Huge news this week. Apparently the West Virginia legislature has initiated impeachment proceedings against the family court judge we sued in federal court. More than that, the basis for the impeachment is actually the judge’s responses to my questions to her during her deposition in the civil lawsuit.
A West Virginia Family Court Judge is the subject of an impeachment resolution to be introduced by the WV House of Delegates on Monday following the commission of a warrantless search which violated, among other things, Constitutional rights of West Virginia citizens….
A March 1, 2021, deposition saw Goldston declare, under oath, “I don’t believe I violated the canons of ethics.”
When asked specifically whether she regretted physically entering Gibson’s home, Goldston responded, “Do I think I did anything wrong? No.”
My last video showed the deputy I called “Officer Friendly Eyes” threatening a young guy who had been jumped by a bunch of local guys in a bar. His name is actually Tony Link. I knew that name sounded familiar to me. It was probably because he’s already been featured in one of my videos. Though he really only made a cameo appearance of sorts. Did you see the video where my client was shot through the closed front door of his home?
Also, here’s some new footage I was provided showing him at a traffic stop. He pulls a guy over for an expired inspection sticker. It does appear to be expired. But the registration has been renewed apparently – just no sticker yet. Once he discovers this, Link does not send the driver on his way. The reasonable suspicion for the stop has been cleared up. There’s no additional reasonable suspicion, so Friendly Eyes does what cops like to do and just makes it up.
Most people understand and accept that citizens have a constitutional right to record video of interactions with police officers, at this point – in general. Law enforcement has fought that every step of the way, of course. But is there a right to “livestream” encounters with police officers? More specifically, does a passenger of a vehicle detained at a traffic stop have a constitutional right to livestream the encounter from his cell phone?
Dijon Sharpe was a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation in Winterville, North Carolina on October 9, 2018. WPD officers Myers Helms and William Ellis performed the stop. Sharpe began live streaming the encounter with Facebook live. Helms told Sharpe that he could record the traffic stop from inside the car during the encounter but not livestream the traffic stop from inside the car during the traffic stop.
At the beginning of the stop, while the driver and Mr. Sharpe waited for the officers to approach the vehicle, the driver called a third party on his cell phone in order to have a witness to what was happening. Meanwhile, Sharpe began live-streaming what was happening on his Facebook account. The livestream shows that, during the stop, the driver continued his conversation with the third party on his cell phone during the entire course of the stop, including while speaking with the officers. The footage shows the interaction between Mr. Sharpe – the passenger – and Officer Helms. The video shows Officer Helms asking for Mr. Sharpe’s identification and then returning to the police vehicle. During this time, the driver continued his conversation with the third party over the cell phone, explaining that police had begun following the vehicle for some time before initiating the traffic stop. He expressed concern that he had been racially profiled.
As the driver was talking to the third party on his phone, Sharpe talks into his phone, reassuring viewers on Facebook live that he was fine, advocating for his practice of recording interactions with law enforcement. According to the lawsuit he would subsequently file, Sharpe began recording because he had been the victim of a brutal beating at the hands of police officers in the nearby town of Greenville ten months earlier, during a traffic stop. That experience prompted him to ensure any future interactions he had with law enforcement would be recorded for his own protection.
After emerging from the police vehicle, Officer Helms is seen on the video approaching the car window. He says, “What have we got? Facebook Live, cous?” As soon as Mr. Sharpe responds affirmatively, Officer Helms abruptly thrusts his arm through the passenger window and attempts to seize Mr. Sharpe’s cell phone, while pulling on Sharpe’s seatbelt and shirt. During this altercation, Officer Helms tells Sharpe: “We ain’t gonna do Facebook Live, because that’s an officer safety issue.”
Shortly afterwards, following the issuance of citations to the driver, Officer Ellis states: “Facebook Live . . . we’re not gonna have that, okay, because that lets everybody y’all follow on Facebook that we’re out here…” He says that recording is fine, but if you’re live, your phone is gonna be taken. Otherwise you’re going to jail. Sharpe then asked Ellis if that was a law. Ellis responded that it was a violation of the RDO statute, which is basically North Carolina’s obstruction statute. In the end, the phone was not seized. There was no citation or arrest pertaining to the livestreaming. However, the threat was made that next time, the phone would be seized and an arrest would be made if the phone was not forfeited.
