Pastor Calls Cop a “TYRANT” and Gets Chased Into Church

On August 25, 2019 in Worcester, Massachusetts, police officers arrived outside Cornerstone Baptist Church. They were there attempting to retrieve a child after receiving a report of a custody dispute involving the granddaughter of the church’s pastor, Joseph Rizzuti, Sr. Officers arrived at the church to retrieve the child after the child’s father alleged that the mother had failed to return the child following a visit. Officers wrote in their reports that churchgoers and family members kept interfering, refused orders by police and resisted arrest. The body cam footage shows what happened. The church’s pastor, Joseph Rizzuti, Sr., stands outside the church, telling his daughter to leave. Worcester Police Sgt. Michael Cappabianca, Jr., walks over to him.

Is there a First Amendment right to call a police officer a “tyrant?” Yes. Does it matter whether he’s actually a tyrant or not? No. Does it matter whether you’re a pastor standing in front of your church or a homeless guy with a cardboard sign? No.

Stopped For Flashing & Handcuffed For Laughing | Unreal WV Traffic Stop

Isn’t that weird that I just did a video on the issue of whether there’s a constitutionally protected right to flash your lights at oncoming traffic, in order to warn them of an approaching speed trap, and then what do you know, it ends up happening again right here in West Virginia. This brand new exclusive footage you’re about to see however, is the worst of those incidents I think you’ll ever see anywhere on Youtube. Frankly, I’m disgusted by the actions of this deputy with the Nicholas County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department.

Here’s the citation William was given:

This was Corporal J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department. His behavior was disgraceful. But I’m also disappointed in the aftermath here. Corporal Ellison shamefully gave this man a ticket for two alleged violations – at least on paper – which were allegedly having an unsigned registration card, which is total garbage, as well as an alleged “special restrictions on lamps,” which was a frivolous charge meant to fabricate the nonexistent crime of warning fellow Americans about government waste, laziness and tyranny. 

Here’s the police report by Cpl. Ellison:

You’re really not going to believe this, but William went to court yesterday in the Magistrate Court of Nicholas County – that’s Summersville, West Virginia. He represented himself. He was being prosecuted by a prosecuting attorney from that county, with the matter presiding before Nicholas County Magistrate Michael Hanks. I’m really shocked to tell you that Magistrate Hanks convicted this man of the alleged crime of “Special Restrictions on Lamps.” He did dismiss the bogus charge of having an unsigned registration card because it’s thankfully not even on the books anymore – which by the way was the offense for which William was placed in handcuffs.

Between the prosecutor and the magistrate, which of those great legal minds thought it was a good idea to convict William of “special restriction on lamps?” Just looking at the statute, which is clearly not meant to apply to this situation, it makes an explicit exception, citing a different statute that allows for flashing lights for the purpose of warning the operators of other vehicles “of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing…, etc.” 

Here’s the prior video I did on flashing lights to warn of a speed trap:

Stay tuned for updates. I’m going to help William….

WV Town Official: We Don’t Allow the First Amendment Here

Jeff Gray, the “Godfather” of First Amendment auditors on Youtube, this week stopped in a couple different small towns here in West Virginia, publishing two videos of his encounters. Jeff is a great guy. If you’re not familiar with him, he has a sort of raggedy cardboard sign he holds up that says “God Bless the Homeless Vets.” Then he goes to some public place and just says, “God Bless the Homeless Vets.” He’s super polite and respectful. People see the sign and they react however they’re going to react. Thus we see protected First Amendment activity, occurring in a traditional public forum, and then we see how our government servants end up reacting to that activity.

Jeff stopped in Chesapeake, West Virginia, where he was nearly trespassed off public property by a police officer, ironically standing in front of a veteran’s memorial. But for the most part, that one had a positive ending and overall experience. I encourage you to go watch that video.

Then, Jeff went to Mount Hope, West Virginia. When Jeff told me he was coming through West Virginia, asking where he should go, I told him about Mount Hope, where I exposed the fact that they had this police officer who was essentially terrorizing motorists on a nearby four lane highway. So apparently that’s where he chose to go, and you can watch the full video on his channel about just what happened. But here’s a few snippets. As Jeff explains in his videos, panhandling is a constitutionally protected activity. Here’s Jeff’s Mount Hope video:

Since government employees apparently have a difficult time grasping this concept, let me explain panhandling, as it relates to the First Amendment.

