Cops Tase and Arrest Guy Sleeping in his Truck in a Home Depot Parking Lot

Police officers have a hard time understanding that reasonable suspicion to justify detaining a citizen is supposed to be based on suspicion of a crime, rather than a hunch or ego of the officer. How many police videos we see were completely unnecessary and achieved nothing, other than bad publicity, lawsuits and constitutional violations? 

Devin Thomas was asleep in his truck on Christmas night in a Home Depot parking lot in Delaware. He was waiting for the store to open because he needed to buy products they sell for his business. He was traveling for work, which takes place on the highways, hence the fact that he was sleeping in his truck. He awoke to a flashlight in his face and somebody trying to talk to him. 

A law enforcement officer may detain an individual for investigation when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that criminal activity is afoot. Courts, in this case the Third Circuit, consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the facts known to the officer amount to an objective and particularized basis for reasonably suspecting criminal activity. An officer is entitled to draw specific reasonable inferences from the facts in light of his experience.

Courts have ruled that the government “must do more than simply label a behavior as ‘suspicious’ to make it so.” Police officers must “be able to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.”

“An individual’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.” However, the Supreme Court has noted “the fact that the stop occurred in a `high crime area’ [is] among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis.”

Courts in the Third Circuit have allowed officers to consider proximity to locations where crimes are known to have occurred as one factor in the development of reasonable suspicion. What crime was suspected here of Mr. Thomas having committed? I reviewed the state trespassing laws in Delaware. I see no basis for any objectively reasonable belief any of those even theoretically could have been violated here. 

It doesn’t appear that there could have been any reasonable suspicion that the crime of trespassing has been committed. Delaware doesn’t appear to have any automatic liability trespassing statute wherein you’re committing the crime of trespassing just by virtue of driving in, or parking in, the parking lot of a closed business. It doesn’t appear that there’s any evidence that Home Depot complained about this individual in particular, or about people driving in, or parking in, their parking lots after hours, or before hours. There appears to have been no allegation that there was any burglary that occurred at this location, but rather alleged knowledge of past issues. Certainly nothing particular to this individual. Moreover, no information is given that the behavior of parking in a parking lot, or the appearance of this individual, or this vehicle, justified suspicion of burglary. To the contrary, it appears to be a work truck in the parking lot of a work supply business. 

Trooper White wrote in his police report, that he was on “proactive patrol” and just happened to be passing by Home Depot when he observed a white truck with its lights on parked next to two Home Depot rental vehicles. He further wrote that “Home Depot recently advised” them that “they were having issues with their alarm system and requested additional patrols in the area for suspicious activity.” He wrote that it was 2:30 in the morning, and the store didn’t open until 7:00 a.m.

However, he mentioned no actual report of any criminal activity, much less criminal activity pertaining specifically to Mr. Thomas. At least not prior to the seizure of Mr. Thomas. It was a white truck in a construction material store parking lot. There was no indication that the vehicle had entered a closed-off area, through a gate, or past no trespassing signs. It was a public place parking lot. I see nothing in the Delaware trespassing laws criminalizing the behavior whatsoever. All we have here is an officer with a hunch and an ego. 

After we get past the reasonable suspicion issue, we have the fact that Mr. Thomas was tased here. The alleged justification for that, according to the officer who fired the taser was that Mr. Thomas was allegedly grabbing and pushing Trooper White’s arm as White attempted to forcibly unlock the driver’s side door. 

However, Trooper White can be heard on the dash cam footage saying to the tasing officer, “I didn’t mean for you to have to tase him.” Apparently that trooper tased Mr. Thomas because Trooper White told him to tase him. At least he did, but didn’t really mean it. At one point in their reports they mentioned that they used “de minimis” force in extracting Mr. Thomas from his vehicle. That’s literally not true. Tasing is actually a high level of force that’s not supposed to be used where unnecessary. I believe there’s a good case to be made here that, even if reasonable suspicion existed to extract Mr. Thomas from the vehicle, that the level of force was unreasonable. 

