to a member of the bar, “the Fourth Amendment requires that no search warrant shall issue without probable cause.” United States v. Daughtery, 215 F. App’x 314, 316 (4th Cir. 2007).

Indeed, the text of the Fourth Amendment, which has been in place since the adoption of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, states that individuals have the right to be protected “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV (emphasis added). And a search and seizure without probable cause is unreasonable. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627. This is especially true for searches of the home, which “is first among equals” regarding the Fourth Amendment. Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 434, 464–65 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013)).

Yep. It says “probable cause” in the Constitution. Hard to get around that…..

 

As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157.

As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).

Update on the Sizemore “search and seizure” civil rights case

Here’s an interesting, and academic (for Constitution nerds), update on the Sizemore federal civil rights lawsuit, which had been in the news recently.

This is the one where the drug “task force” had found heroin in the client’s home, but the case was dismissed after a federal judge found that the officers had made numerous false statements to the magistrate in order to get the search warrant.  This is also actually the case I last posted about, since I haven’t been posting much on here lately.

Should the fact that officers were found to have made false statements under oath to get a fraudulent warrant, have been allowed to go away quietly since drugs were actually found, or should something have been done about it?  The news media wasn’t happy about it, necessarily, but I elected to do something – heroin or no heroin.  And here’s why:

Either “equal justice under the law,” etched into the walls of the Supreme Court, is just decoration, or it actually is enforced and put into practice.

Here is the response brief we just filed to some of the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  I really enjoyed writing this one, because it was as if I were back in my old baseball days, and being a kid who was bigger than most, the pitcher gave me an underhand slow pitch, just begging me to hit it out of the park.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think so.  I really look forward to reading the outcome of this one.  I don’t think it’s going to turn out like they had hoped . . . .

 

Here is the motion to dismiss the defendants filed:

 

Here is the original Complaint itself:

 

New Civil Rights Case Filed out of Fayette County: Sizemore vs. Members of the WV Drug Task Force

Here is the copy of a civil rights lawsuit we filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia late last week.  It has now been assigned to Judge Goodwin in Charleston, WV. The case comes out of Fayette County, West Virginia, and involves a criminal investigation and prosecution gone awry.

Sizemore Complaint

My client, Keith Sizemore, had his home searched, via a SWAT team style raid, while he and his 16 year old son were home.  In the subsequent federal prosecution, the federal judge presiding over the case ended up suppressing evidence obtained during the search, and issuing an order finding that members of the Drug Task Force had lied to the Magistrate Court of Fayette County in order to obtain the search warrant for Mr. Sizemore’s residence.  It’s really an astonishing order:

Sizemore Suppression Order

The order shines the light on what has become a common scenario: a drug raid with some sort of seizure of illegal drugs, and then there is a civil forfeiture proceeding in WV State Court, in which the owner of the items has all the items confiscated under color of law.  In this case, our lawsuit alleges that the state civil forfeiture machine had already seized and became the new owner of Mr. Sizemore’s home and 2017 pickup truck, before the criminal indictment was even served on him.  However, interestingly, the criminal prosecution exploded with the suppression order finding that the task force members lied to obtain the warrant.

I wonder what will happen?  We shall see…..