First of all, a municipality cannot just prohibit panhandling within its jurisdiction. A town cannot just decide that the First Amendment doesn’t apply within its borders. Theoretically, though they would likely be inviting litigation, a town could impose certain reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on panhandling. They would have to establish some legitimate content-neutral public safety reason for doing so, and then provide available alternatives that are still adequate. Traditional public forums such as parks, sidewalks, etc., could not be completely foreclosed from the activity. 

Panhandling, or “begging” is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that the solicitation of “charitable contributions” is protected speech. Riley v. Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of N.C., 487 U.S. 781, 789, 108 S.Ct. 2667, 101 L.Ed.2d 669 (1988). The Fourth Circuit has cited a sister circuit recognizing that, “We see little difference between those who solicit for organized charities and those who solicit for themselves in regard to the message conveyed. The former are communicating the needs of others while the latter are communicating their personal needs. Both solicit the charity of others. The distinction is not significant for First Amendment purposes.” Loper v. New York City Police Dep’t, 999 F.2d 699, 704 (2d Cir.1993); cited by Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549 (4th Cir. 2013) (“We agree that begging is communicative activity within the protection of the First Amendment.”).

The location of this activity is extremely relevant to its protections. Places such as parks, streets, and sidewalks fall into “the category of public property traditionally held open to the public for expressive activity.” Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to public streets and sidewalks as “the archetype of a traditional public forum.” (Snyder v. Phelps 2011). If a municipality seeks to regulate protected speech in a traditional public forum, they may impose reasonable content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791, 109 S.Ct. 2746, 105 L.Ed.2d 661 (1989). If the regulation is content-based however, the courts apply strict scrutiny. Under strict scrutiny, a regulation will be upheld “only if it is the least restrictive means available to further a compelling government interest.”

Thus step one is determining whether strict scrutiny applies, i.e., whether the regulation is content-based. If not, then intermediate scrutiny applies. The government’s restriction of speech is content-neutral if it is “ ‘justified without reference to the content … of the regulated speech.’ ” (Christian Legal Soc’y v. Martinez 2010). On the other hand, a restriction is content-based if it was “adopted … because of disagreement with the message [the speech] conveys.” “The government’s purpose is the controlling consideration.”

Content-neutral time, place, and manner regulations of speech in traditional public forums are subject to intermediate scrutiny—that is, the restrictions must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” A content-neutral regulation is narrowly tailored if it does not “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.” 

In Reynolds v. Middleton, 779 F.3d 222 (4th Cir. 2015), the 4th Circuit evaluated a Henrico County, Virginia ordinance that banned panhandling and several other forms of solicitation on all county highways. The Court established several evidentiary standards for the government to meet to satisfy intermediate scrutiny for regulating First Amendment activity such as panhandling. 

The Court requires the government to “present actual evidence supporting its assertion that a speech restriction does not burden substantially more speech than necessary.” Additionally, they have to prove that they actually tried other methods to address the government interest the regulation is designed to address, i.e., public safety concerns, flow of traffic, etc. If “available alternatives” are provided by the government, they need not be the speaker’s first or best choice, or provide the same audience or impact for the speech. But they must be adequate. If the speech is panhanding, the individual cannot be required to do so from a place where there is no target audience. If the speech is handing out leaflets, the speaker cannot be removed to only a spot where there is nobody to hand leaflets. 

In short, someone engaging in protected speech generally cannot be subjected to disparate treatment based on the content of their speech whatsoever, and need only be subjected to regulation for legitimate content-neutral reasons only so long as the regulations are minor logistical restrictions, leaving adequate opportunity to continue to express the protected speech.

Therefore, a municipality cannot just prohibit panhandling within its jurisdiction. A town cannot just decide that the First Amendment doesn’t apply within its borders. Theoretically, though they would likely be inviting litigation, a town could impose certain reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on panhandling. They would have to establish some legitimate content-neutral public safety reason for doing so, and then provide available alternatives that are still adequate. Traditional public forums such as parks, sidewalks, etc., could not be completely foreclosed from the activity. Certain key high-traffic areas or spots could possibly satisfy this test. Certain key time restrictions could possibly satisfy the test. But just an outright ban within a town of all panhandling? Absolutely not. That would violate the First Amendment just as much as a ban on all protected speech within city limits. 

My Client Films Officer Appearing to Overdose After Suspect Allegedly Throws Narcotics

It hit the news yesterday that several Oak Hill, West Virginia police officers had supposedly overdosed after narcotics were thrown at them by a suspect they were attempting to arrest. I was already looking into the science behind these claims when I found out that a client of mine actually witnessed what happened, and began filming with his cell phone.