He was only suspected of having committed trespassing, at best. He wasn’t actually a threat to them in any way. He was just standing on his rights. He was surrounded by police officers. He wasn’t going anywhere. They had no indication of any immediate safety threat to any individual. Except to Mr. Thomas, of course. 

“White Male or Black Male?” | Cops Assume Citizens on Porch Are Criminals – Part 2 Body Cam

Here is part 2 of the body cam footage from the arrest of Jason Tartt by Deputy Dalton Martin of the McDowell County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department. The part 1 video and lawsuit is posted here.

Virginia Jury Awards Damages Against Officers for Civil Rights Violations

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. 

Cops Trespass on Private Property and Demand ID For Imaginary Crime

In the early morning hours of October 12, 2021, Corey Jones got up early to work on some property improvements at his home, clearing brush around his acreage. He got out there early because he had to take his kids to school. Since it was still dark out, he used a headlamp. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the horse-owning Karen next door called 911 on him, complaining that she saw a guy in the woods on her neighbor’s property. She did this despite the fact that she had no idea who her neighbor was. Officers from the Pope County, Arkansas, Sherriff’s Department arrive, listen to her explanation, and then trespass onto Corey’s property, confronting him, and then arresting him. Everything that happens here is outrageous. But also instructive. Corey is a subscriber to my channel, and has graciously allowed me to share what happened.

When the officers arrive – this is Sgt. Damon McMillan and Deputy Hayden Saffold, both of the Pope County Sheriff’s Department – the Karen again tells them same story. Of particular importance here is the fact that she clearly does not allege that Corey trespassed onto her property. She’s claiming that she was subjectively scared of someone she saw on someone else’s property, which in fact was the property owner. She admittedly has no idea who owns the property. She makes no allegation of any crime, other than expressing her own fear of nothing. 

Now the officer notices Corey on his property. He now becomes the one trespassing, as he confronts Corey. Of course, he’s got to have that ID – like an addict. Does he care that he’s on private property and has no idea who the owner is? Of course not.

Corey ends up being arrested for violation of § 5-54-102. Obstructing governmental operations, which provides that:

(a) A person commits the offense of obstructing governmental operations if the person:

(1) Knowingly obstructs, impairs, or hinders the performance of any governmental function;

The Arkansas courts have defined “governmental function as “any activity which a public servant is legally authorized to undertake on behalf of any governmental unit he serves.”

Thus the Arkansas obstruction statute does not specifically provide a mandatory requirement to provide ID to a police officer. Rather, it criminalizes the providing of a false ID to an officer. However, it does criminalize “obstructing” any activity which a public servant is “legally authorized to undertake…”

Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 provides that:

A law enforcement officer lawfully present in any place may, in the performance of his duties, stop and detain any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving danger of forcible injury to persons or of appropriation of or damage to property, if such action is reasonably necessary either to obtain or verify the identification of the person or to determine the lawfulness of his conduct….

Thus it appears that the officers in Arkansas may detain individuals if they suspect that individual committed a felony or certain dangerous or damaging misdemeanors. It would be a stretch to even include trespassing into that category – especially where they have no complaint from the owner of the property, and are actually themselves trespassing and confronting the actual property owner. 

The footage was very clear that the property owner, who did identify himself as owning the property, expressed that they were not welcome. I really don’t see any basis for the officers having a reasonable suspicion of any crime having been committed here. Nor does it appear that if they had such suspicion of simple trespassing, that their actions would have been justified. 

The officers are clearly worried about ending up on Youtube or in the media, as well as the fact that they suspect Corey of being anti-police, which is ironic under the circumstances. A solid case could be made here that what they actually are doing is retaliating against Corey, in violation of his First Amendment rights. 

Sadly, part of the story here is what happened afterwards. I’d like to tell you that the charges were dismissed. But apparently Corey ended up being convicted of the obstruction charge. On what basis? I really don’t know. But I do know that the judge who convicted him, I’m told, was Judge Don Bourne of Pope County, Arkansas. 

