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.
Video footage has just been released showing misconduct by a notorious former sheriff in Clayton County, Georgia. That footage resulted in his conviction for federal civil rights violations, for which he is about to face sentencing. In other words, here’s yet another rare, but great, example of law enforcement being held accountable for civil rights violations in the best possible way – criminal prosecution.
Victor Hill, the former sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, was charged with seven counts of willfully depriving detainees at the Clayton County Jail of their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force by law enforcement officers. Specifically, the grand jury who indicted him alleged that Hill caused the seven victims to be strapped into restraint chairs at the jail without any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose and for a period exceeding that justified by any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose. The grand jury further alleged that these offenses caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to the victims.
The trial is already over. On October 26, 2022, a jury convicted Hill on six of the seven counts. As to each of those six guilty counts, the jury further found that the offense caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to 6 different victims.
The reason you’re seeing this now is because some of that footage was just released. The released footage shows the restraint of Robert Arnold, who was booked into the jail on February 25, 2020. He was accused of assaulting two women inside a Forest Park grocery store earlier that month.
“What was you doing in Clayton County that day?” Sheriff Hill asked Arnold.
“It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States,” Arnold replied.
“No, it’s not. Not in my county,” responded Sheriff Hill.
When Arnold challenged Sheriff Hill on his right “to a fair and speedy trial,” Hill told sheriff’s office employees to bring him a restraint chair.
“Roll that chair ’round here,” ordered Sheriff Hill. “Roll that chair ’round here.”
According to a 2018 policy approved by Hill, restraint chairs “may be used by security staff to provide safe containment of an inmate exhibiting violent or uncontrollable behavior and to prevent self-injury, injury to others or property damage when other control techniques are not effective.”
Prosecutors also introduced surveillance videos from inside the jail that showed Sheriff Hill’s interactions with Glenn Howell on April 27, 2020. Howell, a landscaper, had a dispute with a Clayton County Sheriff’s Office deputy about payment for work that Howell did on the deputy’s property. Sheriff Hill called Howell to try to intervene and the conversation became heated. When Howell tried to contact Hill again, Hill obtained a warrant for Howell’s arrest on a charge of harassing communications. Howell turned himself in a few days later.
In the surveillance video, Howell is pictured sitting on a bench for several minutes. He appears to follow commands as an intake officer searches him and processes his belongings. At one point, prosecutors pointed out, jail staff left Howell alone in the intake area—something attorneys argued they would not have done if Howell was a threat. Footage shows Sheriff Hill arriving about an hour later and speaking to Howell in the hallway. Less than a minute into the conversation, Howell is placed into a waiting restraint chair.
The sheriff’s office restraint chair policy explains that officers should remove someone from the device “when they have determined that there is no longer a threat to self or others, or the inmate must be transported to another facility.” Multiple witnesses, however, testified that when Sheriff Hill ordered someone into a restraint chair, it was understood that person was not to be released for four hours, the maximum allowed under the policy.
He was allowed to retire in November of 2022. He’s currently receiving a monthly pension of $8,159 from Clayton County following his retirement. In late November his police officer certification was revoked by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST). He’s due to be sentenced on March 14. He faces up to 10 years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines. The government is recommending 46 months.
I’ve been asked to do something on the Murdaugh trial. I want to bring you some inside information about what really happened at the Murdaugh trial. So I reached out to my colleague Larry Foreman. You may know him as The DUI Guy+ from Youtube. He covered much of the Johnny Depp trial from inside the courtroom, and also was able to get into the Alex Murdaugh trial in South Carolina. So I figured, who better to hear from than Larry. He was in the courtroom, sitting right next to some of these people, watching the reaction of the jurors, and so on. Like me, he’s a real lawyer with real courtroom experience that you can watch yourself on his channel.
Breaking news out of federal court in South Carolina, where a federal jury has just awarded a $550,000 verdict against a former Richland County Sheriff’s deputy, as well as the sheriff’s department itself.
Here are the relevant case documents, including the complaint, jury instructions, verdict form, as well as the full deposition transcript of one of the officers:
Today’s video is about Matthew Souter, who owns a farmhouse in The Plains, Virginia. He ended up being unlawfully arrested and tased by police officers in his front yard. Back in November of 2018. He rented a bedroom and bathroom in his home to Melissa Johnson. Following a dispute about her cat and an electric hotplate, she went to a local court and obtained an ex parte Emergency Protective Order (“EPO”) against Mr. Souter, which restricted him from “acts of violence, force, or threat of criminal offenses resulting in injury to person or property” of Johnson.