“Sheriff’s Office: Two officers in Oak Hill overdose after suspect throws drugs at them” was the headline. Here’s the media report:

What were the chances that a client of mine just happened to be driving by when it happened? Compare the footage with the press release and let me know your thoughts on the matter. I have some initial thoughts, but want to look into it some more.

Here’s the statement issued by the sheriff’s department:

Here’s the footage:

“Creepy Search Cops” Ask Federal Court to Restrict My YouTube Channel

I know that many people are following my progress in the Creepy Cops Search Case out of Putnam County, West Virginia, where drug task force police officers were caught on camera illegally searching my client’s house. That apparently includes those officers and their lawyers in the pending federal civil rights lawsuit. This is the most recent update about the case:

On Friday, the defendant officers’ lawyers filed a motion completely centered on my Youtube channel, requesting an order prohibiting me from ever publishing video deposition testimony of those police officers. Basically they’re requesting court approval for a coverup. Now, important First Amendment issues are implicated. Police already have qualified immunity. The one remedy given to us by Congress it to sue them. Now they want to turn that process into something akin to Family Court or abuse and neglect proceedings, where government gets to operate in secrecy and without accountability and exposure. Here’s the motion they filed:

Here are their attached exhibits:

The video depositions in the Creepy Cops Search Case haven’t even been taken yet. They’re actually scheduled to be taken in a few days. I already agreed to postpone them several times already at their request, because they were concerned that the FBI was investigating them. So I gave them time to evaluate their situation and hire or consult criminal defense attorneys before they testified. Now, they want to testify essentially in secret. Why? Because posting their video testimony allegedly puts them in danger. They went through the prior videos I published on this situation and cherry picked the craziest ones they could find, and presented them to the Court as the basis for why I should be forever silenced from exposing their misconduct. 

At the end of every video I tell you that freedom is scary. Why? Why is it scary? Fear is the tool that tyrants use to subject us and take away our freedoms. Over and over again. From the beginning of recorded history to the present. Of course police officers in America, if given the choice, would choose to operate in secrecy. They don’t want to be recorded. They don’t want to give you their names – they just want yours. 

Run Out of Town for Loitering? – Is That Constitutional?

Quite a few people sent me this video of Travis Heinze being told to leave Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, for “loitering.” I’m pretty sure I watched this play out in Rambo First Blood. Is this constitutional? Loitering ordinances have been misused by law enforcement for many years. The problem is, they create a criminal offense based on one’s mere presence in a public place, with the lack of any criminal intent. Therefore the police get total power to define who is a criminal, and who is acting lawfully. Of course, this can, and is, misused by police. Which is why the federal courts have addressed the constitutionality of these statutes.

Here’s the original video:

Here’s the Turtle Lake loitering ordinance:

Trespass Arrest of First Amendment Auditor – Meh, Someone Must Own It

On August 19, 2022, Joshua Gibbons arrived at Aerojet Rocketdyne Corporation in Jonesborough, Tennessee. He sent me a link to his video of him getting arrested shortly afterwards. A few other people submitted this video as well.

The police officer, a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, jumped straight into a warrantless arrest here. He needed probable cause to arrest Josh without an arrest warrant. There are three levels of interaction between a police officer and an individual: 

  1. A consensual encounter;
  2. An investigatory detention; and
  3. A warrantless arrest.

Number 1 requires nothing, so long as it’s objectively consensual. Fourth Amendment protections to not apply to consensual encounters. 

An investigatory detention requires reasonable suspicion. Fourth Amendment protections do apply to detentions. They must be reasonable. 

A warrantless arrest requires probable cause. 

Here, the officer appears to have skipped directly to number 3, a warrantless arrest, which requires probable cause. 

What is the basic criminal trespass law in Tennessee? 

State v. Hollingsworth, 944 S.W.2d 625 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1996).

Before an accused can be convicted of criminal trespass, the State of Tennessee must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (a) the accused entered or remained on the property, or a portion of the property, of another person, and (b) the accused did not have the owner’s effective consent before entering the property. Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)…

The accused’s knowledge that he or she did not have the “effective consent” to enter the property may be inferred from “(1) personal communication to the [accused] by the owner or by someone with apparent authority to act for the owner,” and (2) “[f]encing or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders.” Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)(1) and (2).

State v. Lee (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000).

Knowledge that the person did not have the owner’s effective consent may be inferred where notice against entering or remaining is given by personal communication to the person by the owner. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)(1).