A little over a week ago, our old friends KARK in Little Rock reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court officially suspended Judge Don Bourne without pay for ethical violations, including mistreating litigants in her courtroom and failing to appoint lawyers for criminal defendants. Basically, for running a kangaroo court. I also found this gem, where KARK showed footage of Judge Bourne threatening a defendant with prison rape, among other things. It was only a two week suspension, but thankfully, after his term expires in 2024, he will never again be allowed to serve as a judge in Arkansas. Why even allow him to remain at all? 

Hopefully an Arkansas lawyer can swoop in and save the day here. I wish I could help, and I’d be happy to, to the extent that I can. But I’m not an Arkansas lawyer. Perhaps there’s more to the story, I don’t know, but the footage shows what the footage shows. I trust in the footage. And I really feel bad for Corey Jones. He was mistreated by his government – by a couple of tyrant thugs, egged on by a despicable Karen. I’d love to see a civil lawsuit here. Usually, however, you have to win on the underlying criminal charges – which is probably why Officer King George, III is pushing them. He wants to know why anyone would be anti-government or anti-police? Because of swamp creatures like you.

A few weeks ago I posted the video of my clients in McDowell County, West Virginia encountering a similar type of tyranny within the curtilage of their home. The point was, you can’t be on my curtilage without my consent and demand an ID – even if you have reasonable suspicion. Here, however, it looks like we’re not dealing with curtilage, but rather what the courts call “open fields.” Generally, unfortunately, there are no federal Fourth Amendment property protections for open fields. The line between a home’s curtilage and the adjacent open fields can sometimes be a grey area. 

However, that doesn’t mean that state trespassing and criminal procedure laws aren’t applicable. I see no Arkansas law that allows police officers to trespass on your private property against your consent and demand your ID to ascertain whether you are trespassing on your own property. Quite the opposite. 

Federal Fourth Amendment protections will always apply to the person. Federal law prohibits an investigative detention – i.e., give me your ID or I’ll arrest you – in the absence of reasonable suspicion. The Karen neighbor alleged to crime that was committed. She alleged only her objectively unreasonable and irrational fears. There was no allegation of trespassing. A police officer’s own irrational subjectively unreasonable fear that someone theoretically could be trespassing on a particular property, without more, cannot be valid reasonable suspicion. Especially under these circumstances. 

Police Harass Innocent Citizens on Their Porch – Lawsuit Filed Today

What you’re about to see here is outrageous body cam footage that has never before been seen by anyone, other than law enforcement. It shows what happened to my clients, Jason Tartt, the property owner and landlord, as well as Donnie and Ventriss Hairston, his innocent and mistreated tenants, on August 7, 2020, when they were subjected to civil rights violations by two deputies with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, Dalton Martin and Jordan Horn. 

Today we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, which is posted below. But you can watch the footage for yourself. Before the body cams were turned on, what you need to know is that there was a complaint received that an abandoned church, in an overgrown parcel of land not owned by any of these individuals, apparently had four marijuana plants growing there, among the thick brush. Crime of the century, right? The perpetrators must be one of the elderly African American residents nearby, of course. Instead of treating them as human beings, let’s accuse them first thing, then mistreat, harass, and retaliate against, them if they dare to get uppity, or not know their place. 

Donnie and Ventriss Hairston were sitting on the front porch of their rural home, when two deputies approached and began to harass and intimidate them. Their landlord, who lives next door, joined them shortly afterwards and began to ask questions. When they asserted their opinions and rights, retaliation ensued. The landlord, Jason Tartt, was seized and arrested. The Hairstons were shoved into their home against their will. This is never before seen footage, outside of law enforcement of course. Take a look and form your own opinion about what happened.

Here’s the footage:

Here’s the lawsuit:

Stay tuned for updates….

Judge Indicted After Hidden Camera Records Contempt Arrest

On June 27, 2022, Judge Darrell Jordan, of Harris County, Texas, was indicted on the misdemeanor state-law charge of Official Oppression for ordering the contempt arrest of journalist Wayne Dolcefino. The arrest of Dolcefino occurred exactly two years earlier, on June 30, 2020, while Judge Jordan was presiding over County Criminal Court at Law No. 16 of Harris County, Texas. Using a pen camera, Dolcefino surreptitiously recorded his arrest. I reached out to him and he gave me permission to show the footage.

