WV prison guard stops our client at gunpoint in Doddridge County, WV

Check out this new case. Police officer impersonation incident by a WV Division of Corrections CO / Parole officer. We met with investigators already, who were extremely concerned about what they saw here….

If you have any information, please contact us.

Open-Carry of Firearms in WV in 2019: “Am I being detained?”

This is the current state of open-carry law in West Virginia (in my opinion), and it’s tricky relationship with a police officer’s right to do a “Terry” frisk under certain instances, as of February of 2019. Note: government lawyers do, and will, disagree with my analysis.  But mine’s supported by the law. However, proceed at your own risk, and the law may change after I write this, especially since litigation is ongoing….

1. If you’re in a vehicle, and an officer has a suspicion you may be armed, or sees that you’re open-carrying, you may be frisked and temporarily disarmed; 

2. If you’re not in a vehicle subject to a traffic stop, a police officer must have some reasonable articulable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity in order to seize and disarm you. Open-carrying a firearm alone is not justifiable suspicion to perform an investigative detention, unless the officer has information that you are a prohibited person unable to possess a firearm.

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Many of you have probably seen the recent lawsuit I’ve been involved with in the Michael Walker v. Putnam County case where we sued over the violation of Mr. Walker’s right to open carry a firearm in West Virginia.

The defense from the government so far is that they are allowed to perform what’s called a “Terry” stop and frisk when they see someone with a gun.  Just to clarify the law, since they obviously misunderstood then, and continue to misunderstand.

A person’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to be free from unreasonable search and seizure are triggered whenever a “seizure” occurs.

When does a seizure occur?

A person is “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment if, “ ‘in view of all [of] the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir.1989) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980)). Specific factors to consider in determining whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave include: (i) the number of police officers present at the scene; (ii) whether the police officers were in uniform; (iii) whether the police officers displayed their weapons; (iv) whether they “touched the defendant or made any attempt to physically block his departure or restrain his movement”; (v) “the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer’s request might be compelled”; (vi) whether the officers informed the defendant that they suspected him of “illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as ‘routine’ in nature”; and (vii) “whether, if the officer requested from the defendant … some form of official identification, the officer promptly returned it.” Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870; Gray, 883 F.2d at 322–23.

The Fourth Circuit has noted that though not dispositive, “the retention of a citizen’s identification or other personal property or effects is highly material under the totality of the circumstances analysis.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 538 (2013) (citing Weaver, 282 F.3d at 310 (emphasis added)). In Black, the Court found that, “[i]t is clear that when Officer Zastrow expressly told Black he could not leave, Black was already seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.” Black at 538 (emphasis original).

When can a “seizure” be legal as a justified “Terry” Stop and Frisk under Terry v. Ohio?

Federal case law has long been clear that the police officers cannot perform a “Terry stop” of a person lawfully open-carrying a firearm for the purposes of checking his ID and running a background check to determine whether the person is a prohibited person, or to otherwise disarm him, without more.  Although brief encounters between police and citizens require no objective justification, United States v. Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002), it is clearly established that an investigatory detention of a citizen by an officer must be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion that the individual is engaged in criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968). 

To be lawful, a Terry stop “must be supported at least by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.” Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440, 100 S. Ct. 2752 (1980).  The level of suspicion must be a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Griffin, 589 F.3d 148, 152 (4th Cir. 2009).  As such, “the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit has already made it very clear that in states where open carry is legal, such as West Virginia, if officers have no individualized information that a particular individual who is lawfully open-carrying is a prohibited person, the mere exercise of their rights by open-carrying “cannot justify an investigatory detention.”  Indeed, the Court held that “Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013) (quoting United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir. 1993)).

Occupants of a vehicle subject to a lawful traffic stop are a different analysis altogether, and are more likely to be subject to a Terry seizure.  An officer who makes a lawful traffic stop and who has a reasonable suspicion that one of the automobile’s occupants is armed may frisk that individual for the officer’s protection and the safety of everyone on the scene. Robinson at 696 (2017 case) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 112, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977).

The importance of the Black case to open-carry rights in our circuit:

In 2013, Judge Gregory of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, whom I have had the honor of appearing in front of, issued an opinion in the case of United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013), which is central to the rights of West Virginians to open carry firearms.  Although that case was from North Carolina, it applies equally here.  In his opinion, he admonished law enforcement for regularly abusing the Terry Stop procedure to violate the rights of lawful gun owners:

At least four times in 2011, we admonished against the Government’s misuse of innocent facts as indicia of suspicious activity. See United States v. Powell, 666 F.3d 180 (4th Cir.2011); Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480;United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498 (4th Cir.2011); and United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243 (4th Cir.2011). Although factors “susceptible of innocent explanation,” when taken together, may “form a particularized and objective basis” for reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop, United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277–78, 122 S.Ct. 744, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002), this is not such a case. Instead, we encounter yet another situation where the Government attempts to meet its Terry burden by patching together a set of innocent, suspicion-free facts, which cannot rationally be relied on to establish reasonable suspicion. 

