It’s happened yet again – this time in Ohio – where police arrive to a trespassing complaint at a business (this time at a McDonald’s) and instead of allowing the person to leave the business, they instead detain and forcibly ID the individual. Do police officers have the right to detain someone under these circumstances? More importantly, do they have NEED to do so?
An incident that led to an officer hitting a woman multiple times Monday began as a dispute over missing cheese on a Big Mac. Butler Twp. Sgt. Todd Stanley and Off. Tim Zellers responded at 4:20 p.m. to a call about a disorderly customer at the McDonald’s at 3411 York Commons Blvd., and on arrival, officers spoke to Latinka Hancock, according to a police report.
When the woman refused to provide her ID, the officers engaged in a brutal and violent use of force against her, which one customer inside the McDonald’s caught on video:
There is a video showing a female cop suddenly pull her pistol and point it at a driver’s head during a routine traffic stop. Then there was a subsequent video providing commentary and advice about the situation. However, the information was incorrect. There’s unfortunately a lot of misinformation floating around about the rights of vehicle occupants during traffic stops. It’s important to know your actual rights and not misinformation that could really cause you some serious problems.
What are your basic constitutional rights at a traffic stop?
The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354-56 (2015).
Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop. The Supreme Court has provided a list of acceptable tasks that are connected generally to safety and driver responsibility:
Officers will usually question a driver about the traffic infraction; they will run the driver’s license plate; they will request and review the vehicle’s registration and insurance; they will check for outstanding warrants; and lastly they will write a ticket. Officers also commonly question drivers about their travel plans. So long as they do so during the time that they undertake the traffic-related tasks for the infraction that justifies the stop (Arizona v. Johnson), officers may also ask questions about whether the driver has drugs or weapons in the car, or even walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car (Illinois v. Caballes). These unrelated tasks turn a reasonable stop into an unreasonable seizure if it “prolongs” the stop. Officers may not avoid this rule by “slow walking” the traffic-related aspects of the stop to get more time to investigate other potential crimes.
Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes. See Hernandez v. Boles (6th Cir. 2020).
Additionally, “a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle.” Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 410, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) (per curiam)). That rule, the justification for which is officer safety, extends to passengers, as well. Wilson, 519 U.S. at 414–15, 117 S.Ct. 882. (United States v. Vaughan, 700 F.3d 705 (4th Cir. 2012)).
As for the 9th Circuit, where this encounter took place, “pointing guns at persons who are compliant and present no danger is a constitutional violation.” Thompson v. Rahr, 885 F.3d 582 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing Baird v. Renbarger , 576 F.3d 340, 346 (7th Cir. 2009)).
We do not discount the concern for officer safety when facing a potentially volatile situation. But where the officers have an unarmed felony suspect under control, where they easily could have handcuffed the suspect while he was sitting on the squad car, and where the suspect is not in close proximity to an accessible weapon, a gun to the head constitutes excessive force.
This footage shows a woman in Michigan attempting to visit her mother in a nursing home. The facility decides to trespass her from the property and call law enforcement. Once the police arrive, she voluntary leaves – or rather attempts to leave. Then this happens…. Once again, the issue arises: can the police detain and forcibly ID a citizen who is in the process of voluntarily leaving a private business following a trespassing complaint?
On December 13, 2022, Waterbury, Connecticut police officer James Hinkle had a complete meltdown, caught on video, that ended in him getting fired for verbally abusing a motorist. Details here.
Here’s the statement from the employer:
“His conduct during this encounter with a citizen of the community is unacceptable and not representative of the men and women serving the Waterbury Police Department,” Waterbury Chief Fernando Spagnolo said in a statement. “WPD officers are trained to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism when performing their duties.”
Yesterday we filed a federal section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the police officer featured in the “Hillbilly Law Degree” video posted back in October.
On January 10, 2021, my client, John, went to Walmart, during all the insanity that shall not be discussed. He was not committing any crime. He felt he was being treated unfairly. He was just trying to buy some products and was in the process of checking out. But Manager Karen at Walmart called the cops on him, reporting that he was refusing to wear a thing she wanted him to wear, and using some bad words. A police officer responded, and this is her body cam footage. If a non-crime was reported, usually they are investigating a potential trespassing situation. The problem with that is, many states, like West Virginia, only penalize trespassing where a customer was given the opportunity to leave, but refused. If the person even offers to leave, and the cop says, no you can’t leave, give me your ID or you’re going to jail, is that legal?
