Andru Kulas was arrested by the Fort Collins Police Department in the early morning hours of August 29, 2021. He was pretty drunk and was expressing some criticism of the officers as they wrote him a citation for trespassing at a rooftop bar. When he refused the actual piece of paper, one of the officers attempted to shove it into his shirt pocket, which escalated the situation into the man being pepper sprayed at close range, among other things. He just filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
In May of 2019, Florida man Dillon Shane Webb was pulled over by Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Travis English, who objected to the sticker on the back window of Webb’s truck, which said, in all capital letters, “I EAT A**.” Deputy English ordered Webb to remove one of the letters during the traffic stop. Webb refused citing his First Amendment rights. But he was arrested and booked in jail for “obscene writing on vehicle” and “resisting an officer without violence.” Did he have a First Amendment right to have that sticker? Was the arrest unconstitutional? What happened to the criminal charges? Was there a lawsuit? If so, was it successful? You might be surprised…
Section 847.011(2) makes it a misdemeanor offense to possess
“any sticker, decal emblem or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs, or depictions . . . .”
Florida law further defines “obscene” as material which
(a) The average person, applying contemporary standards, would find, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct as specifically defined herein; and (c) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Fla. Stat. § 847.001(10).
Under section 843.02, Florida Statutes,
“[w]hoever shall resist, obstruct, or oppose any officer . . . in the lawful execution of any legal duty, without offering or doing violence to the person of the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree . . . .”
This is a West Virginia case – bodycam of a traffic stop for lack of an inspection sticker and warrantless arrest. This involves the Martinsburg Police Department and Patrolman Daniel Smith. The guy in the video, D.J. Beard, wants to file a lawsuit. You tell me, what do you think? Does he have a case, in your opinion? Mr. Beard was almost immediately arrested for allegedly refusing to get out of his car. Is that what the footage shows?
This is the same police department that pulled over, and arrested, Corey Lambert, as featured in another video (different officer though).
Here are the criminal case filings, including the charging documents, police report narrative, as well as the dismissal orders:
Yesterday, we filed two federal civil rights lawsuits against the City of Mount Hope, West Virginia and their former police officer, Aaron Shrewsbury. This small town of only about 1,000 people set up a notorious speed trap on a nearby four-lane highway. In what was apparently a cost-cutting measure, the local police chief got a disgraced and de-certified police officer, who had been previously fired for dishonesty from another department, re-certified with the state. That officer was Aaron Shrewsbury, who was finally exposed when my client, Brian Beckett, got pulled over for speeding last year while on his way home from work.
Here is where Officer Shrewsbury was decertified in 2015 for dishonesty:
Police officer Heather Weyker, of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Police Department, was found by the federal courts to have fabricated false charges against several dozen Somali refugees, including Hamdi Mohamud, who spent 2 years in prison for it. Hamdi is now represented by the Institute for Justice, who represents her in an almost decade-long lawsuit against Weyker, which so far has been unsuccessful. Believe it or not, Weyker is still working a six figure job at the St. Paul Police Department, despite having been adjudicated as a liar. Her attorney, Patrick Jaicomo, of the Institute for Justice, joined me to explain this insane story.
Even though the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2016 that Officer Weyker had fabricated false charges against numerous individuals, the St. Paul Police Department used her in a recruiting video in 2017!
In April we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Marshall County, as well as Deputy Jason Johnson for a vicious K9 attack against our client, Kandi Wood, that took place during her arrest for a probation violation. They filed a motion to dismiss all claims and asserted qualified immunity. The Court just ruled, depriving the deputy of qualified immunity and ordering the lawsuit forward, including the Monell (pattern/practice/policy) claim against the county for their K9 policy.
My client, Wendell Marcum, was arrested in his own front yard by deputies with the Brooke County Sherriff’s Department, for cursing during his interaction with them about a dog complaint. Yesterday we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Wheeling Division of the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging multiple violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First Amendment. Can the police perform a warrantless arrest of a man standing in his own front yard, for cursing and asking them to leave his property?
The law is clearly established that an individual has a First Amendment right to express profanity during an interaction with law enforcement. SeeCohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1972); see also Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974) (The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a conviction under a Louisiana statute that had provided that “It shall be unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”).
The Supreme Court held in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) that, “absent exigent circumstances, an arrest in the home or curtilage area around the home must be accomplished by means of an arrest warrant….” In Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit held that police officers must have probable cause plus either a warrant, or exigent circumstances, to perform a search or seizure within the curtilage of a person’s home, and that if asked to leave, officers are required to leave and seek a warrant.
Supreme Court jurisprudence extends heightened Fourth Amendment protections beyond just the interior of the home itself, but also to the “curtilage,” which is the “land immediately surrounding and associated with the home,” because the curtilage is “considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984). The Fourth Circuit has made clear that a warrantless search of curtilage is presumed to be unreasonable. Covey v. Assessor of Ohio Cnty., 777 F.3d 186 (4th Cir. 2015).
WV law creates the possibility for a criminal charge (disorderly conduct) due to a subject’s expression of profanity where: (1) The person is in a “public place” and where he (2) Disturbs the peace of others by “violent, profane, indecent or boisterous conduct or language; and (3) is requested to desist by a law enforcement officer and doesn’t. The West Virginia Supreme Court held in 2015 that the word “others” in W. Va. Code Section 61-6-1b (“disorderly conduct”) does not include law enforcement officers, but rather than some other third party must be present and actually offended by the subject’s conduct, in order to commit the criminal offense of “disorderly conduct.” Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015).
Kentucky Civil Rights Lawyer Chris Wiest just filed a federal lawsuit in Ohio alleging multiple constitutional violations occurring during the arrest of Demetrius Kerns, which was caught on viral bodycam footage. You may have seen Chris on some of my prior videos. He joined me to talk about the footage and the lawsuit.
There’s a huge update to the case where my client, Darius Lester, was shot by a SWAT team, while trying to sleep in his home. As explained previously, he had no criminal record and had committed no crime. The West Virginia State Police was executing a search warrant for that residence that was entirely unrelated to Darius. They claimed that Darius confronted them and came at them with a hammer, for which they charged him with a felony. That charge has now been to court….
A civil jury in Wayne County, Michigan just awarded a $9.3 million dollar verdict against a Dearborn police officer after he performed an unconstitutional arrest of a kid on a bicycle. The false arrest and ensuing excessive force during the “rough arrest” was captured on officers’ bodycams.