Federal Lawsuit Filed in the Creepy Cops Caught on Video Case

The lawsuit was filed today on behalf of Dustin Elswick, against Putnam County, West Virginia, along with four police officers involved in the infamous “Special Enforcement Unit.” These are the cops who were caught on hidden camera searching the inside of Dustin’s home. Although they cut the wire on an outside surveillance camera, they were apparently unaware of the cameras inside the home.

This is a federal “Section 1983” lawsuit alleging the violation of federal constitutional rights; namely, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. A warrantless search of your home is automatically unconstitutional in the absence of one of two exceptions: consent, or exigent circumstances (emergency), neither of which apply here. Two prior federal lawsuits have already been filed against the SEU thus far for similar allegations in the Johnson case, as well as the Dillon case. The remedy is an award of money damages, along with reasonable attorney fees and expenses.

There was an internal investigation, as the news reported, but we never received information about the outcome. That sheriff has since been replaced.

Here’s the Complaint:

Here’s the original video:

Here’s the update video:

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…..

“Lackluster” Youtube Channel Gets a Fraudulent Copyright Strike for Dashcam Footage and Now We Sue

You may have seen the dashcam footage of the Arkansas State Police trooper flipping the pregnant woman’s car over a traffic stop. The main video which was making the viral rounds was on the Lackluster channel. Well, a TV news station issued a takedown notice to Youtube, alleging ownership of the footage. The problem is, however, that Lackluster obtained it directly from the Arkansas State Police. As a result, his video was pulled and kept down for about 4 days. This killed the virility of the video, deprived the channel of valuable revenue, and was totally unfounded. Here’s the info….

Petition for Rehearing En Banc Filed in the Walker Case

Here’s the Petition for Rehearing and Petition for Rehearing En Banc we filed yesterday in the Walker AR-15 open carry case, which will give effectively stay the case while the other judges on the Fourth Circuit have an opportunity to review our petition and consider whether to get involved.

If the Panel Opinion remains, Black is meaningless, because there will always be “more” available to any police officer. Even if an individual has violated no law, they will be subject to detainment based on any speculative crime which generally could be committed by any anonymous person. A man walking in the direction of any woman might be a rapist, given that he would appear to have the physical ability to carry out a rape. Any driver of a car heading in the direction of any other human being might be a potential murderer, because they appear to have the physical ability to run-over people, should they so choose. The analogies could go on and on because, like the Michael Walker case, these scenarios are all generalized, rather than based on individualized reasonable suspicion. 

Deputy Donahoe did, and claims to have done numerous other times, exactly that which Black forbade: to assume that being a felon in possession of a firearm was the default status; that, without more, he could detain and ID anyone he saw with a firearm. He admitted that he had no information that Walker may have been a prohibited person. (J.A. 162:5-8). Donahoe admitted under oath that had no indications that Mr. Walker was a threat to anyone, nor appeared to have any ill intentions (J.A. 167:1-4). Donahoe told Mr. Walker at the beginning of the stop, “At this point, I have the absolute right to see whether you’re legal to carry that gun or not.” (See J.A. 209 – Video of Incident). 

The District Court acknowledged 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 (J.A. 326). There was no “more.” Walker had committed no crime. He wasn’t observed committing a crime. Not a single person alleged that a crime was committed by Michael Walker. To allow a police officer’s subjective fear of AR-15s, or of theoretical copycat crimes, to be utilized as “more,” effectively swallows the rule. This opens the door to racial profiling, and so on. To allow the Panel Opinion to stand is to unravel Black, and important civil rights protections.

Police Officer Fired and Charged with Perjury after Deposition

Remember my video with Kentucky Lawyer Chris Wiest about his excessive force lawsuit involving the Kentucky State Police back in March? One of the police officers involved was fired and charged with perjury after he was caught lying in the deposition in Chris’ civil lawsuit.

A former Kentucky State trooper has been criminally charged with perjury after denying under oath that he beat a man with a flashlight in April 2020.

Thomas Czartorski was named in a lawsuit alleging troopers used excessive force against Alex Hornback of Shepherdsville while executing a bench warrant. The lawsuit also alleged that Hornback’s parents recorded the officers beating him, and that a trooper deleted the footage. But a home security video captured the incident. A lieutenant with the Kentucky State Police accused Czartorski in a complaint filed Thursday of lying during a January deposition when he said he didn’t use any force during the arrest. Czartorski turned himself in Friday afternoon at the courthouse on a felony charge of first-degree perjury, according to his attorney, Josh Schneider. The charge carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.

https://kycir.org/2021/07/09/this-former-ky-trooper-denied-using-force-under-oath-the-video-says-he-did/

Here’s a video I uploaded yesterday on it – Freedom is Scary Ep. 67:

Fourth Circuit Issues Anti-AR15 Diatribe in the Walker Case

Congratulations to West Virginia’s first Second Amendment “Sanctuary,” Putnam County, in obtaining a new anti-gun diatribe of a published opinion from the Fourth Circuit. This morning, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the Walker case. Basically, the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to the AR-15, and it matters not that the WV legislature allows its citizens to possess and use AR-15s, because the judiciary decides what peasants may possess – not the state legislature.

I knew it was going to be bad, since at the oral arguments one of the judges likened the AR-15 to the M-16. And he ended up authoring the opinion. You can listen to the oral arguments here, if you missed them.