Here’s the backstory. Wayne Dolcefino is a veteran former TV journalist who had entered Judge Jordan’s courtroom on June 30, 2020 to question the judge about his lack of action on a serious of public corruption complaints involving Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner. As can be seen in the video, Judge Jordan initially greeted Dolcefino, but then told him he wouldn’t be answering his questions, and threatened to hold him in contempt if he persisted. When he persists, the judge orders Dolcefino shackled and taken to jail. Jordan subsequently sentenced Dolcefino to 3 days in jail and 180 days probation. After Dolcefino appealed, Judge Jordan added an alcohol monitor and random drug tests as probation conditions. 

On November 4, 2020, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas issued an opinion granting Mr. Dolcefino’s application for writ of habeas corpus, finding that, “After a review of the evidence and arguments, the contempt of court allegation is not supported by the . . . record” and vacating the contempt order under which Mr. Dolcefino was arrested and charged.

Not long before the indictment was issued, the judge was admonished for unrelated misconduct.

On May 13, 2022, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education against Judge Jordan, concluding that Judge Jordan violated several judicial ethics canons, ordering him to obtain 2 hours of instruction with a judicial mentor within 60 days. The admonishment found that Judge Jordan engaged in several unethical behaviors, including:

(1) Summoning several assistant prosecutors into his presence to “communicate to them his displeasure with their failure to treat him with sufficient respect, and to lecture them about criminal contempt penalties that could arise from acts ‘disrespectful of the court.’”

(2) Referring to himself as the “king of his court” and referring to the assistant prosecutors as “hang’ em high prosecutors.”

(3) On at least one occasion, threatening on the record to charge an assistant prosecutor with contempt, for failing to show him proper respect. At least he faces justice now after being indicted for Official Oppression, right? Wrong. 

Posted just today on the Dolcefino Consulting website, Wayne announced that the criminal charge was dropped against Judge Jordan. He wrote that, “Democratic Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton bailed out a fellow Democratic judge just days after he was indicted by a grand jury for official oppression.”

“This misconduct was caught on tape and the dismissal of the indictment is a miscarriage of justice and we’re not going to let the DA off the hook like he did for Judge Jordan,” Wayne said. He’s now asking for public records from the Fort Bend County DA’s office, including emails, phone records and documents related to the investigation and case.

Apparently, the Ford Bend County DA, Brian Middleton, had been appointed to prosecute the case after the Harris County DAs office recused themselves. Then Middleton, on the Friday before the July 4 holiday weekend, quietly dropped the charges. The official reason given was that he didn’t believe enough evidence existed to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. 

There seems to be a pattern of this happening, where prosecutors apparently are unable to convict public officials for misconduct that is captured with video evidence. If only they were that picky about prosecuting the peasants. 

Local Town Victimizes Innocent Motorists with Officer Perjury Pottymouth

On January 31, 2022, Brian Beckett was traveling home from work, driving Northbound on WV Route 19 in Mount Hope, West Virginia. It was around 5:45 p.m. He ended up getting pulled over for speeding by Mount Hope Police Department officer Aaron Shrewsbury. Instead of getting a speeding ticket, or even a warning, Mr. Beckett ended up being pulled out of his car and arrested for obstructing an officer, disorderly conduct, speeding, and reckless driving.

Mr. Beckett was driving home from an industrial work site in a nearby county. He’s not a criminal – not out selling drugs or committing crimes – just trying to drive down the road. He had a dash camera recording, which appears to show that he was driving safely. It doesn’t indicate his speed, but that’s not what this video is about. Officer Shrewsbury would subsequently swear under oath in his criminal complaint affidavit, seeking court authorization for Mr. Beckett’s arrest, that not only did he radar Mr. Beckett speeding, but that “as I was catching up to the vehicle, I noticed the vehicle weaving through traffic recklessly” but that “I was able to pull behind the vehicle and get it stopped….” Take a look at the dash cam footage from Mr. Beckett’s car just prior to the traffic stop, and see if that statement appears to you to be true.