In Mr. Sharpe’s video, look how the officer is standing there watching Sharp and the driver and treating them like they’re up to no good. Yet the reason for the stop was supposedly a basic traffic violation. The officer asks for Sharp’s ID because “he likes to know” who he’s out with. Is it any wonder that police officers get the reputation they have?
Based on the incident, as well as the threat to stop livestreaming in the future, under penalty of arrest, Sharpe sued the officers and the Town of Winterville under Section 1983 for violation of the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the claims against the individual officers on qualified immunity grounds, holding that it was not clearly established in October of 2018 that a passenger in a stopped vehicle had a constitutional right to record and live broadcast the interaction. Additionally, the Court held that live-streaming by a vehicle passenger poses a “unique” threat to officer safety that mere recording does not and is therefore not clearly protected under the First Amendment.
Eleven months later, the district court dismissed the claim against the Town of Winterville on the grounds that Mr. Sharpe had no constitutional right to live broadcast at all, and that even if he did, the town’s policy of arresting traffic stop passengers for live-streaming passes constitutional review under intermediate scrutiny. The district court held that “[r]ecording a traffic stop for publication after the traffic stop versus livestreaming an ongoing traffic stop from inside the stopped car during the traffic stop are significantly different.”
“[L]ivestreaming the interaction from inside the stopped car during the traffic stop … allows … those watching, to know the location of the interaction, to comment on and discuss in real-time the interaction, and to provide the perspective from inside the stopped car,” JA81. “The perspective from inside the stopped car, for example, would allow a viewer to see weapons from inside the stopped car that an officer might not be able to see and thereby embolden a coordinated attack on the police.” Thus the Court concluded that Mr. Sharpe had no First Amendment right to live-stream.
Mr. Sharpe appealed to the Fourth Circuit. It drew significant attention from civil liberties and press advocates. Seven amicus briefs were filed in support of his claims. Here’s Sharpe’s opening brief:
Oral arguments were held last month, which involved a heated discussion between one of the federal judges on the panel and the lawyer representing Mr. Sharpe. During the oral arguments, the federal judge seemed highly concerned about the rights of police officers, as opposed to the rights of an innocent citizen being detained as a passenger in a traffic stop. Listen for yourself.
The Fourth Amendment grants no rights to officers. “The right of the PEOPLE to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …” Its purpose is to guarantee individual rights against the power of the government.
This flies in the face of actual Fourth Amendment law. They are using amorphous and general concerns over “officer safety” that are not particular to the individual they are seeking to restrict. In other words, the officers here, and those advocating for them to do so, want the officers to have the power to stop livestreaming, based only on obscure general concerns over officer safety. Theoretically, if some bad guy was watching the livestream he could find the location while the stop is in progress and theoretically harm the officers or cause some other safety issue.
They’re not saying that this particular individual should not livestream under these circumstances, because that person is a particular safety threat and those facts can be demonstrated in court or to a judge. They’re using blanket reasons. Again, that flies in the face of existing Fourth Amendment law, which requires particularity to the individual for things like frisks and searches. Blanket reasons never go well with constitutional law. Usually we’re told that law enforcement actions were justified based on the “totality of the circumstances.” Well now, because they hate video footage, we no longer look at the totality of the circumstances, but rather, at the vague concept that police officers are afraid of absolutely everything and everyone.
The fact is, freedom is scary. They need to deal with it, or get another job. We cannot and must not appease that fear.
In April of 2020, a 72 year old combat veteran, himself a retired law enforcement officer, was arrested in his barbershop, for refusing to close his business during the lockdown ordered by our Governor. The criminal case is long over. The civil lawsuit that I filed is also over at this point. But the footage is a good reminder about your government.
Government employees will follow orders. Law enforcement will follow orders, constitutional or not. It doesn’t matter whether they have an American flag tattoo and/or sticker on their truck. It doesn’t matter whether they spout off on the inter-webs about patriotism and the Constitution. They’ll follow orders. And never count on the judiciary to hold them accountable.
