Newly released video shows a Vallejo police officer throw a man to the ground seconds after meeting him outside a bar earlier this year, which left the man with a swollen gash on his head. Officer Rosendo Mesa had encountered the man, identified as 58-year-old Moises Bernal, outside a bar after Bernal had been kicked out on Jan. 21. Mesa arrested Bernal for alleged disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but he was not charged with a crime. This raises issues of excessive force, as well as whether reasonable suspicion existed to seize the man in the first place.
One of the most common questions I get asked is, what’s the deal with the sovereign citizen videos. Do these guys ever win in court? Here’s a brand new one that just made the news in Volusia County, Florida. The bodycam footage was released by the sheriff there, showing two people arrested after claiming essentially that laws don’t apply to them as sovereign citizens. Is there anything to this?
This happened in Florida. Florida is in the 11th federal circuit. So to find the applicable federal constitutional law, you look first to the U.S. Supreme Court and then to the 11th Circuit. Then elsewhere. The federal courts in Florida and the 11th Circuit have addressed sovereign citizen arguments multiple times. One recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ford v. Antonides, issued in October of 2022, alleges basically these same facts.
There, the plaintiff, Tyree Ford, filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit from the Lee County Jail, alleging that he was unlawfully arrested after a traffic stop and seeking 2 million dollars in damages. The Court wrote that:
Instead of alleging facts showing that the stop of his car was somehow improper (leading to a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment), Plaintiff bases his claims against Defendant Antonides on an argument that he was immune from the traffic stop she initiated (and that eventually led to his arrest) because he displayed a sign on his car informing her that he was a “Traveler – Not for hire. Private Property.” (Doc. 1 at 6). This argument is similar to those espoused by self-proclaimed “sovereign citizens,” as explained in a 2019 law review article:
The most common type of Sovereign Citizen claim encountered by local and state police, as well as federal border patrol agents, is the “right to travel.” Citing the Constitution, Supreme Court cases, and a plethora of other sources, Sovereign Citizens believe they are not required to have driver’s licenses, license plates, vehicle registration, or to stop at border or sobriety checkpoints. Similar to other claims, Sovereign Citizens discussing the “right to travel” place special emphasis on the words being used.
They differentiate between a driver and a traveler; an automobile and a motor vehicle; commercial and non- commercial; and public versus private conveyances. Once a Sovereign Citizen claims that he or she is merely a traveler or traveling, he or she then uses federal and state cases to support the “right to travel.” Sovereign Citizens also believe the right to travel constitutes a complete bar on government interference with travel in the absence of probable cause or evidence that a victim has been harmed.
These types of claims-that a plaintiff is entitled to different treatment as a “sovereign citizen”-are routinely rejected by federal courts as frivolous. See, e.g., United States v. Sterling, 738 F.3d 228, 233 n.1 (11th Cir. 2013) (noting that so-called “sovereign citizens” are individuals who believe they are not subject to courts’ jurisdiction and that courts have summarily rejected their legal theories as frivolous); United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753, 761-67 (7th Cir. 2011) (describing the conduct of a “sovereign citizen” and collecting cases rejecting the group’s claims as frivolous, and recommending that “sovereign citizen” arguments “be rejected summarily, however they are presented.”); Reed v. Jones, No. 4:21CV3051, 2021 WL 2913023, at *3 (D. Neb. July 12, 2021) (“sovereign citizen” argument that motor-vehicle registration and licensing laws do not apply to plaintiff rejected as frivolous); Trevino v. Florida, 687 Fed.Appx. 861, 862 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of 1983 action based on sovereign citizens as frivolous and noting that if those theories challenged the conviction, habeas was the proper avenue of relief).
Nothing alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint even remotely suggests that he is entitled to relief against Defendant Antonides under recognized theories of relief. And, as noted, Plaintiff’s sovereign citizen argument has been soundly rejected by federal courts. Accordingly, all claims against Defendant Antonides are dismissed from this action as frivolous and for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii).
There are many more cases just like this using a lot of the same language. Every one of them dismissing the arguments as frivolous and quickly moving on. And that’s just the 11th Circuit. It’s the same around the country.
So to answer your question, no there’s nothing to it. That’s not to say that I don’t think that Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave at the idea of the government requiring license plates and licenses to operate his carriage. But it’s the reality we live in.