The next day, November 10, 2018, Johnson called the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office and reported that Plaintiff had violated the EPO by terminating the electric and water service to her bedroom and bathroom. She spoke with a deputy who took her complaint and classified it as a “civil matter.” Not satisfied with that, she called again later the same day. This time she spoke with a different deputy, who was dangerously incompetent. He ended up applying for an arrest warrant against Mr. Souter, alleging a violation of the EPO. There in fact was no violation – nor any reason for him to believe that Mr. Souter had committed any crime. But, he obtained an arrest warrant.
This deputy and his supervisor then traveled to Mr. Souter’s home with an arrest warrant. The deputies seized Mr. Souter. I spoke with Mr. Souter on the phone and he denies resisting this arrest. However, in a subsequent ruling, the federal court wrote that it was undisputed that he resisted arrest. This is what the Court found, specifically: “Plaintiff resisted arrest and did not permit the officers to handcuff him. The officers then wrestled the Plaintiff to the ground, while Plaintiff continued to resist the officers. McCauley then used a taser to subdue the Plaintiff. After Plaintiff was tased, the officers were able to handcuff the Plaintiff.” Mr. Souter was tased multiple times and was bleeding. He was taken to a local hospital emergency room.
The officers subsequently charged Souter with the underlying EPO violation, as well as attempted fleeing from a law enforcement officer. The EPO charge ended up being dismissed by the prosecutor, and he was found not guilty of the fleeing charge following the criminal trial.
Then Souter filed a federal section 1983 civil lawsuit. Here’s the complaint his lawyer filed:
Fast forward in the litigation, and something pretty unusual ended up happening. The federal judge – Judge Ellis – in the Eastern District of Virginia, not only denied qualified immunity to the officers, but granted summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff. That means that the Court found that Mr. Souter’s civil rights were violated, as a matter of law, and that the only issue for the jury to decide is the amount of money damages to be awarded.
Why did the officers lose qualified immunity, as well as the opportunity to even oppose liability in front of the jury? In short, because they acted such utter incompetence. The Fourth Amendment protects against citizens being unlawfully arrested by law enforcement. An unlawful arrest is one that occurs in the absence of probable cause. Police officers can be held civilly liable for a false arrest “if it would have been clear to reasonable officers in their position that they lacked probable cause to arrest” Plaintiff for violating the cited law. Graham v. Gagnon (4th Cir. 2016).
The officers aren’t required to be actually correct in their probable cause determination, but rather reasonable in their probable cause determination. Here’s the Court’s full opinion:
In this case, all the officers knew is the allegation that the Plaintiff had cut off Johnson’s water and electric service. There was no reasonable basis for them to conclude that the Plaintiff had engaged in any act of violence, force, or threat, against Johnson. Thus, if they believed Plaintiff had done any of those acts, such a belief would have been clearly erroneous and unreasonable.
The arrest warrant the officers obtained alleged violation of a domestic violence type of protective order, which did not exist in this case. No such domestic violence type of protective order had been issued against the Plaintiff, as would be obvious on the face of the actual EPO served on the Plaintiff. Moreover, even if Plaintiff had been served with a domestic violence protective order, cutting off water and electric do not constitute acts of violence, as defined in the EPO. Therefore, Plaintiff’s conduct could not have led a reasonable law enforcement officer to conclude that probable cause existed or that his arrest was proper. Thus they violated his constitutional rights when they unlawfully arrested him (and used force to effectuate that arrest) in the absence of probable cause.
The illegality of Plaintiff’s arrest taints the defendant officers’ subsequent actions and renders them liable for Plaintiff’s excessive force claims. Under federal law, “the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable seizures bars police officers from using excessive force to seize a free citizen.” Jones v. Buchanan (4th Cir. 2003).
Let’s fast forward to the trial results. The jury ended up awarding a total of $50,000.00 in compensatory damages to Mr. Souter. Here’s the jury verdict form:
In my phone conversation with Mr. Souter, he was actually very unhappy with the verdict, both in the amount of $50,000.00, as well as the lack of a punitive damages award. He took issue with how the presentation of the damages claim was presented to the jury at trial.
For many reasons, people many times have unrealistic expectations on the value of damages in civil rights cases. At the end of the day, a jury decides these things. This can vary wildly depending on a number of factors, including the personalities of the parties, as well as the jurors themselves. I wasn’t at this trial, so I really have no idea what dynamics were present in the courtroom. But this illustrates one of the difficult parts of the job of a civil rights lawyer. Ultimately you have to convince a jury to award money damages. How do you do that? It can be very difficult, and sometimes emotion is all you have, assuming you can instill it in the hearts of the jurors.
There’s a form instruction in section 1983 cases that says something to the effect of, if you find that the plaintiff’s civil rights were violated, you must at least award $1.00, even if you find that the plaintiff suffered no actual damages. The value of constitutional injuries can vary wildly based on who is on the jury. But there’s also a federal law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, which provides for an award of reasonable attorney fees following a finding of liability. That means that even if a jury awards One Dollar, there could potentially be an attorney fee award of six figures.