Was he on public or private property? If he was on private property, did Josh have knowledge that he was on private property without the owner’s consent? As far as the issue over public or private property, more information is needed. With the information given however, we know the following:

Josh subjectively believed he was located within the public right of way. Being right on the edge of the public road, he very well may have been. You’ll notice that there was a fence a little further off the road. Josh was nowhere near that fence. Josh credibly demonstrated to the police officer that he subjectively believed he was on a public right of way, and not trespassing onto a private owner’s land. Secondly, the police officer didn’t know one way or the other whether Josh was within a public right of way, or on private property. Moreover, even if Josh was on public property, the officer admittedly didn’t know who the owner was.

Therefore, there’s a great case to be made that Josh could not have violated Tennessee’s criminal trespassing statute. Even if he was on private property, there’s no evidence that he had the requisite criminal intent to commit trespassing. Additionally, the officer performed almost no investigation prior to his warrantless arrest. Surprisingly he didn’t even bother to request Josh’s ID first. He just arrested him. 

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. 

Doxxed by a Senator: Free Speech Retaliation by Public Officials

I want to expand on the legal issues presented in yesterday’s video a little more. Yesterday I posted a video on the issue of warning fellow motorists about a speed trap via flashing the lights on your car. If that is protected speech, and as a result of that protected speech, you get pulled over, harassed, arrested, or so on, at that point you may have not just a Fourth Amendment violation, but also a First Amendment violation. More specifically, the cause of action in federal court is called First Amendment Retaliation. It’s a violation of your First Amendment rights to suffer retaliation as a consequence of exercising your rights. This area of the law can be extremely murky. But it can also be straightforward. Like everything else in federal constitutional law, it’s highly fact-dependent.

This can be illustrated by a case I litigated, which pre-dated my Youtube channel, so you won’t find it there – at least before now. Imagine that a private citizen, riding in his work delivery truck, through the West Virginia countryside, sees a vehicle come barreling around him on a stretch of road with a double yellow line, going into a curve. This is filmed by the citizen with his cell phone. He recognizes the vehicle as that of his state senator. He then posts the video to social media, showing and denouncing the senator’s actions to his social media friends. But the senator has his own social media following, which is exponentially larger. In response to the citizen’s video, that senator with a large social media following goes on a rant against the citizen, calling him names, and also then identifying his place of employment – doxxing him, essentially. But he didn’t stop there.

Large numbers of § 1983 complaints allege free speech retaliation claims. These claims frequently give rise to difficult legal issues and sharply contested factual issues. The majority of these claims are asserted by present and former public employees. First Amendment retaliation claims are also asserted by government contractors, individuals subject to criminal prosecution, prisoners, and landowners, among others.

As a general matter, public officials may not respond to “constitutionally protected activity with conduct or speech that would chill or adversely affect [t]his protected activity.” Balt. Sun Co. v. Ehrlich , 437 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 2006). That is so “even if the act, when taken for different reasons, would have been proper.” ACLU of Md., Inc. v. Wicomico Cty ., 999 F.2d 780, 785 (4th Cir. 1993).

To succeed on a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show: “(1) [the] speech was protected, (2) the alleged retaliatory action adversely affected [the] protected speech, and (3) a causal relationship [existed] between the protected speech and the retaliation.” Raub v. Campbell , 785 F.3d 876, 885 (4th Cir. 2015).

However, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Public officials can theoretically act both under color of law, as well as a private actor not under color of law. The defendant acts under color of state law if he is “a state actor or ha[s] a sufficiently close relationship with state actors such that . . . [he] is engaged in the state’s actions.” Cox v. Duke Energy Inc., 876 F.3d 625, 632 (4th Cir. 2017). Put simply, the defendant acts under color of state law when he “exercise[s] power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [he] is clothed with the authority of state law.” Davison v. Randall, 912 F.3d 666, 679 (4th Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted). 

“[T]here is no specific formula for defining state action under this standard.” Rather, Courts evaluate “the totality of the circumstances.” Holly v. Scott, 434 F.3d 287, 292 (4th Cir. 2006). “If a defendant’s purportedly private actions are linked to events which rose out of his official status, the nexus between the two can play a role in establishing that he acted under color of state law.” In addition, “[w]here the sole intention of a public official is to suppress speech critical of his conduct of official duties or fitness for public office, his actions are more fairly attributable to the state.” 

In my case, this was the big issue. The senator’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss. The federal court ended up denying that motion to dismiss, ordering the case to proceed. The Court pointed out that the state senator posted his response video on his official campaign Facebook page that he was using to both share information with his constituents, as well as to campaign for Congress. Thus the social media account generating the alleged retaliation was closely connected to official activities. 

