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….

Case of Michigan Man Sitting in WV Jail Begs the Question: Do Police Need a Warrant to Enter/Search/Seize an RV or Motorhome?

In my last video I featured the case of a Michigan man currently rotting in a West Virginia jail for the high crime of traveling through West Virginia with a few hemp plants, possibly marijuana, I don’t know. A video of him refusing to consent to police entering his RV was shown in a Youtube video by the Real News Network, highlighting the actions of the Milton Police Department (which is in Cabell County, WV), including the fact that they take in a huge amount of fines as a result of their policing, despite having only around 2,500 residents. This begs the question, first of all, in general, do police need a warrant to enter, search, seize, etc., an RV or motorhome? Or is it just like regular automobiles, where only probable cause is required, rather than a warrant? Here’s the video, and below I’ll post an explanation of the applicable law:

Do police need a warrant to search an RV?

The Fourth Amendment generally requires the police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. There is a well-established exception to this requirement, however, for automobile searches. See, e.g., Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925). Under this exception, “[i]f a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment thus permits police to search the vehicle without more.” Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940, 116 S.Ct. 2485, 135 L.Ed.2d 1031 (1996). Thus, once police have probable cause, they may search “every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.” Id. 

In California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390, 105 S.Ct. 2066, 85 L.Ed.2d 406 (1985), the Supreme Court held that a mobile home, on the facts presented, was more characteristic of an automobile than a fixed residence. 

The Court did look to the nature of the location where the vehicle was discovered, but only to ascertain whether the vehicle itself was, in an ontological sense, in use as a “movable vessel” or as a fixed residence. Hence, the Court’s reference to a “place not regularly used for residential purposes,” Carney, 471 U.S. at 392, 105 S.Ct. 2066 — from which the police would be less likely to infer that the object was residential in nature — served as a guidepost to determine, whether the object encountered was a vehicle or a residence. 

Summed up: was the RV on a public road, or situated such that it is reasonable to conclude that the RV was not being used as a residence?

1. Is the vehicle readily mobile? Absent an immediate search and seizure, could it have quickly been moved beyond reach of the police? Was the vehicle licensed “to operate on public streets” and subject to inspection as a motor vehicle?

2. Was the vehicle so situated that an objective observer would conclude that it was eing used not as a residence, but as a vehicle?

3. The search still must be reasonable under the circumstances. Was the search that occurred otherwise reasonable as would have been approved by a neutral judge had the officer applied for a search warrant?

If the vehicle can be categorized somewhere within the realm of a residence, rather than an automobile, then a warrant may be required. As with many search and seizure issues, the result will turn on the particular facts of each case. Or they should anyways…..

Brooke County Man Arrested in his Yard for Cursing – Lawsuit Incoming

Brooke County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department deputies were called out to a neighbor’s complaint about dogs getting out of their yard. When they approached and talked to the dog’s owner, on private property, they were asked to leave. Some swear words were utilized by the dog’s owner. The cops then protect and serve the man, as shown and described in the video.

The body cam footage features Brooke County Deputy Niles Cline (not Crane, lol). The other deputy, Shane Logston’s body cam footage didn’t survive, because the “battery was dead.” The criminal charges were dismissed with prejudice through the assistance of Attorney Alex Risovich, who in turn brought the case to me. We will now seek justice through a civil lawsuit in federal court, for the violation of this man’s federally protected civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

Lackluster’s video on the same incident:

Federal lawsuit filed against Parkersburg Police officers caught on video setting up a false arrest

Recently we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in federal court, alleging that Parkersburg, West Virginia police officers were caught on video setting up the false arrest of a man for allegedly committing battery on a police officer. Fortunately there was surveillance footage, which was shown at the man’s jury trial, resulting in his acquittal. Warrantless arrests require the existence of probable cause. If no probable cause exists, for instance in the event that the arresting officers themselves create the alleged nonexistent crime, the Fourth Amendment is violated. “False arrest” is basically a type of unreasonable search and seizure.