This presents a common scenario where police officers attempt to manufacture a “stop and ID” law, where none exists:
There’s a dispute between a store and a customer. The store calls the police, reporting something that’s not a crime. The police show up to investigate the said non-crime. They demand ID. Now like many states, West Virginia does not have a “stop and ID” law. However, if they have reasonable suspicion a crime was committed, and that a particular individual committed that crime, they can perform an investigative detention which can involve forcibly obtaining an ID from a suspect. So what is the crime? Can the alleged crime of “trespassing” be used to detain and ID a shopper who has not been asked to leave the store, and who has not been given the opportunity, or even allowed, to leave the store by the responding police officer?
Here’s yet another video showing police officers mistreating one of our military veterans for absolutely no good reason. Gee, I wonder, what’s the common theme? Some of you are quick to criticize me anytime I bring up race. Here’s the thing. The Constitution requires police officers to have reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed before detaining an American citizen.
Does the Constitution allow police officers to pull people over based on a hunch? No. Does the Constitution allow police officers to pull people over based on their skin color? No. Does the Constitution allow police officers to pull people over and detain them for any reason at all, short of actual reasonable suspicion that some crime or traffic law has been violated by the driver? No. Do we see them do so in video after video, after video? We sure do. Let’s take a look at this one from Jacksonville, Florida, showing the traffic stop and warrantless arrest of Navy Veteran Braxton Smith.
Here’s a new West Virginia video I received out of Morgan County, West Virginia, showing an interaction between some young guys and multiple sheriff’s deputies outside a bar. What it shows is troubling, but not surprising: police officers who can’t control their temper when interacting with someone who is running their mouth – or as the courts call it, “mere words.” Here in the Fourth Circuit, police cannot use violent physical force in response to someone’s “mere words,” – even if they perceive them as obstruction or threats. See United States v. Cobb, 905 F.2d 784, 789 (4th Cir. 1990).
This clip started making the rounds on Tik Tok and now it just popped up on the news here in West Virginia that the agency has ordered an independent investigation into the footage by an outside agency:
Morgan County Sheriff KC Bohrer says, “I have requested an investigation into the matter by an independent agency to be totally transparent and through.”
He says the issue will be ” thoroughly and impartially investigated” and asked for patience during the investigation. “As in any investigation it takes time to gather all the facts.”
This happened on December 3, 2022. The guy they’re talking to had been assaulted in a bar Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. His friend called police. After they arrived, it became clear that they didn’t intend to help. So one of the men began to film.
Apparently, after the video turns off, both men were placed in the rear of a police car for a while. Shortly afterwards they were released with no charges. The one guy was finally able to go to the hospital and receive medical treatment.
There does appear to me to be some constitutional violations in there. I really need to see the police report and the 911 communications to gather all the facts before giving a more informed opinion. In fact, I already submitted a FOIA request. Not surprisingly, given that an investigation was ordered, they’ve already denied my request:
Hopefully this isn’t one of those situations where an investigation is ordered and then… nothing is ever released. There seems to be an awful lot of those in West Virginia.
Once again, a police officer films himself committing a civil rights violation. This is an extremely important issue. It’s already super easy for police officers to stop and detain an innocent person just following a driver long enough and looking for one of the hundreds of available traffic law violations, or even by just lying about observing a traffic law violation. We’ve all known compulsive liars. They justify their behavior in their own minds by convincing themselves that they’re telling the truth – or that it’s for a good cause. When it comes to police officers and constitutional rights, our freedom hangs in the balance. It’s a slippery slope, so there can be no compromise.
In this footage we see an unlawful stop, based completely on a lie, documented by the officers’ own dash cam footage. It makes no difference, legally speaking, whether the lie was malicious, or done with good intentions. This is where most of us will encounter police officers. This is also where police officers can easily get away with racial profiling or other discrimination or harassment of innocent people. The threshold is very, very low for police officers to lawfully stop a vehicle and detain the driver. Where they are caught doing so illegally, there needs to be consequences and accountability.
Fortunately, there may be some accountability coming for these police officers. This footage comes to us from a fantastic new video released by the Institute for Justice, detailing a section 1983 lawsuit they just filed this month in Louisiana. I’ll post a link to the video and press release by the IJ in the description. I also urge you to donate to their cause. They do fantastic work protecting our freedom.