Second, Gates’ prior arrest history cannot be a logical basis for a reasonable, particularized suspicion as to Black. Without more, Gates’ prior arrest history in itself is insufficient to support reasonable suspicion as to Gates, much less Black. See Powell, 666 F.3d at 188 (“[A] prior criminal record is not, standing alone, sufficient to create reasonable suspicion.” (citation omitted)). Moreover, we “ha[ve] repeatedly emphasized that to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” DesRoches v. Caprio, 156 F.3d 571, 574 (4th Cir.1998) (quotation marks and alterations omitted) (emphasis added). In other words, the suspicious facts must be specific and particular to the individual seized. Exceptions to the individualized suspicion requirement “have been upheld only in ‘certain limited circumstances,’ where the search is justified by ‘special needs’ ”—that is, concerns other than crime detection—and must be justified by balancing the individual’s privacy expectations against the government interests. Id. (quoting Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 308, 313, 117 S.Ct. 1295, 137 L.Ed.2d 513 (1997)); see Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665–66, 109 S.Ct. 1384, 103 L.Ed.2d 685 (1989). Here, the Government has not identified any substantial interests that override Black’s interest in privacy or that suppress the normal requirement of individualized suspicion. 

Third, it is undisputed that under the laws of North Carolina, which permit its residents to openly carry firearms, see generally N.C. Gen.Stat. §§ 14–415.10 to 14– 415.23, Troupe’s gun was legally possessed and displayed. The Government contends that because other laws prevent convicted felons from possessing guns, the officers could not know whether Troupe was lawfully in possession of the gun until they performed a records check. Additionally, the Government avers it would be “foolhardy” for the officers to “go about their business while allowing a stranger in their midst to possess a firearm.” We are not persuaded. 

Being a felon in possession of a firearm is not the default status. More importantly, where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention. Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states. United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir.1993) (emphasis added). Here, Troupe’s lawful display of his lawfully possessed firearm cannot be the justification for Troupe’s detention. See St. John v. McColley, 653 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1161 (D.N.M.2009) (finding no reasonable suspicion where the plaintiff arrived at a movie theater openly carrying a holstered handgun, an act which is legal in the State of New Mexico.) That the officer had never seen anyone in this particular division openly carry a weapon also fails to justify reasonable suspicion. From our understanding of the laws of North Carolina, its laws apply uniformly and without exception in every single division, and every part of the state. Thus, the officer’s observation is irrational and fails to give rise to reasonable suspicion. To hold otherwise would be to give the judicial imprimatur to the dichotomy in the intrusion of constitutional protections. 

United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013).

 

West Virginia State Police and asset forfeiture in the news this weekend. The ugly truth.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail had an article this weekend on a New Jersey couple who were pulled over by a West Virginia State Trooper on their way to a casino.  They had $10,000.00 with them.  The state trooper took all but $2.00 and sent them on their way.  He also took their cell phone (presumably to search it for evidence of a crime, such as drug dealing).

This highlights what is perhaps the ugliest, most unconstitutional, most nazi-ish, thuggish, and un-American behavior engaged-in by the government at the present time: asset forfeiture.  This is the way it works.  You get pulled over for a traffic offense.  You have cash on you, or in the vehicle.  The officer seizes the cash, because they consider the cash itself to constitute evidence of being a drug dealer.  They don’t have to charge you criminally whatsoever.  They then serve you with a notice that, if you want to redeem your cash, you have to contact the court and the prosecuting attorney, and formally claim the cash.  In so doing, the process implies that have to explain to the court, and the prosecutor, where you obtained the money, etc.  The theory is, that drug dealers are not going to claim the money.  The the law enforcement agency gets to keep it, and the prosecutor’s office gets 10%.  Talk about a conflict of interest . . . .

In reality, the law provides that in order to keep the currency which was seized from the citizens, the State, pursuant to W. Va. Code § 60A-7-703(a)(6) (1988), is required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial connection between the property seized and an illegal drug transaction.  This finding is in addition to the initial finding of probable cause that an illegal act under the drug law has occurred. See Syllabus Point 4 of State v. Forty-Three Thousand Dollars, No. 31224 (W. Va. 11/26/2003) (W. Va. 2003).