Here’s the complaint, and the video will follow shortly:

The “Outlaw Barber” Arrested for Refusing to Close During the Lockdown Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

Today we filed suit in the case of the “Outlaw Barber,” Winerd “Les” Jenkins, a 73 year old combat veteran and former 27-year Deputy U.S. Marshall, who was arrested for refusing to close his barbershop during the Governor’s lockdown in April of 2020. We filed a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit in federal court, in the Northern District of West Virginia.

The case was detailed last year in a Federalist article titled, West Virginia Barber’s Arrest Shows Failings Of The Bureaucratic State:

When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.

His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.

He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer. The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order.

We asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. It’s already been assigned a case number. Read it for yourself:

I’ve already revealed the body cam footage from one of the deputies, which caught much of the interaction on video:

My Black Client Arrested for Installing Fiber Optics in White Cop’s (Alleged) Driveway

Join me Live for #FreedomIsScary​ No. 62 about a federal #CivilRights#Lawsuit​ I’m working on on behalf of a black man from Kentucky – the son of a police officer BTW – who was arrested in Mercer County, West Virginia for allegedly installing fiber optic cables while black. He was allegedly in the private driveway of this West Virginia Natural Resources police officer, who apparently has an extremely loose dress code.

Update: Federal Lawsuit filed. Here it is:

Cops ABUSE Walmart Shopper in front of his Crying Toddler

Brand-new police body-cam footage shows an outrageous detainment and arrest of an innocent guy shopping in Walmart with his poor toddler. I break it down, explain some of the relevant law, and show what happened. This couldn’t have gone much worse. Multiple Fourth Amendment violations….. and then there’s Walmart.

Reasonable suspicion is required to perform an investigative detention. Probable cause is required to perform a warrantless arrest. The “Graham Factors” are assessed to analyze the legality of the use of force which occurred. I’d guess the police here will fail miserably on all three.

Video showing Rainelle PD and WVSP performing a warrantless search and seizure inside a home and using excessive force

This is a video about an encounter at the home of my client, Matt, in March of 2019, which occurred in Charmco, West Virginia, which is in Greenbrier County. It shows police arriving at his home to arrest a friend who was visiting him, who happened to have an outstanding warrant.

Matt didn’t want to be involved one way or the other. He was afraid, so he turned on his phone and began recording and he laid down. He didn’t want to get shot. But they forced him to crawl to the door on his hands and knees. When he got there, he got head-stomped by the first officer.

They didn’t know he was recording. The second officer, a West Virginia State Police trooper, noticed the phone filming, and he covered it with his hands, and turned the phone off. The officers then deleted the video footage. But it was recovered.

No Knock” Warrants and Search and Seizure Law Inside the Home

“No Knocks” are in the news following the Breonna Taylor shooting case. What is a “No Knock” warrant and when/how are they legal under federal constitutional law? One of my favorite topics. By favorite I mean that if I was a middle eastern dictator they would flow freely. This has been in the news now following the Breonna Taylor case. I’ll offer some analysis on that case, and also answer other civil rights constitutional law questions, if you have any – since this is LIVE.

Podcast version (audio only):

New Gun Control Executive Orders & the Legal Resistance – with the GOA's John Crump – FIS No. 57 Freedom is Scary: The Civil Rights Lawyer

Biden bypassed Congress to target homemade and pistol-braced firearms. At the same time, he is calling on Congress and states to enact Red Flag gun confiscation orders. Like a dictator, Biden is seeking to unilaterally regulate firearms that gun owners currently own.   Join me as I catch up with John Crump from the #GOA​ – Gun Owners of America, who are actual #FrontLineHeroes​ in the fight to preserve liberty and prevent tyranny. #2ndAmendment​   What do you need to know and how can you help?   Gun Owners of America (GOA) is a non-profit lobbying organization formed in 1976 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. GOA sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue. Over the last 30 years, GOA has built a nationwide network of attorneys to help fight court battles in almost every state in the nation to protect gun owner rights. GOA staff and attorneys have also worked with members of Congress, state legislators and local citizens to protect gun ranges and local gun clubs from closure by overzealous government anti-gun bureaucrats. As an example, GOA fought for and won, the right of gun owners to sue and recover damages from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) for harassment and unlawful seizure of firearms. https://www.gunowners.org/about-goa/​   DONATE TO GOA HERE: https://donate.gunowners.org/​ SHOW LESS
  1. New Gun Control Executive Orders & the Legal Resistance – with the GOA's John Crump – FIS No. 57
  2. "No Knock" Warrants and Civil Rights Q&A – FIS Live Ep. 16 – thecivilrightslawyer.com