On June 15, 2022, Mario Rosales and his passenger Gracie, were driving in Alexandria, Louisiana. They both worked for an HVAC business and had just left from work. It was around 5 p.m. In his red Mustang, while sitting at a traffic light, Mario properly signaled a left turn and then proceeded to turn left. Two police officers with the Alexandria Police Department, Jim Lewis and Samuel Terrell, were behind him. The officers had no reason to suspect that Mario had committed any crime, including a traffic violation. His tags were current. The vehicle was in proper working order and didn’t appear to give rise to any justification for a traffic stop. There was no lawful reason for the stop.
Here’s the full raw footage:
In the end, due to the fishing expedition, the officers end up charging Mario with three violations: failure to signal, and two hyper-technical violations pertaining to residence and vehicle registration. Fortunately, all three charges were dismissed. Assuming that someone on a bench somewhere was looking at this footage and measuring it against the Constitution, those charges had to be dismissed. Why? Because the initial stop was illegal. Therefore, everything that happened afterwards is fruit of the poisonous tree. Well, the failure to signal was easily disproved by the video footage. But the two hyper-technical residency violations would also have to be thrown out because they were only discovered as a result of the officers’ illegal behavior.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a crime or traffic violation in order to justify a traffic stop detainment. In order to have valid reasonable suspicion here, the officers must have had some belief particular to Mario, based on the totality of the circumstances, that Mario committed some violation. Just a hunch by Officer Fifth Amendment here is not enough. His instincts are either way, way off, or he racially profiled Mario. Or maybe he just doesn’t like Mustangs. Either option violates the Fourth Amendment.
Even if there was a failure to signal, what other problems would we have here? As I explained in a previous video about traffic stops: The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop. Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes.
As we saw in the footage, this wasn’t just a regular traffic stop, Officer Fifth Amendment chose to take Mario out of his car, for an extended period of time and question him about criminal allegations completely unrelated to the supposed reason for the stop. For that to be legal, the officer would need to have separate reasonable suspicion particular to Mario – not just anyone and everyone he stops – that Mario may be involved in the suspected illegal activity. Thus even if the failure to signal allegation wasn’t a lie, the Fourth Amendment would still be violated. And then there’s a First Amendment violation in there for refusing Mario and Gracie the option of filming these lying police officers. That is well explained in the IJ’s complaint
In the Fall of 2020, David Craft, who then lived in Statesville, North Carolina, killed a monster buck in McDowell County, West Virginia, and also killed another trophy buck back in North Carolina, during the same season. David is a serious deer hunter. He does his homework; he puts in the time. He gets result. But others get jealous. Law enforcement ended up essentially stealing his antlers, posing with them for the media, dragging him through over a year of frivolous criminal prosecution, and then abruptly dropping the charging just prior to the jury trial, when it turned out they had no evidence.
Apparently accusations began to fly in early 2021. West Virginia wildlife officers, or DNR officers, from McDowell County completely ran with unfounded suspicions or allegations that David’s North Carolina buck was actually killed in West Virginia, which would be a violation due to the fact that he had already killed this monster trophy buck there, and you can’t kill two – just one. Then, while they’re at it, they for some reason conclude that the trophy monster buck must have been illegally killed somehow, either with a crossbow instead of a regular bow, or because it must have been killed on the jealous neighboring hunt club’s land. Either way, a bunch of bros in West Virginia, law enforcement included, wanted those antlers. So they dream up a story of some sinister plot to deprive McDowell County good ‘ole boys of their rightful trophy bucks, removing them to the undeserving state of North Carolina.
Why did they want them? To show them off of course. In 2022, no mere peasant can post trophy buck brag photos online – just law enforcement. A quick review of social media shows that wildlife officers in West Virginia have really gotten into this.
Ultimately, the charges were dismissed, apparently due to a complete and total lack of evidence. A jury trial was set to occur on April 28, 2022. But on April 21, 2022, the prosecutor moved to dismiss all charges, which was granted by the Court.
“Like a lot of things the investigation started with help from people in the community. That’s our greatest resource for information. We received information of possibly two bucks being taken illegally,” said Natural Resources Police Officer Jonathan Gills in McDowell County.”
“According to Gills, once they learned the suspect was from North Carolina they reached out to officers with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.” “They were a HUGE help to us, said Gills.