Mr. Beckett used his personal cell phone to record his interaction with Officer Shrewsbury. Despite the officer stopping the video and attempting to delete the recording from Mr. Beckett’s phone, the officer couldn’t access it. During arrest processing, the officer was placing the phone in front of Mr. Beckett’s face in order to attempt to unlock the phone using facial recognition, to no avail. So he was unable to delete this footage, which shows the encounter, what led to Mr. Beckett’s arrest, and the fact that Officer Shrewsbury stopped the recording.

So Officer Shrewsbury immediately arrested Mr. Beckett for obstruction for not rolling his window down all the way. He never bothered to ask Mr. Beckett for his license, registration, proof of insurance, or even his name. He just demanded that the window be rolled down all the way, not providing a reason – just because he demanded it. Then immediately removed him from the car and arrested him. The officer never even identified himself, the reason he pulled him over, or explained any legitimate reason he required the window rolled down. 

In the subsequent criminal complaint, no allegation was made or charged that it is illegal in West Virginia to not roll one’s window down completely during a traffic stop. He was merely charged with obstruction. Under West Virginia’s obstruction statute, the plain language of the statute establishes that a person is guilty of obstruction when he, “by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs or attempts to hinder or obstruct a law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity.” The Fourth Circuit recently examined the statute:

As West Virginia’s high court has “succinct[ly]” explained, to secure a conviction under section 61-5-17(a), the State must show “forcible or illegal conduct that interferes with a police officer’s discharge of official duties.” State v. Davis, 229 W.Va. 695, 735 S.E.2d 570, 573 (2012) (quoting State v. Carney, 222 W.Va. 152, 663 S.E.2d 606, 611 (2008) ). Because conduct can obstruct an officer if it is either forcible or illegal, a person may be guilty of obstruction “whether or not force be actually present.” Johnson , 59 S.E.2d at 487. However, where “force is not involved to effect an obstruction,” the resulting obstruction itself is insufficient to establish the illegality required by section 61-5-17. Carney , 663 S.E.2d at 611. That is, when force is not used, obstruction lies only where an illegal act is performed. This is because “lawful conduct is not sufficient to establish the statutory offense.” Id. 

Of particular relevance to our inquiry here, West Virginia courts have held that “when done in an orderly manner, merely questioning or remonstrating with an officer while he or she is performing his or her duty, does not ordinarily constitute the offense of obstructing an officer.” State v. Srnsky, 213 W.Va. 412, 582 S.E.2d 859, 867 (2003) (quoting State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 373 S.E.2d 484, 486 (W. Va. 1988)). 

Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook, 931 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2019).

At no point did Mr. Beckett refuse to participate in the traffic stop being conducted by Officer Shrewsbury. He rolled the window down partially. He was clearly visible through the non-tinted glass, his hands were visible and non-threatening; he hadn’t refused to provide his license, registration and proof of insurance. He hadn’t refused to identify himself, or to do any act he was required by law to perform. Moreover, I’m aware of no State law, nor did Officer Shrewsbury identify one in the charging documents, requiring motorists who are subjected to traffic stops in West Virginia to roll their windows completely down as a matter of routine. 

It appears that this arrest occurred in the absence of probable cause, and therefore in violation of the Fourth Amendment. But it didn’t stop there. 

Officer Shrewsbury also alleged that, after pulling Mr. Beckett from the vehicle and placing him in handcuffs, while walking Mr. Beckett to the police cruiser, that Mr. Beckett remarked that “this was bullshit.” Officer Shrewsbury wrote in his criminal complaint affidavit that, “I then informed Mr. Beckett to stop cussing and placed him inside my vehicle.”

Under West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute, no probable cause could exist for a warrantless arrest for disorderly conduct by virtue of saying, “this was bullshit.” First of all, if that were possible, such would be a First Amendment violation, as the West Virginia Supreme Court warned law enforcement back ini 1988:

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”  

State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 773-74 373 S.E.2d 484, 486-87 (1988).