Searches and Seizures in the Home and No-Knock Warrants, i.e., the “Knock and Announce” Requirement, Generally:

In the Home: No Warrant? Presumptively Illegal: Searches and seizures which take place in a person’s home are presumptively unreasonable, which means they are illegal by default according to the Fourth Amendment. On the other hand, outside a person’s home, Fourth Amendment protections only apply where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Outside the Home: No Warrant? No Need unless REP: To the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that no presumption exists outside the home, because a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for most “places” outside one’s own home. These unprotected “places” include bank accounts, curbside trash, “open fields,” surrounding one’s home, and so on. 

Search of home with a warrant: presumptively legal: So since the inverse is true, all searches of a home, made pursuant to a warrant are presumptively reasonable. The standard for a warrant requires only that “there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” It is still a requirement, obviously, that police officers tell the truth when they make their search warrant applications. If it is discovered that false information was intentionally provided to the magistrate, the warrant will be fraudulent, and therefore ineffective. At which point, we’re back to the search being presumptively unreasonable. During the execution of a lawfully-obtained search warrant, officers may temporarily seize the inhabitants of the structure being searched, including handcuffing them. 

There is a default “knock and announce” requirement under the Constitution, though it frequently is ignored. Can officers make, or apply, for a no knock entry just b/c the homeowner has a CCW? Check out the 4th Circuit case out of West Virginia, Bellotte v. Edwards (4th Cir. 2011), authored by Judge Wilkinson. Judge Gregory was also on the panel:

 The knock-and-announce requirement has long been a fixture in law. Gould v. Davis, 165 F.3d 265, 270 (4th Cir. 1998). Before forcibly entering a residence, police officers “must knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose.” Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 387 (1997)….

“In order to justify a ‘no-knock’ entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.” Richards, 520 U.S. at 394. The Supreme Court has admonished that “it is the duty of a court confronted with the question to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement.” Id. We have thus required a particularized basis for any suspicion that would justify a no-knock entry. See United States v. Dunnock, 295 F.3d 431, 434 (4th Cir. 2002)…..

Of course, the absence of a no-knock warrant “should not be interpreted to remove the officers’ authority to exercise independent judgment concerning the wisdom of a no-knock entry at the time the warrant is being executed.” Richards, 520 U.S. at 396 n.7. But where, as here, the officers faced no barrier at all to seeking no-knock authorization at the time they obtained a warrant, “a strong preference for warrants” leads us to view their choice not to seek no-knock authorization with some skepticism. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 914 (1984)….

To permit a no-knock entry on facts this paltry would be to regularize the practice. Our cases allow officers the latitude to effect dynamic entries when their safety is at stake, but the Fourth Amendment does not regard as reasonable an entry with echoes, however faint, of the totalitarian state…..

It should go without saying that carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to a valid concealed carry permit is a lawful act. The officers admitted at oral argument, moreover, that “most people in West Virginia have guns.” Most importantly, we have earlier rejected this contention: “If the officers are correct, then the knock and announcement requirement would never apply in the search of anyone’s home who legally owned a firearm.” Gould, 165 F.3d at 272; accord United States v. Smith, 386 F.3d 753, 760 (6th Cir. 2004); United States v. Marts, 986 F.2d 1216, 1218 (8th Cir. 1993). We recognized over a decade ago that “[t]his clearly was not and is not the law, and no reasonable officer could have believed it to be so.” Gould, 165 F.3d at 272.

Bellotte v. Edwards (4th Cir. 2011).