Police officers arrived at a gym on a noise complaint. The gym owner expressed his displeasure at the officers’ presence. As they started to detain him, he went back into his gym and told the officers they could not enter. But they did enter and tased him and took him to the ground, and arrested him. Here’s the issue. The Fourth Amendment does not allow police to go inside your home and arrest you without a warrant. But what about your business? Did they need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment to arrest this gym owner?
On October 16, 2021, the life of Silvester Hayes was altered forever. That morning, Hayes woke up early and went out to get breakfast for his four young children. While driving to get their favorite meal, which was french toast from a restaurant only a few blocks away from their home, Silvester encountered two Dallas police officers. He did not return to his kids with breakfast. Now a lawsuit has been filed and the bodycam footage has been released.
The lawsuit alleges the existence of a Texas state law conferring a right to resist an unlawful arrest:
In Texas, the use of force to resist an arrest is justified: (1) if, before the actor offers any resistance, the peace officer uses or attempts to use greater force than necessary to make the arrest or search; and (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the peace officer’s use or attempted use of greater force than necessary. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 9.31.
If you think that being falsely arrested can’t happen to you, then you have to watch this video. This video shows my client being arrested for DUI even though she was stone cold sober. This can, and does, happen to innocent people across the country. Here you will see an egregious example of this happening, as it plays out in real time on the officer’s bodycam.
My client, Yolanda Elliott, was a bus driver for the City of Bluefield, West Virginia. Mrs. Elliott is a completely innocent, hardworking good person. She was a bus driver for the actual city that ended up arresting her. She had then, and still has, a CDL license to drive large buses and trucks. Little did she know that when she showed up for work that day, on October 28, 2022, she would be pulled over while driving a city bus, accused of running a red light, and then pulled out of her bus and forced to perform a bunch of circus tricks, while the passenger of her bus watched.
A Newport, Rhode Island, woman who was first on the scene after a car wreck between a high school and college student in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, alleges that the South Kingstown Police were abusive — and assaulted her. In a 23-page lawsuit filed in Federal Court last week on behalf of Claire Hall, she alleges she was unlawfully arrested and physically injured, she was placed in imminent fear for her well-being, she was emotionally damaged, she was embarrassed, humiliated, and unlawfully and wrongfully charged as a criminal.
Imagine that your 62 year old father was driving late at night after 11 hours on the road. Would you worry that he would fall asleep? Hopefully he would just pull over somewhere and take a nap if he was tired. Right? Usually, yes. But not in Spokane County, Washington.
62 year old Kevin Hinton had just driven 11 hours into his road trip back from meeting his brand new baby granddaughter in Oregon. He was too tired to continue driving. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. So he pulled over into a parking lot at Terrace View Park, in Spokane, Washington, to take a nap. Shortly afterwards he would encounter Sgt. Clay Hilton with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Within three minutes, Hilton would forcibly remove Mr. Hinton from his vehicle in such a way as to leave him with 8 broken ribs, a punctured lung, severe concussion, shoulder injury, and a disfigured lip. Why? Because Sgt. Hilton thought he was being rude.
Here’s yet another video of police officers detaining or arresting a man’s wife, in order to coerce him into complying with their demands – whether legal or not. Last time, this happened in Georgia. But this time, we’re in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The Oklahoman originally reported on this incident and provided the video footage. Once again, most people misunderstand the application of the Fourth Amendment in and around the “curtilage” of a home.
Several people sent me this video from the Crime Scene Cam youtube channel, showing a young, entitled couple confronting cops over their parked cars, several of which are in the public roadway. They learn several lessons here. But the more important lesson is the interplay in Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to the public road, versus the curtilage of your home.
This is footage of a 2019 arrest for failure to produce ID to a police officer. A car broke down; a mechanic was called, and showed up; some idiot thought it looked suspicious and called the cops; then the cops showed up and demanded ID. But the guy was busy and obviously annoyed that the cops are harassing him while he’s trying to help somebody. This interaction resulted in a civil rights lawsuit for false arrest. Originally, the officers were granted qualified immunity. But just last week, the 11th Circuit issued an opinion in the plaintiff’s appeal. Who was right? Was the mechanic illegally arrested?