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. He beat the criminal charge. Here’s an excerpt of the dismissal order:
In the subsequent civil lawsuit, 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. Here’s the original complaint:
The point is, here is concrete proof that it matters not whether your local police officer is a nice guy, or patriotic, or whatever. They will follow orders. They are agents of the government. If they don’t do it, they will be replaced with someone who will. But they will do it, I assure you – even if they personally disagree with it. It would be a tragedy to lose the pension and dental plan, of course. Don’t get confused about the difference between an individual’s personality and personal beliefs and their status as an agent of the government. There are countless examples of this, going back to the beginning of our republic. Don’t get caught ignorant.
How long can a traffic stop last? Can officers “prolong” a stop and order a drug dog? Also, can police officers baptize you in lieu of a ticket? April 17, 2019, William Klaver was driving south towards Chattanooga, Tennessee. Police Officer Daniel Wilkey, a Hamilton County deputy sheriff, stopped Klaver for a tinted-window violation. The driver didn’t know it at the time, but he was facing a police officer described by the New York Times seven months later as having been charged “with rape, extortion, stalking and assault,” as well as “false imprisonment, child molestation and forced baptism.” Yes, that’s right. “Forced baptism.” And there’s video, believe it or not.
After stopping the driver and approaching his window, Wilkey told Klaver that he stopped him because his windows were “way too dark” and requested his driver’s license. It was 8:10 p.m. As Klaver searched for his license, Wilkey inquired about where Klaver was headed. When Klaver didn’t respond, Wilkey asked, “Not going to talk to me?” At about this time, Police Officer Tyler McRae, another Hamilton County deputy, pulled up and approached the vehicle’s passenger side window. After several seconds, Wilkey asked Klaver, “You okay?” and again requested his license. Klaver then asked, “Am I being detained?” Wilkey responded “yes” because of the “window-tint violation,” after which Klaver handed over his license.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354-56 (2015). Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop.
The Supreme Court has provided a list of acceptable tasks that are connected generally to safety and driver responsibility:
Officers will usually question a driver about the traffic infraction; they will run the driver’s license plate; they will request and review the vehicle’s registration and insurance; they will check for outstanding warrants; and lastly they will write a ticket. Officers also commonly question drivers about their travel plans. So long as they do so during the time that they undertake the traffic-related tasks for the infraction that justifies the stop (Arizona v. Johnson), officers may also ask questions about whether the driver has drugs or weapons in the car, or even walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car (Illinois v. Caballes). These unrelated tasks turn a reasonable stop into an unreasonable seizure if it “prolongs” the stop. Officers may not avoid this rule by “slow walking” the traffic-related aspects of the stop to get more time to investigate other potential crimes.
Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes. See Hernandez v. Boles (6th Cir. 2020).
The reasonable suspicion basis for the traffic stop detainment was an allegation of dark tint. Later, the officers would argue the existence of other criminal suspicion, including suspicion of Klaver being a “sovereign citizen” and Klaver visibly shaking. This, they would argue, justified the officers suspecting Klaver of being in possession of drugs. As Wilkey and McRae headed back to Wilkey’s cruiser, Wilkey said the words “sovereign citizen” to McRae. The officers then talked. Wilkey observed that Klaver’s van had an “obstruction” which was a Marine Corps sticker, over his license plate. He also claims to have noticed that Klaver was “shaking like a leaf.” He told McRae they should “make sure he ain’t got no pot or anything.” Wilkey suggested that they call for a drug-sniffing dog. McRae agreed because Klaver would “say no to a search.” A criminal background check revealed no relevant criminal history.
About 5 minutes into the stop, the officers returned to Klaver’s van and requested his registration and insurance card. Wilkey continued to question Klaver. He asked him whether he had ever been arrested; whether he was on any “kind of medication” or had “any kind of disability,” because “you’re shaking.” He asked if he had “Parkinson’s or anything like that?” Klaver responded he didn’t think that Wilkey was entitled to ask him these questions. Wilkey responded that Klaver’s shaking suggested he was “hiding something” or had “drugs.” He asked, “you don’t have any of that, do you?” Klaver responded, “You know I don’t.” A minute later, Wilkey again asked Klaver if he had anything illegal in the car like “weapons or anything like that.” Klaver said no.
Did the deputies have reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop?
To have reasonable suspicion here, the deputies needed a “particularized” belief (that is, one tied to Klaver) and an “objective” belief (that is, one tied to articulable facts rather than amorphous hunches) that Klaver possessed drugs. The court looks to the totality of the circumstances.