First Amendment issues aside, merely using bad language in the presence of a supposedly-sensitive police officer, cannot violate West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute. Not that I expect law enforcement to actually learn the law, but there is a 2015 West Virginia Supreme Court case directly on point. In Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015), the West Virginia Supreme Court held specifically that the WV disorderly conduct statute, while potentially criminalizing profane language under some circumstances, in public and in front of other people who complain, does not criminalize profane language used by a citizen during their interaction with law enforcement.

If that’s not enough, the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a clear message through its rulings, such as in Cohen v. California (1971) and Lewis v. City of New Orleans (1974) that free speech, however offensive or controversial to sensitive virgin-eared police officers, is afforded a high level of protection. 

Officer Shrewsbury didn’t even allege in his criminal complaint affidavit that a third party had overheard Mr. Beckett’s alleged use of the word bullshit, or complained about it. Nevertheless, the local magistrate signed off on it, approving it as probable cause under West Virginia law. Which is a disgrace, given the fact that the State Supreme Court clearly warned otherwise about seven years earlier.

Also a disgrace to our Constitution, is the fact that these charges are still pending against Mr. Beckett. The individual police officers like this you see in these videos never do it alone. Behind the scenes are politicians and prosecutors. 

In fact, the politicians and prosecutors behind the scenes of this Officer Aaron Shrewsbury should explain why this police officer is allowed to victimize citizens in the first place, given the fact that he had previously lost his certification to be a police officer in West Virginia while working at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office for “Dishonesty – willful falsification of information.” No, unfortunately I’m not making that up. That’s right – the same police officer who filed false and incorrect charges against Mr. Beckett, has somehow in the past managed to screw up his job so badly that he lost his certification to be a police officer, for lying as a police officer. Truly unbelievable. But also not unbelievable. 

Also not surprisingly, other complaints have surfaced about Officer Shrewbury. This one may sound familiar. August 15, 2021, a few months before Mr. Beckett’s incident, a 20 year old kid from Ohio was driving through this same area, and ends up getting arrested by Officer Shrewsbury for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. And listen to this, the kid says, according to Shrewsbury’s report, “this is fucking bullshit.” That incident ended in Officer Shrewsbury punching that kid in the face, and then placing him handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser, with a blood covered face and broken jaw, which required surgery to fix. 

The kid was finally able to get help from another police officer at the scene. He said hey, I need help. When asked why he needed help, the kid said, “my tooth is in my lap.” The officer then looked at him and saw a large amount of blood coming from his face and on his shirt. That officer then promptly took the kid to the hospital, which began a long period of medical treatment to fix the damage caused by Officer Shrewsbury.

More about this incident shortly, but the question begs, why do the politicians and prosecutors turn this man loose on the public. You can see from this video the way in which he appears to hold regular citizens in contempt, treating them like garbage to be discarded.

If you have any information about Officer Shrewsbury, who as far as I know is still out there interacting with the public, please reach out.

Pastor Arrested for Watering Neighbor’s Flowers

An Alabama pastor, who was helping a neighbor by watering her roses, was confronted by police after another (Karen) neighbor reported a suspicious person. After police arrived, they demanded ID from the pastor, as well as full submission to their authority. The pastor stood up for his rights and refused to be harassed. So, they arrested him for obstruction, of course, i.e., contempt of cop. Was he required to provide ID? What is reasonable suspicion?

First, was it a “consensual encounter,” or was it a seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)). Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).5… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018)).

If a seizure occurred, i.e., investigatory detention, there must have been reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a “commonsense, nontechnical” standard that relies on the judgment of experienced law enforcement officers, “not legal technicians.” See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). To support a finding of reasonable suspicion, we require the detaining officer “to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.” See United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir.2011). (United States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2015)).

 – Must be PARTICULARIZED to the individual – not categorical or generalized

 – SHOULD be based on suspicion of ILLEGAL CONDUCT (but some cases hold that an amalgamation of legal conduct can equal suspicion of criminal conduct under some circumstances.