Using that official account and social media following, the Court concluded that an inference was supported that the state senator was using his official position to pressure my client’s employer to fire him. Moreover, the Court found a causal connection between the response video, as well as the phone call to the employer, and my client being fired. He ordered the case to proceed and a subsequent settlement ensued.

Is There a Right to Flash Lights to Warn Motorists of a Speed Trap? – Can They Stop You?

Is there a constitutionally protected right to flash your lights at oncoming traffic, in order to warn them of an approaching speed trap? There’s remarkably few rulings out there on this issue, and a quick search reveals very little guidance from the judiciary and the legal community. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a common occurrence. I hear about it from time-to-time and there’s a few instances out there if it being captured on video. Perhaps my favorite is an old video from the guy they called the Godfather of First Amendment auditors, Jeff Grey.

This occurred in Florida, near Jacksonville, on I-10, and involves a classic Florida speed trap, full of unnecessary government employees who have nothing else better to do than to harass people and flex their egos and authority. Jeff sets the trap with the bait. And the cops can’t resist it. 

Here’s the original video:

What we have here is an acknowledgment that Jeff was subjected to a traffic stop as a sole result of his flashing his lights. There’s no allegation of speeding, seat belt, or other pretext for the stop. Remember: every traffic stop is already an investigative detention, by definition, and therefore reasonable suspicion must be present to justify the invasion of Fourth Amendment protections. Now, reasonable suspicion is usually pretty easy for even the dumbest of police officers to articulate, which encourages them to lie. They just have to say they saw you violate some traffic law. Here, had they known ahead of time who they were dealing with, they probably would have made something else up. But the first thing that popped out was feigned concern about protecting or helping Jeff. They know that’s a lie. Jeff knows that’s a lie. They know that Jeff knows that’s a lie.

If this were true, there would be no Fourth Amendment justification to continue to detain Jeff. However, the footage clearly shows that they indeed continue to detain him. What likely happens is that the officers now go back to their police cruisers, and discuss the situation. Now they’re aware that Jeff was filming them. For police officers who were already willing to lie about the reason they pulled Jeff over, this could be a problem. As you’ll see, their strategy is to stop the recording. But Jeff refuses, calling their bluff.

Even now in 2022, there’s still no clear federal law on the issue on whether there’s a federally protected First Amended right to warn oncoming traffic about a speed trap. But there’s a wealth of clearly established law on the right not to be detained by the police in the absence of reasonable suspicion. If the officers in Jeff’s video had been honest about the reason they were pulling Jeff over, and if they were able to point to a Florida statute he was violating, they may have been justified in their actions, or at the very least entitled to qualified immunity. However, they basically admitted that they pulled him over in retaliation for warning other motorists, without bothering even to lie about a pretextual reason for doing so, thereafter repeatedly trying to intimidate him into turning off his camera.

There are no Supreme Court cases on this. There are no federal appellate cases, to my knowledge. There are only a couple of U.S. District Court opinions, and a couple of state circuit court opinions. There was a 2019 memorandum opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin holding that a policy and practice of stopping, detaining, and citing drivers who flash their headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a speed trap violates his right to free speech under the First Amendment. This was Obriecht v. Splinter.

The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” It protects conduct, symbols, and non-verbal communication that express or convey a particularized message reasonably understood by viewers. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 404-06 (1989). Flashing headlights could easily be placed into the category of expressive conduct. In the Obriecht v. Splinter case, this point was conceded by the state. However, even expressive conduct may be regulate by the government. For example, speech that incites or produces “imminent lawless action,” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969), or is integral to criminal conduct, such as fighting words, threats, and solicitations, United States v. White, 610 F.3d 956, 960 (7th Cir. 2010), is not protected by the First Amendment. 

Another similar case from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri held in 2014 that this conduct was entitled to protection under the First Amendment. (Elli v. City of Ellisville, Mo). At least two state circuit courts have found that drivers have a constitutional right to flash their headlights. (State of Oregon v. Hill (2014); State v. Walker (Tenn. 2003)).

The problem with the lack of precedent on this issue leads to a big problem for potential plaintiffs: qualified immunity. The standard for qualified immunity requires establishing that the police officer violated clearly established law. Where there is almost no established case law, that’s going to be a tough task. 

However, as we saw from Jeff’s video, if police are going to pull people over for flashing their lights at other motorists, they need to be honest about what they’re doing, and identify a state or local statute they allege is violated by the relevant conduct. Then, the victim of that stop can mount a First Amendment challenge. This is how the law will become clearly established. At the same time, if they’re not being honest, only video footage is going to protect the motorist from pre-textual lies, which if documented, will establish liability for a Fourth Amendment violation, with no good argument for qualified immunity.