The 6th Circuit rejected the officers’ claims that Klaver might be a “sovereign citizen” solely because he asked if they were detaining him. They noted that the video showed that Klaver was reasonably polite, not loudly confrontational. “Unless everyone who is reluctant to speak with the police might be a ‘sovereign citizen,’ the deputies’ claim appears to have rested more on a ‘subjective hunch’ than objective facts.” The Court noted that the officers failed to identify a single judicial decision or evidentiary citation suggesting that a person’s “sovereign citizen” status correlates with the likelihood of possessing drugs. Therefore the assumption was irrelevant.
The 6th Circuit also rejected the officers’ claims that Mr. Klaver shaking justified a suspicion of possessing drugs. “Many law-abiding people show their nerves in the same way when confronted by the police . . . [s]o we have always given nervous shaking little weight,” as it “amounts to a weak indicator of crime.” The Court also rejected the officers’ claims that Mr. Klaver’s reluctance to cooperate or respond to questions, including about why he was shaking, justified a suspicion of possessing drugs. A suspect generally does not have a duty to cooperate, and so the lack of cooperation does not alone provide reasonable suspicion to believe that the suspect is committing a crime.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991).
Wilkey then asked permission to search the van. Klaver responded, “I refuse permission for you to search my vehicle” and said “there’s nothing in here.” Wilkey continued to ask many of the same questions he had already asked, about the reason for Klaver shaking.
At 8:18 p.m., now 8 minutes into the stop, the deputies returned to the police cruiser and requested a canine officer. Dispatch informed them two minutes later than one was in route to the scene. Wilkey then filled out paperwork for the traffic ticket over the next several minutes. At 8:24 p.m., McRae approached Klaver. A few minutes before, Klaver began recording video from inside his van. He filmed himself peeling the tint from the inside of his driver’s side door window. McRae attempted to ask him about his military service. Klaver responded that he didn’t mean to be “disrespectful,” but that he would not “answer any more questions.” He stated that he wanted to be “on my way” if they were not arresting him. McRae stated that Wilkey was writing a ticket. Klaver said they needed a reason to detain him. McRae described the window tint and license plate violations, and then returned to Wilkey’s cruiser.
Deputy Wilkey continued filling out the ticket until the canine officer arrived at 8:32 p.m. The stop had now persisted 22 minutes. Wilkey told the canine officer that Klaver was likely a “sovereign citizen” who was “being combative” and “trying to conceal himself.” He said that the canine officer should let him finish with the ticket before deploying the dog in case Klaver “does something stupid.” Wilkey then returned to the van and ordered Klaver to exit the van for the dog sniff. He patted Klaver down and discussed the citation with him as the dog circled the van. Klaver now told Wilkey that the tint was now off his driver’s side window.
At 8:40 p.m. Deputy McRae told Wilkey (and an incredulous Klaver) that the dog had alerted to drugs in the van. McRae and Wilkey then searched the van for five minutes. They found nothing. Wilkey again asked Klaver whether he had drugs. Klaver again answered that he did not. As Klaver signed the citation, he said to Wilkey: “In case you were wondering, I have muscular dystrophy.” Wilkey replied: “That’s all you had to say, sir.” Klaver then drove off at 8:50 p.m.
Mr. Klaver filed a pro se lawsuit against Wilkey and McRae (among others). The defendant officers moved for summary judgment. The Court denied the motions on the ground that the officers unreasonably prolonged the stop without reasonable suspicion that Klaver possessed illegal drugs. The defendant officers filed an immediate appeal on qualified immunity grounds. The 6th Circuit issued an opinion on November 3, 2022.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354-56 (2015).
1. Did Wilkey and McRae prolong the stop beyond the time necessary to resolve the window-tint violation?
2. If so, did they have reasonable suspicion to believe that Klaver was engaging in other crimes?
The 6th Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that both Wilkey and McRae unreasonably prolonged the stop.
The 6th Circuit upheld the denial of qualified immunity to the officers, noting that, “[w]e have a mountain of caselaw indicating that heightened nerves represent weak evidence of wrongdoing and cannot be the primary justification for a stop.
Stay tuned for Part 2, on the aftermath of Daniel Wilkey…
Imagine you’re sitting in family court and the judge looks at you and says, what’s your address? I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, and I’m going to search your house with your ex-wife and my bailiff – a police officer who will arrest you if you don’t let me in. March 4, 2020, that’s what happened to my client. Here’s an update on the current status.