Big update in Chris Wiest’s case in Kentucky, where several Kentucky police officers are being held accountable for their misconduct. Tonight he joined me for a live video, and we discussed developments in the case, at length. This is the case where the officers denied (under oath) striking the guy they were arresting, later finding out that video footage showed otherwise. This led to Officer Thomas Czartorski later being charged with perjury.
Update video with the footage:
Here’s the recent court order in the case, discussed in the videos:
There’s a jury trial in Euclid, Ohio this week where Euclid police officer, Michael Amiott is being prosecuted for a use of force incident following the 2017 traffic stop of Richard Hubbard. Amiott is charged with two counts of assault and one count of interfering with civil rights. Cell phone video showed the officer repeatedly punching Richard Hubbard after he was pulled over for an unspecified moving violation.
Hubbard was accused of resisting arrest after allegedly refusing Amiott’s orders, and the ensuing struggle resulted in Hubbard being hit multiple times while on the ground. The criminal charges against Hubbard were later dropped, and while he suffered no permanent injuries, the city later agreed to a $450,000 settlement with both him and the owner of the car he was driving.
Following a 45-day suspension, Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail fired Amiott from the police force, but an independent arbitrator reinstated him a year later. Nevertheless, Amiott was arrested and charged in Euclid Municipal Court in August of 2019 following further investigation, and his trial was subsequently delayed two years by COVID-19.
The entire trial has been live streamed on Youtube by WKYC and some of the testimony has been interesting. This is what we’re dealing with by the way, in the mission to obtain some accountability where citizens are violently victimized by the government.
Also, this isn’t his only excessive force incident:
About 7 months ago, I posted a video about a West Virginia police officer, Everette Maynard, formerly of the Logan, WV Police Department who was found guilty by a federal jury of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force. This was caught on video. This is the one where the officer was caught by a surveillance camera flipping the bird to the camera.
Today I talked to one of the investigators involved with that prosecution and thought I would give you an update video about what ended up happening to Officer Maynard. The DOJ recently issued another press release on the case, announcing that former-Officer Everette Maynard has been sentenced to 9 years of prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release due to his conviction of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force against him.
In the video I posted late last year, I showed you the actual photos presented to the jury during the trial, and I went over the actual jury instructions used in that case. Here’s the video:
This is a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the most important way. He received almost a decade in prison for his actions. The U.S. Department of Justice had this to say about the sentencing of Maynard:
“This defendant’s abuse of law enforcement authority inside a police station was egregious and caused serious injuries,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Police misconduct undermines community trust in law enforcement, and impedes effective policing. This sentence confirms that law enforcement officers who use excessive force against arrestees will be held accountable.”
Title 18, United States Code, Section 242 makes it a crime to deprive any person of his civil rights under color of law. For a jury to find the defendant guilty, the federal prosecutors must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt at trial:
1. The defendant acted under color of law;
2. The defendant deprived the victim of a right secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States – here, the right of an arrestee to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer;
3. The defendant acted willfully; and
4. The defendant’s acts resulted in bodily injury to the arrestee.
(NOTE: elements 1 and 2 are by themselves a misdemeanor; when elements 3 and 4 are present, it rises to the level of a felony.)
On Nov. 17, 2021, a federal jury convicted Maynard of using excessive force against an arrestee while Maynard was a police officer with the Logan Police Department in West Virginia. At trial, the jury heard evidence that Maynard assaulted the victim in the bathroom of the Logan Police Department before dragging him into an adjoining room, hauling him across the room, and ramming his head against a doorframe.
The assault initially rendered the victim unconscious and left him with a broken shoulder, a broken nose, and a cut to his head that required staples to close. While the defendant assaulted the victim, the defendant berated the victim for “making demands” of him by, among other things, asking to go to the bathroom. After the assault left the victim unconscious in a pool of his own blood, the defendant bragged about his use of force.
It’s important to note that, in this actual case, the jury was instructed that a police officer “may not use force merely because an arrestee questions an officer’s authority, insults the officer, uses profanity, or otherwise engages in verbal provocation – unless the force was otherwise objectively reasonable at the time it was used. Additionally, the jurors were instructed that an officer may not use force solely to punish, retaliate against, or seek retribution against another person.
These sorts of unnecessary uses of violent force against arrestees, if true, can never be reasonable.
How did the jurors know that it happened this way? Because it was captured on video, which is by-far the most important tool available to us for constitutional accountability. The police certainly like to use video evidence against the public in their prosecutions. But they don’t like it when it happens to them. In this case however, I’m told that it was actually a law enforcement officer who originally blew the whistle on this guy to federal investigators. Good for that individual. There needs to be more of this. And I have reason to believe that there will be more of this in West Virginia.