Join me live at 7pm for a discussion on the ruling:

Fourth Circuit Holds Mass Aerial Surveillance is Unconstitutional

This past Thursday, on June 24, the Fourth Circuit quietly issued an en banc opinion in “Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department, which challenged the Baltimore Police Department’s Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) pilot program on Fourth Amendment grounds. In an opinion written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, the Court held that the AIR mass aerial surveillance program was an unconstitutional search and seizure (at least at the point the data was accessed).

The AIR program “tracks every movement” of every person outside of a structure in the City of Baltimore, retaining 45 days worth of data which is a “detailed, encyclopedic” record of where everyone came and went within the city during daylight hours. Law enforcement can “travel back in time” to observe a target’s movements, forwards and backwards. The Court likened the data to “attaching an ankle monitor to every person in the city,” and noted that, “whoever the suspect turns out to be, they have effectively been tailed for the prior six weeks.”

The Court held that “because the AIR program opens “an intimate window” into a person’s associations and activities, it violates the reasonable expectation of privacy individuals have in the whole of their movements.” Whereas traditional aerial or static camera surveillance have been upheld as reasonable by the courts, those cases “all involve some discrete operation surveilling individual targets.”

The AIR program records the movements of a city. With analysis, it can reveal where individuals come and go over an extended period. Because the AIR program enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals’ movements, we hold that accessing its data is a search, and its warrantless operation violates the Fourth Amendment.

Opinion at p. 28

The AIR program is like a 21st century general search, enabling the police to collect all movements, both innocent and suspected, without any burden to “articulate an adequate reason to search for specific items related to specific crimes.

Opinion at p. 32

Since this holding came from the Fourth Circuit sitting en banc, the only where to go from here is to the U.S. Supreme Court.

How to talk to police without a lawyer

Should someone talk to the police without a lawyer present?

  1. The criminal justice system overwhelmingly depends on people to unwittingly incriminate themselves for convictions, which they do.
  2. If a criminal suspect invokes the right to counsel, or the right to remain silent, they generally don’t incriminate themselves.
  3. A criminal suspect need only request a lawyer for all interrogation to stop. They DO NOT need to already have a lawyer – just to ask for one. Just a lawyer in general. These are magic words which stops an interrogation.

Custodial interrogation cannot take place with Miranda warnings and a waiver of the rights to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present before and during questioning.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

When are Miranda Warnings required to be read? Miranda warnings are required to be given when a suspect is in custody and being interrogated OR when a suspect believes that he is in custody and being interrogated. “Interrogation” includes not only express questioning but also its “functional equivalent,” namely, any conduct “that the police should know [is] reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.” When is someone in custody? That depends. Were they asked to exit a vehicle during a stop? Were guns drawn? Was force used? Were they placed in handcuffs? Were they told they weren’t free to leave?

A suspect can waive Miranda rights, but cannot waive the reading of Miranda warnings by law enforcement. Miranda warnings may need to be read again by police if too much time has elapsed in between the reading of the warnings and the subsequent interrogation.

When are Miranda Warnings NOT required to be given?

Officers can conduct general on-scene questioning as to facts surrounding a crime or other general fact finding without Miranda warnings. Officers can ask about the guilt of others/third parties without giving Miranda warnings. Miranda warnings don’t apply to voluntary statements made prior to interrogation. Miranda warnings don’t apply to statements of guilt made to persons other than law enforcement. Miranda warnings don’t apply if the person interrogated is not in custody.

Miranda warnings are generally not required at traffic stops. See Pennsylvania v. Bruder , 488 U.S. 9, 109 S. Ct. 205 (1988). In this case, the Supreme Court re-emphasized that ordinary traffic stops do not involve custody for the purposes of Miranda, and therefore, police do not need to inform those stopped for traffic violations of their Miranda rights unless taken into custody. Officers can generally ask any questions they want to suspects who are not in custody. See Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009). “An officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop . . . do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”

What about silence? Post-arrest silence by a defendant after Miranda warnings have been given is inadmissible against the defendant. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976). If a defendant gives a statement, however, his silence as to other matters may be admitted. Anderson v. Charles, 447 U.S. 404 (1980); see United States v. Mitchell, 558 F.2d 1332, 1334–35 (8th Cir. 1977). A defendant’s pre-arrest silence may be admitted, Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980) as well as silence after arrest but prior to warnings. Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603 (1982).

When can an officer not interrogate a suspect at all?

An officer may not interrogate if the suspect has requested a lawyer.

An officer may not interrogate if the suspect has in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning stated that he wishes to remain silent.

What sort of behavior by officers may render a confession invalid in court?

A confession MAY be invalid if obtained as the result of withholding food, drink or bathroom access. A confession may be invalid if obtained following threats, coercing or tricking a suspect into waiving Miranda Rights. A confession may be invalid if the interrogation is too long; or, If physical force is used; or, If promises to help a suspect if he or she confesses; or, If the officer misrepresents the body of evidence collected against the suspect

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:

SCOTUS Destroys the “Community Caretaking Doctrine” and Some Case Updates

Join me at 7pm Live – The SCOTUS issued an opinion today protecting the sanctity of the Fourth Amendment protections of the home, which also served as an anti-red-flag ruling, restricting the police from performing warrantless searches of homes to seize firearms.

This is just in time for recent updates on two of our search and seizure cases with the same or similar issues: the Putnam County drug task force search case and the WV Family Court Judge Search case.

Link to the Opinion.

PS: I’ve had to downsize the live videos for the season due to being so busy, to just Monday evenings at 7pm. Just way too much going on at the moment! Make sure to join me next Monday…..