Only after the State has filed a civil forfeiture petition, and met its’ burden of proof by a preponderance is the citizen required to prove how he/she/they came into ownership of the currency. Id. at 6.

In the case of the couple in the Gazette article, Dimities Patlias and  Tonya Smith, they got nowhere until they contacted the media.  The reporter, Jake Zuckerman, started making some phone calls, including to the prosecuting attorney, and voila, their money was returned in full.  Now the couple is rightly pissed off, and much of the public is learning about this un-American scheme for the first time.

The Prosecuting Attorney of Jefferson County, who returned the money is a good guy.  Kudos to him for doing the right thing after looking into it.  I actually had an asset forfeiture case with him previously, and he returned the money in that case as well.  I also represented some of his family members in a real estate related jury trial, which we won, thankfully.  This is a problem in a national scale.  This occurs everywhere, and is practiced by the federal government as well.

Summersville Speed Trap/Scam on Route 19 in West Virginia Claims an Innocent Disabled Man

UPDATE 8/20/18:  Our FaceBook post on the topic.

UPDATE 8/17/18: I obtained the Criminal Complaint from the incident.  It is indeed signed by both the sheriff’s deputy who was the arresting officer, as well as the Summersville PD officer.  It’s not a notarization, but it is a signature.  While it doesn’t make sense as to why they did it that way, that process would be legal.  The following is the full text of the narrative, which is sworn under oath as the probable cause basis for the arrest:

ON THE ABOVE DATE IN SUMMERSVILLE NICHOLAS COUNTY, WV, I CONDUCTED A TRAFFIC STOP ON A MAROON CHEVY COLORADO BEARING WV REG. XXXXXX FOR NO BRAKE LIGHTS.  THE DRIVER WAS IDENTIFIED AS JEFFREY JONES.  WHILE SPEAKING TO THE DRIVER I OBSERVED HIM TO BE DISORIENTED, DROWSINESS, CONFUSED, BLOOD SHOT EYES, AND HE DID HAVE SLURRED SPEECH.  MY FIRST OBSERVATION HE WAS SWEATING PROFUSELY AND DID HAVE HIS HEAT ON IN HIS TRUCK. HE WAS ALSO FUMBLING HIS ITEMS AND DROPPING MONEY OUT OF HIS WALLET.  I PERFORMED THE HGN TEST ON JEFFREY AND WHILE ADMINISTERING THIS TEST HE DID SHOW IMPAIRMENT. JEFFREY WAS TAKEN TO SRMC FOR A BLOOD DRAW.  WHILE UNDER MIRANDA, JEFFREY DID ADMIT THAT HIS BROTHER KENNY HAD GIVEN HIM A PILL THAT HIS WIFE TAKES FOR ARTHRITIS AND PAIN. A DRE EVALUATION WAS DONE ON JEFFREY. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS COMPLAINT IS BASED ON THIS OFFICERS INVESTIGATION.

According to Mr. Jones’ brother, they picked his truck up later that same day/night at the local impound for the exorbitant sum of $350.00, and it was driven home, with a vehicle following behind.  The brake lights worked just fine.  The narrative included no allegations of improper driving.  That means, the only basis for the stop was for a improper equipment violation which didn’t exist.  In other words, it appears to be a lie.  Without improper driving, what other information did this deputy have to want to stop Mr. Jones?  The only information he had was the color of Mr. Jones’ skin.  This is unfortunate, but not unheard of.  The same basis was used to stop my client Antonio Tolliver.  That state trooper is now a former state trooper.

What does that mean?  If the State/Prosecutor can’t prove that the vehicle had no brake lights, in light of testimony and evidence from Mr. Jones’ family and friends that the car’s brake lights worked just fine, the stop will have been illegal.  Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, everything that happened subsequently, is inadmissible in court.  Even assuming the blood draw was legal, which is a big “if,” and the supposed statement about the pill for arthritis and pain was legal, they cannot be used against Mr. Jones.  The arrest, and everything which happened afterwards,  is unconstitutional and illegal.

So he’s driving perfectly normal, gets pulled over for an equipment violation which doesn’t exist, gets put through field sobriety tests and supposedly fails.  So why at that point didn’t they give him a breathalyzer?  Instead they call Deputy Junk Science to arrive, who took a class on recognizing people who had taken prescription drugs?  Then forcibly taken to a hospital and forcibly withdraw blood from his body? He was driving normally, and wasn’t bothering anyone.  The only thing he did wrong was drive into a notorious speed trap, where officers are itching to pull over someone who looks like they’re coming down from one of the rust belt cities with a load of heroin.  Which brings us back to racial profiling.  It would be interesting to look at some of the other cases of stops on Route 19 in Summersville over the past few years.