We won on the issue of judicial immunity. Just before the jury trial was set to begin, the defendant judge appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit. Since this matter involves judicial immunity, it’s capable of being appealed prior to trial. Usually a defendant is required to wait until afterwards.
They just filed their brief a couple of days ago. Next it’s our turn to file a response brief, which is due mid-November.
Here’s the federal court opinion denying judicial immunity:
October 9, 2020, Sterling Police Officer Paul McDaniel pulled Christian Weitzel from his apartment and threw him to the ground. With the assistance of Sterling Police Officer Matt Williams and Logan County Sheriff’s Deputy Alton McGuffin, the three officers hogtied Mr. Weitzel with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, his ankles strapped together, and his ankles and wrists tied together behind his back. They drug him to a police cruiser, threw him into the rear seat, and left him in that position until he was finally released at the jail.
There was a verbal argument between Mr. Weitzel and his wife, Brittany Weitzel. Mr. Weitzel was not arrested or charged with any criminal offenses related to a domestic dispute. The officers were called to the scene following a call from a neighbor of a possible domestic dispute due to hearing loud voices. After the officers arrived at the apartment, they could not hear anyone yelling inside the apartment. They did not observer any altercation taking place, or any crimes being committed.
Officer McDaniel asked Brittany what was going on and she stated, “just an argument.” She did not appear to have any injuries. She did not request assistance from the officers. She had not called them to the scene. Mr. Weitzel then walked up to the doorway from inside the apartment. He did not step outside the threshold of the apartment door. He asked Officer McDaniel, “what’s up man,” in a calm nonthreatening, and nonaggressive manner.
Officer McDaniel asked Mr. Weitzel to “come here and talk to me man.” Mr. Weitzel, in a calm, nonthreatening and nonaggressive manner, stated, “I’m cool,” indicating that he wanted to stay inside the doorway of his apartment. He made no sudden moves. He did not threaten the officers in any way. Mr. Weitzel did not appear to be armed. Nor did the officers have any information or indication that Mr. Weitzel was armed. Mr. Weitzel was ultimately hogtied for approximately 16 minutes. Mr. Weitzel was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing. All the charges were subsequently dismissed by Logan County Court Judge Ray Ann Brammer.
A lawsuit was filed just a few days ago in state court in Colorado over these allegations. I’ll post it up to the blog, link in the description. As for the facts, based on the body cam footage and the facts presented in media reports and the civil lawsuit, constitutional rights were violated. Why?Although the officers were called to the scene of a reported domestic dispute, they ended up acting on a very small amount of information that, even if true, does not justify an arrest of the homeowner, much less a use of force.
A neighbor called 911, reporting a suspected verbal argument. There was apparently no allegation of a crime being committed, or that anyone’s physical safety was in jeopardy. When officers arrived at the scene, they saw no crime being committed. They located and observed both spouses at the residence. Neither appeared to be in distress, or requested their assistance. Without Mrs. Weitzel requesting their assistance, under these circumstances, the officers had no justification for pulling Mr. Weitzel out of his house. That’s a Fourth Amendment violation right there. But even assuming they acted properly up to that point, then we have the arrestee being hogtied on the ground.
Colorado is the 10th federal circuit. A quick search of the case law shows that police officers hogtying anyone is a terrible idea under almost any fact pattern. It could theoretically be reasonable under some circumstances, but I really don’t know what that would be. It certainly would not be reasonable under this fact pattern, where the arrestee had not committed any crime at all, much less a severe one. Watching the body cam footage shows that the arrestee is not attempting to harm the officers. He poses no threat to them.
Rather, it appears that the officers hogtied the man in retaliation for not immediately respecting their authority by stepping out of his house when they asked him to do so – despite having no legal justification for the demand. This appears to be one of those common situations where police are going to teach a lesson about respecting the police. It’s clearly not about the safety of anyone on the scene, including the arrestee.