For an ensuing arrest to be justified, assuming reasonable suspicion existed, probable cause must exist. Probable cause exists when the “facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is com- mitting, or is about to commit an offense.”  – Michigan v. DeFillippo (SCOTUS 1979).

Whether Alabama has a state law requiring an ID to be produced under the circumstances, is of course going to be based on Alabama law, which is also probably going to require more information about what they officers knew, and when they knew it. But as I explain in the video, this seems like your everyday, “respect muh authoritah” situation. It was most likely clear that the pastor wasn’t a burglar. But his reaction to the police resulted in them feeling the need to protect and serve him, despite the fact that no crime had been committed (except of course an alleged process crime).

Link to the media report.

Street Preacher Arrested in Bluefield, WV for Graphic Anti-Abortion Signs

Edgar Orea brought me this footage. He’s a street preacher who was arrested in Bluefield, West Virginia for the content of his protected First Amendment speech. Edgar and his wife moved to Bluefield in order to serve the people of nearby McDowell County, West Virginia, which is the poorest county in the entire nation. But from the very beginning, they were harassed by the Bluefield Police Department, as you’ll see in the video. The police objected to the content of their message. In this particular incident, they actually arrested Mr. Orea and took him to jail based on the content of his anti-abortion sign, which showed an aborted fetus.

There was a similar case litigated in Kentucky: World Wide Street Preachers’ v. City of Owensboro, 342 F.Supp.2d 634 (W.D. Ky. 2004). In that case, another street preacher was arrested in a public park for showing a large sign with a similar photograph of an aborted fetus. The police claimed that this was causing public alarm and was likely to cause a confrontation. So they cited the individual, but otherwise didn’t arrest him or interfere with his other activities. The Court held:

A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4, 69 S.Ct. 894, 93 L.Ed. 1131 (1949)….

In light of Supreme Court precedent, the Court cannot find that the Plaintiffs’ sign, no matter how gruesome or how objectionable it may be, constitutes “fighting words.” The Plaintiffs’ speech, whether one agrees with it or not, was certainly not of “slight social value.” Rather, their speech was a powerful, albeit graphic commentary on a societal debate that divides many Americans. Furthermore, their speech was not directed at any particular person. Their speech commented on a highly significant social issue and was calculated to challenge people, to unsettle them, and even to anger them, but not to insult them. Such social commentary is not only protected under Supreme Court precedent but also is highly valued in the marketplace of ideas in our free society. 

Here, the Bluefield Police Department did much more than issue a citation, but rather placed Mr. Orea in handcuffs and carted him off for incarceration. Then they refused to return his signs, except for one. They charged him with two criminal misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and obstruction, two favorites of law enforcement officers for arresting people who have committed no crime. Fortunately, the charges were dismissed by the Court following a motion to dismiss based on the First Amendment.

6th Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity for Arrest of Man Wearing “F” the Police Shirt

In 2016, police officers in Ohio pulled a man out of a crowd because he was wearing a “F” the police T-shirt, taunted him about the shirt, and ultimately arrested him under a “disorderly conduct” law. A few days ago, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion denying qualified immunity to these officers in the pending civil rights lawsuit. I recently discussed a West Virginia case where police apparently thought they had the power to be the language police. This has been a widespread problem for many years. It’s not really that the police have sensitive ears, or that they’re concerned about the sensitive nature of innocent bystanders. It’s about respecting what they perceive to be their authority, as well as for use as a pretext to harass or detain people who are relevant to their interests.

The Court emphasized once again that it’s illegal for police officers to arrest people for using profane language alone, including the “F” word:

“The fighting words exception is very limited because it is inconsistent with the general principle of free speech recognized in our First Amendment jurisprudence.” Baskin v. Smith, 50 F. App’x 731, 736 (6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, “profanity alone is insufficient to establish criminal behavior.” Wilson v. Martin, 549 F. App’x 309, 311 (6th Cir. 2013)….