Yesterday, WVVA ran a story about Jeffrey Jones, a man local to Greenbrier County, who had an unfortunate encounter with the police in Summersville, West Virginia – a place with the reputation as a well known speed trap extortion racket.  As a disclaimer, I don’t represent him in any way, but I do know the man since he works at my local Kroger.  He is the nicest guy, always smiling, and always helpful.  Everyone loves him.  What other grocery store employee has customers that take photos such as these?

 

These photos speak for themselves, which were posted on the WVVA website.  From the article:

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. (WVVA) Jeffrey Jones of Lewisburg is no stranger to hard knocks. As a child, he battled Spinal Meningitis, a condition that left him 90 percent deaf and with one leg longer than the other.

“Growing up, I had Meningitis. Everyone always thought I was stupid because I couldn’t hear. And because I was the smallest in the class, everyone picked on me.”

Despite the physical limitations, Jones said he never misses at day of work keeping track of the carts at the Ronceverte Kroger; the same place where his family said he was hit by a car a couple years ago and broke a hip.

“He stops and checks on everyone everywhere he goes,” said his friend Brianna Barkley. “There’s not a person that’s a stranger. He spreads happiness and friendship to everyone he sees.”

That job may be in jeopardy after Jones said he was unlawfully stopped by a Nicholas County Sheriff’s deputy on Sunday, August 5th, for a broken brake light. He was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

Then there was a phone call from a local legislator, to the Attorney General’s Office on his behalf:

Through his work at Kroger over the years, Jones has made friends from all walks of life, including Greenbrier County Del. Jeff Campbell, (D) 42nd Dist., who on Tuesday, personally requested the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office for an investigation.

“I would like to see the charges dismissed. I would like to see the $350 he spent to get his truck out of impound reimbursed. I think his wages should be reimbursed. And I’d like to see an apology.”

Oops.  So the Summersville Chief of Police contacts the news station and makes a stunning denial:

UPDATE: Summersville Police Chief John Nowak said Thursday his officers did not participate in the arrest of Jeffrey Jones on Sunday, August 5th.

Although Patrolman R.L. McClung with the Summersville Police Dept. signed both pages of the criminal complaint, the chief said the officer merely notarized the document for the arresting officer, Deputy J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Dept.

Ok, say what?  Your officer “notarized” a criminal complaint?  Here is a sample Criminal Complaint, which is actually a form provided by the West Virginia Supreme Court, from a recent case of mine (which resulted in a large settlement and an officer being fired):

ExampleCriminalComplaint

As you can see, there is no signature block for a “notarization.”  Criminal Complaints, which are standardized forms meant to comply with state and federal constitutional requirements applicable to the process of putting a person temporarily behind bars, are signed by the “Complainant,” who is almost always a sworn law enforcement officer.

The Criminal Complaint notes that the complainant must be present in person before the Magistrate, who will authorize the arrest and subsequent incarceration, assuming the Magistrate believes probable cause exists based on the sworn written testimony/explanation offered by the Complainant/Police Officer.

In my 12 years of experience practicing law around the State of West Virginia, I have never heard of a police officer “notarizing” the Criminal Complaint of another police officer.  And being a civil rights lawyer, I have examined probably thousands of Criminal Complaints.  It would be understandable for one officer to draft and sign the complaint where there were multiple officers involved.  They don’t all have to sign their name to the complaint.  But I’ve never heard of another officer, from an entirely different agency, who wasn’t even present at the incident/arrest, to apply under oath for the signature of the Magistrate, which is effectively an arrest warrant.  That would be hearsay, and would not establish probable cause.  No competent Magistrate would sign such a Criminal Complaint.  The only exception would be, if the Magistrate did not know because that fact was concealed.

I’m not posting Mr. Jones’ Criminal Complaint, but somebody has some explaining to do in Summersville.  I wonder how many other arrests/tickets given by the county sheriff’s department were actually signed by a city police officer in Summersville, given their reputation as a well known speed trap extortion operation?  Hmmm.  Like all the old ways in West Virginia, it all comes down to money.  Maybe when the legislature finishes cleaning up the Supreme Court mess, they can come follow this money trail in Summersville.  I’m sure he isn’t the only victim – just one innocent enough to have people stand behind him.