In Cruz, Wyoming police officers responded to a complaint of a naked man running on the exterior landing of an apartment building. When the officers arrived, Mr. Cruz, the man on the landing, was jumping up and down and kicking his legs in the air. When he descended from the landing, the officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. They hogtied him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cruz’s face blanched. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Expert reports indicated that Mr. Cruz’s death resulted from positional asphyxiation. Citing Cruz, the 2008 Weigel opinion denied those officers qualified immunity for similar conduct, issuing a clear warning to law enforcement to think twice about hogtying arrestees. As a result of this, the Wyoming State Police, as I understand it, prohibited the practice. Back in the 90’s, the DOJ also warned against the cruel practice.
There are a lot of other hogtying cases out there. But I gave you the 10th Circuit law, as that is applicable for this particular jurisdiction.
On February 21, 2018, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Deputy B.E. Donahoe responded to a complaint relayed from the emergency dispatch center that someone had reported that there was an individual walking down the side of a public road while in possession of a firearm. The individual was the plaintiff, Michael Walker, who being a victim of epileptic seizures, does not have a driver’s license. He was headed coyote hunting, and had a rifle strapped over his back, along with a backpack. Deputy Donahoe brutally insulted Mr. Walker, who was being polite, but insisting that he had committed no crime, and therefore should not be stopped and forced to hand over his ID. Donahoe repeatedly called him a “c_cksucker” while forcibly detaining him and running a criminal background check on him and questioning him as to why he would need an AR-15. The incident was fully captured on video by Mr. Walker.
At the time Deputy Donahoe responded to the scene, he possessed no prior knowledge of Mr. Walker. All he knew about Mr. Walker is what he observed when he arrived at the scene, which was observing him walking down the side of the road. He didn’t recall who had called 911, or specifically what the complainant had stated, other than that there was a guy walking down the side of the road with a firearm. Upon arriving at the scene, he observed Mr. Walker walking down the side of the road with a rifle “strapped across his back,” with the muzzle of the gun pointed towards the sky.
Upon arriving at the scene, Mr. Donahoe did not observe Walker committing any criminal activity. Nor was he informed by any other source that any crime had been committed by any individual. Walker was just walking. Donahoe had no indication that Mr. Walker was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. Donahoe testified that he did not observe Mr. Walker doing anything unsafe with the rifle strapped on his back; nor did he observe the rifle in Mr. Walker’s hands; nor did he observe Mr. Walker acting threatening in any way. His only reason for stopping Mr. Walker was to find out if he was a prohibited person.
As portrayed by video footage taken by Mr. Walker with his phone, the interaction was not consensual. Donahoe gave Mr. Walker “no choice” in the matter. He told him during the stop that he was not free to leave until he was done with his investigation. Donahoe explained that the only investigation he was undertaking at the time, to which Mr. Walker was forced to submit, was to run Mr. Walker’s criminal history report, in order to determine whether he “was a person that could possess a firearm.” Admittedly, he had no information indicating that Mr. Walker may have been a prohibited person.
The case is over. We lost. Compare the video footage of the encounter with the legal aftermath, from the trial court level, through appeal to the Fourth Circuit, oral arguments, and ending with a deeply flawed published Fourth Circuit opinion. This case demonstrates what I refer to as a Bermuda Triangle of civil rights law….
Here we are following the hearing at the U.S. District Court in Huntington, West Virginia.
The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment for the officer, dismissing the lawsuit filed by Michael Walker. The order essentially created a carve-out for AR-15 style rifles from the usual reasonable suspicion analysis:
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.
By now we’ve all seen the footage of the train in Colorado hitting the police car stopped on the tracks, severely injuring a woman in police custody who was placed handcuffed in the rear of the police cruiser. My immediate thought was qualified immunity. There can be no doubt that the police officer was directly at fault in causing the severe injuries to the woman in his custody. No doubt about it. But unlike a doctor who negligently injures someone, a police officer get to assert qualified immunity.
Here’s the 8 minute clip showing the train hit the cruiser:
Qualified immunity is unfair and needs to be abolished. A lawyer representing this woman, if a lawsuit is filed, is going to have the legal requirement to point to some past clearly established case law describing the officer’s conduct as a civil rights violation. Well, how many cases have there been in any particular jurisdiction where police officers let people in their custody get hit by trains? Moreover, as I’ve explained before, to establish section 1983 liability, you have to allege intentional conduct – not negligence or incompetence. Some intentional or purposeful conduct. For this reason, when one police officer accidentally shoots their partner, there’s generally no liability. I did a video on that one already.