“Officers from the two agencies were able to come up with photographs and other physical evidence in the case which proved both bucks were killed in West Virginia. Turned out one of the bucks in question was actually checked in as being killed in North Carolina. Now, North Carolina investigators are closely watching the West Virginia case and the individual will likely face charges in his home state as well.”
Gills said the evidence also showed both bucks were killed with a crossbow” and that “crossbows are not allowed in those four archery-only hunting counties unless the hunter has a Class Y hunting permit.”
Gills also told the media, “We’ve been sent a lot of photos and there are a lot of folks who are upset these deer were taken.”
However, looking at the actual investigation report received in response to our FOIA request, they provided only a single grainy photo of a single deer, and it could be a great Bigfoot photo, looking almost photoshopped and inconclusive either way. Additionally, there is no mention of any involvement of North Carolina officers, other than the accompanying then to David’s house and then assisting them in seizing the antlers from the taxidermist. They didn’t appear to have provided any evidence at all against David, nor made any allegation that he had committed any crime.
Thus the photographs and physical evidence Officer Gill claimed to possess, proving that both bucks were killed illegally in West Virginia, just didn’t exist. That was false. As the February, 2021 article goes on to say, this appears to have been more about local hunters, including law enforcement officers, trying to keep outsiders away from their deer. Officer Gill goes on to say in the article that the West Virginia legislature had recently drastically increased the so-called “replacement costs” for trophy bucks illegally killed. “Gills said it was a major weapon to deter poaching of big bucks in his county,” the article said.
“Our department was given a great asset with that. Basically, they’re stealing the deer. They’re stealing quality bucks from legitimate hunters; men, women, and kids who are trying to go out and enjoy the sport.”
So, just because David was living in North Carolina, despite the fact that he bought a license, which mind you is way more expensive for an out-of-state hunter, he’s somehow not a “legitimate” hunter. He had a license, with which he killed one buck in West Virginia. He had a North Carolina license, with which he killed on buck in North Carolina. Both were properly checked in and all that rigamarole. This seems to have been more about hunters in one particular county protecting their trophy bucks from outsiders.
The article ended, “So far, no court date for the suspect had been set.” Not surprisingly, there was never a follow-up article. They did no press release mentioning that they had to drop the charges and were forced to return both sets of antlers to David. But even when he got them back, the attached capes were ruined.
Here, they drug David through the mud and criminal prosecution for over a year. Then when it came time to present the evidence to a jury, they walked away. No apology, no compensation – just returned his damaged antlers. They got their photo-op. Officer Gills got to play with the antlers for a while, but he had to give them back. So that’s how this thing started.
Sounded great, right? The politicians probably loved it. The hunters back home probably loved it. But here’s how it’s going now.
Also now, Officer Gills and Officer Damewood are going to have to answer for their actions in a section 1983 lawsuit. We have multiple constitutional violations that appear to have occurred here. I’ll provide an update with the details when the suit is filed. Wouldn’t it also be nice if the government would issue an updated press release about how this ended? If you just read the last one, it sounds like they got the bad guy and kept the antlers. If you just read the last one, David sounds like a real criminal. And the officers all sound like heroes. Let’s go ahead and set the record straight.
In April of 2020, a 72 year old combat veteran, himself a retired law enforcement officer, was arrested in his barbershop, for refusing to close his business during the lockdown ordered by our Governor. The criminal case is long over. The civil lawsuit that I filed is also over at this point. But the footage is a good reminder about your government.
Government employees will follow orders. Law enforcement will follow orders, constitutional or not. It doesn’t matter whether they have an American flag tattoo and/or sticker on their truck. It doesn’t matter whether they spout off on the inter-webs about patriotism and the Constitution. They’ll follow orders. And never count on the judiciary to hold them accountable.
When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.
His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.
He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer.
The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order. He beat the criminal charge. Here’s an excerpt of the dismissal order:
In the subsequent civil lawsuit, we asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. Here’s the original complaint:
The point is, here is concrete proof that it matters not whether your local police officer is a nice guy, or patriotic, or whatever. They will follow orders. They are agents of the government. If they don’t do it, they will be replaced with someone who will. But they will do it, I assure you – even if they personally disagree with it. It would be a tragedy to lose the pension and dental plan, of course. Don’t get confused about the difference between an individual’s personality and personal beliefs and their status as an agent of the government. There are countless examples of this, going back to the beginning of our republic. Don’t get caught ignorant.