Further, both the Supreme Court and this court have made clear that “police officers . . . ‘are expected to exercise greater restraint in their response than the average citizen.’” Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 718 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Greene, 310 F.3d at 896). “Police officers are held to a higher standard than average citizens, because the First Amendment requires that they ‘tolerate coarse criticism.’” D.D., 645 F. App’x at 425 (quoting Kennedy, 635 F.3d at 216); see also City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462–63 (1987) (“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or to challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”)….

We have routinely protected the use of profanity when unaccompanied by other conduct that could be construed as disorderly. See Sandul, 119 F.3d at 1255 (“[T]he use of the ‘f-word’ in and of itself is not criminal conduct.”)….

We therefore conclude that the First Amendment protected Wood’s speech and thus his disorderly conduct arrest lacked probable cause. This conclusion is consistent with those of other circuits to have considered similar issues. See Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 776 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[T]he First Amendment protects even profanity-laden speech directed at police officers. Police officers reasonably may be expected to exercise a higher degree of restraint than the average citizen and should be less likely to be provoked into misbehavior by such speech.” (citing City of Houston, 482 U.S. at 461)); United States v. Poocha, 259 F.3d 1077, 1082 (9th Cir. 2001) (holding that yelling “fuck you” at an officer was not likely to provoke a violent response and “[c]riticism of the police, profane or otherwise, is not a crime”); Buffkins v. City of Omaha, 922 F.2d 465, 472 (8th Cir. 1990) (plaintiff’s “use of the word ‘asshole’ could not reasonably have prompted a violent response from the arresting officers”).

The Court denied Qualified Immunity to the officers, finding that the case law was full of similar examples of illegal arrests, where officers were found to have violated constitutional rights by making similar arrests, including in cases out of Ohio, where this incident occurred. As the U.S. Supreme Court has held, “The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state,” a “conclusion [that] finds a familiar echo in the common law.”

Not only did the Sixth Circuit find that the officers had committed a false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but they also likely committed the civil rights violation of First Amendment retaliation. The three general elements of a First Amendment Retaliation claim are that:

  1. “that he engaged in constitutionally protected speech,”
  2. “that he suffered an adverse action likely to chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in protected speech,” and
  3. “that the protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to take the adverse action.”

[T]he defendants do not contest that Wood’s shirt was constitutionally protected speech, nor could they. Wood’s “Fuck the Police” shirt was clearly protected speech. “It is well-established that ‘absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, a State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of a four-letter expletive a criminal offense.’” Sandul, 119 F.3d at 1254–55 (alterations omitted) (quoting Cohen, 403 U.S. at 26)…..

Here, police officers removed Wood from a public event under armed escort. That act was neither “‘inconsequential’ as a matter of law,” Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 585 (6th Cir. 2012), nor just a “petty slight[] or minor annoyance[],” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 548 U.S. at 68. Wood satisfies the adverse action element….

While the defendants argue that they removed Wood from the fairgrounds because he was filming people, Wood alleges that Blair walked up to him flanked by the defendants and yelled “Where’s this shirt? I want to see this shirt.” DE 55-2, Wood Dep., Page ID 468. As the officers surrounded Wood and escorted him from the building, one of them said to Wood, “You’ve been given an order to vacate the property. So you’re leaving.” Troutman Cam #1, 00:32–35. While walking Wood through the fairgrounds, with Wood repeatedly questioning whether the defendants had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, one of the officers said they were “escorting . . . [Wood] to the front gate.” Johnson Cam 2:29–35. And while en route to jail, one officer said to Wood, “How’s that work? You got a shirt that said, ‘f the police,’ but you want us to uphold the Constitution?” Troutman Cam #2, 17:15–21. A reasonable jury, considering these facts, could conclude the officers were motivated to surround Wood and require him to leave in part because he wore a shirt that said “Fuck the Police.” We reverse the grant of summary judgment to the defendants on this claim.

Thus the case was sent back to the trial court so that the case could proceed to jury trial. You would think that police agencies and officers would get the memo by now that profane language alone doesn’t somehow trigger martial law….