Anti Texting and Driving Ban Legislation

A form of the proposed anti texting and driving ban passed the West Virginia House of Delegates.  A few days ago I posted about the West Virginia texting and driving laws on the West Virginia Car Accident Law Blog, noting that this legislation was coming up for a vote.  It still has to pass the senate.  It only allows for officers to cite motorists for texting and driving as a “secondary” offense rather than a “primary” offense.  This means that cops cannot pull someone over just because they see someone texting and driving.  There has to be some primary infraction or other reason to make the stop.  Only then can the person be ticketed for texting and driving.

Honestly, even if it was a primary offense under the statute, it wouldn’t stop anybody.  Who is going to be texting with a police cruiser right next to them?  Most idiots who do this aren’t that stupid.  The best enforcement for the texting and driving problem is civil trial attorneys who sue persons who injure others due to texting and driving.  We can easily find out if someone had been texting at the time of, or immediately before, the collision.

See Charleston Gazette article today on the legislation.

A WV Criminal Defense Attorney’s advice on how not to handle a traffic stop

Sometimes I give out free advice, such as my lecture on keeping one’s mouth shut.  Here is another.  At some point in your life you are going to be pulled over by a cop who treats you like crap.  He will either be really young, or will be older and act like a Marine drill sergeant.  He will talk down to you.  He will talk really loudly.  He may ask you personal questions.  You may feel provoked to run your mouth, or to insert a snide comment.

Although he may deserve it, do not say what you want to say.  Do not ask for his badge number (you can find that out after the fact if necessary – his identity will almost never be a mystery).  Do not ask for a supervisor.  Just say, “yes sir” and be polite and cooperative – even if he is not.  And then drive off as soon as he lets you.

Chances are, if he is being a jerk to you, he is capable of arresting you illegally.  They can arrest you for obstruction and/or resisting arrest merely by claiming that you refused to obey his lawful orders.  Then it is up to you after-the-fact to try and fight your way out of it.  Worse yet, maybe he says you took a swing at him.  Then you get charged with assault or battery on an officer.   It’s your word versus his, and his dash cam was conveniently inoperable.  At the very best you end up having to pay a criminal defense attorney to get you out of the mess, and a year later, get it expunged.  At worse, you end up at trial, and potentially get convicted.  Then maybe you appeal, etc.  It all could have been avoided.

Of course, if you have already done this and now have to pay huge sums of money to a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, it might as well be me (1-888-54-JBLAW – available statewide [shameless plug]).

Prosecuted in retaliation for videotaping police misconduct

ABC News ran a story on the growing number of prosecutions for private citizens videotaping police misconduct.  The main story highlighted in the article was a guy who had a helmet mounted video camera, which taped a plain-clothes police officer swerving in front of the motorcyclist, slamming on his brakes, and jumping out with his gun in hand.

Was the officer disciplined for this act of cowboyism?  I don’t think so.  Instead the motorcyclist is being prosecuted for videotaping the officer without his consent.  The state police in Maryland actually busted into the guy’s house, searched it, and confiscated his computer and hard drive, and then indicted him for a felony violation of Maryland’s wiretapping laws.

Okay, arrest the guy for reckless driving.  I don’t have any problem with that.  But give me a break.  This is a bunch of garbage.  Our only means of protecting ourselves from cowboy cops is the video camera.  Almost every police prosecution that you see was forced due to the cop’s actions being caught on tape.  The cops know this, and they try their best to keep citizens from filming them.  The newspapers are full of people being arrested for “obstruction” or whatever, for filming cops.

The motorcyclist had a camera on his helmet.  He didn’t know that this cowboy was going to jump out at him waving his gun.  I am assuming cops in Maryland have dash mounted video cameras (although I am sure they are not on when it suits them not to be on).  Does that mean that every cop in Maryland with a dash cam is guilty of felony violations of Maryland wiretapping laws?  Don’t hold your breath for those prosecutions.

Obviously there is a double standard out there.  And people are getting tired of it.  I had a client who videotaped police shooting tear gas through his windows and them busting in with gas masks, AR-15,s and taser guns, then tasing him, and probably ended with them dragging him out of the picture.  What happened to the video?  It was confiscated by the police and never returned.  When I was finally able to see it, it conveniently “ended” before the gas grenades were shot into the house.

Gestapo tactics.  The ironic thing is, you see this sort of stuff from cops in suburbia, or other areas where there is very little real crime.  Just ask a real cop who has worked in the trenches – NYPD, LAPD, Charlotte PD, Atlanta PD, who deal with all sorts of crap and scumbags – they rarely engage in cowboyism, they have enough to worry about.