I took a quick look at the case law in the jurisdiction where this train incident happened, which is Colorado, which is in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. So that’s where you want to look first for federal civil rights case law. I have a theory of liability here. First, take a look at some of the new footage released, from another angle.
There’s a legal doctrine under section 1983 called the state-created danger theory. Basically, it allows a pathway for a plaintiff to establish section 1983 liability for a civil rights violation where the government may not have directly or intentionally caused the injury to the plaintiff, but created the possibility or likelihood that it would occur. This theory has been adopted in the 10th Circuit. Here’s what a plaintiff would have to prove:
the charged state … actor[ ] created the danger or increased plaintiff’s vulnerability to the danger in some way;
plaintiff was a member of a limited and specifically definable group;
defendant[‘s] conduct put plaintiff at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm;
the risk was obvious or known;
defendants acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk; and
such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.
But to defeat qualified immunity, you still have to point to a prior case with a similar fact pattern. Again, a non-exhaustive review of 10th Circuit case law shows that the state-created danger doctrine has been applied:
Off-duty police officer on personal business who crashed his police vehicle;
On-duty police officer who engaged in a high-speed chase;
Firefighter who crashed his truck into a car;
Police officer who caused the death of a bystander by instructing him to help physically subdue a suspect, who then shot the civilian;
Social worker who removed a child from his mother’s home and placed him with his father, who killed him;
School official who suspended and sent home a special education student who subsequently killed himself;
State mental health administrators who eliminated a special unit for the criminally insane, causing the transfer of a murderer to the general hospital, where he killed his therapist.
The common theme for liability in the 10th Circuit under the state-created danger theory is that the victims were unable to care for themselves or had limitations imposed on their freedom by state actors. This is very much like the deliberate indifference standard imposed on correctional officers entrusted with the care of inmates. The arrestee is unable to act herself. She can’t get out of the way of the train. Likewise, if a prison catches fire, inmates locked in their cells can’t get out on their own.
I can think of a few other arguments and theories for liability. But this is an often-overlooked one, and popped into my head first. It seems to match our facts here. Watching the footage establishes, without much potential for dispute, that the arresting officer created the danger; that he rendered the victim incapable of helping herself; that he put her into harm’s way, and that the risk was obvious. You can see the fact that he had parked on the train tracks. No doubt the evidence would show that he was aware of the fact that these tracks were frequented by trains. You can actually hear the train coming in the body cam footage.
If this woman is left with no justice due to qualified immunity, hopefully people will start paying attention. Qualified immunity serves no legitimate purpose. It’s the very definition of judicial activism. I’ll be watching this one to see what happens.
I know that many people are following my progress in the Creepy Cops Search Case out of Putnam County, West Virginia, where drug task force police officers were caught on camera illegally searching my client’s house. That apparently includes those officers and their lawyers in the pending federal civil rights lawsuit. This is the most recent update about the case:
On Friday, the defendant officers’ lawyers filed a motion completely centered on my Youtube channel, requesting an order prohibiting me from ever publishing video deposition testimony of those police officers. Basically they’re requesting court approval for a coverup. Now, important First Amendment issues are implicated. Police already have qualified immunity. The one remedy given to us by Congress it to sue them. Now they want to turn that process into something akin to Family Court or abuse and neglect proceedings, where government gets to operate in secrecy and without accountability and exposure. Here’s the motion they filed:
The video depositions in the Creepy Cops Search Case haven’t even been taken yet. They’re actually scheduled to be taken in a few days. I already agreed to postpone them several times already at their request, because they were concerned that the FBI was investigating them. So I gave them time to evaluate their situation and hire or consult criminal defense attorneys before they testified. Now, they want to testify essentially in secret. Why? Because posting their video testimony allegedly puts them in danger. They went through the prior videos I published on this situation and cherry picked the craziest ones they could find, and presented them to the Court as the basis for why I should be forever silenced from exposing their misconduct.
At the end of every video I tell you that freedom is scary. Why? Why is it scary? Fear is the tool that tyrants use to subject us and take away our freedoms. Over and over again. From the beginning of recorded history to the present. Of course police officers in America, if given the choice, would choose to operate in secrecy. They don’t want to be recorded. They don’t want to give you their names – they just want yours.