The lawsuit was filed today on behalf of Dustin Elswick, against Putnam County, West Virginia, along with four police officers involved in the infamous “Special Enforcement Unit.” These are the cops who were caught on hidden camera searching the inside of Dustin’s home. Although they cut the wire on an outside surveillance camera, they were apparently unaware of the cameras inside the home.
This is a federal “Section 1983” lawsuit alleging the violation of federal constitutional rights; namely, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. A warrantless search of your home is automatically unconstitutional in the absence of one of two exceptions: consent, or exigent circumstances (emergency), neither of which apply here. Two prior federal lawsuits have already been filed against the SEU thus far for similar allegations in the Johnson case, as well as the Dillon case. The remedy is an award of money damages, along with reasonable attorney fees and expenses.
There was an internal investigation, as the news reported, but we never received information about the outcome. That sheriff has since been replaced.
We recently obtained a report from the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel which found that a West Virginia Family Court Judge made improper and false allegations about the judicial disciplinary prosecutors who have been prosecuting a fellow Family Court Judge, Louise Goldston. The report concluded, in part:
It is shocking that a long-standing member of the judiciary bestowed with the honor of being part of the system designed to protect and preserve the integrity of the judicial system would make such baseless accusations designed to solely to impugn the integrity of two members of the West Virginia State Bar. It does not appear that FCJ (Family Court Judge) Stotler conducted any factual investigation into the allegations regarding JDC (Judicial Disciplinary Counsel) before regurgitating the untimely, unsupported allegations made by FCJ (Family Court Judge) Goldston and sending an ex parte communication, written on his official court letterhead, to the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Judicial Branch of government has the exclusive authority to regulate the practice of law in the State of West Virginia, but FCJ Stotler’s letter was also sent to members of the Legislature….
The law is not an arena where we vilify civility, curse through preparation, and denigrate skilled, zealous advocacy.
The ODC investigation commenced after a sitting Family Court Judge, Judge Glen R. Stotler, of the 23rd Family Court Circuit (Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan Counties), also a member of the Judicial Hearing Board that heard the Goldston case, sent a March 25, 2021 letter (on his official court letterhead) to the Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court, making numerous allegations against the judicial prosecutors in regards to their handling of the Goldston case, and ultimately requesting an investigation into their actions, as well as their termination, “or at the least a serious reprimand.” Here’s a partial shot of the three-page letter:
Not only did he send the letter to the Supreme Court, but he sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, the Court’s administrative office, as well as to the President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock, another sitting Family Court Judge.
Here’s the ODC investigation report in its entirety, which details the entire ordeal up to that point, including a discussion of some of the sworn statements taken of the judges involved. It also gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at the judicial disciplinary prosecution procedures, which are usually confidential:
Shockingly, on the same day as this ODC report was issued – May 13, 2021 – the Family Court Judicial Association apparently helped Judge Stotler double-down, by essentially turning his letter into a “Resolution” adopted by the entire Family Court Judicial Association, again making allegations against the JDC and calling for their termination. It’s my understanding that this “Resolution” was effectively sent back by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office as inappropriate. They later retained a lawyer and filed an amicus brief in the Goldston case, which is set for oral arguments next month. Here’s the Resolution:
Perhaps they should have waited maybe one more day to issue their Resolution, since unbeknownst to them, apparently, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on that same day issued this lengthy report revealing Judge Stotler’s allegations as false, outrageous and highly inappropriate. The ODC report documented that the judicial disciplinary prosecutors were falsely accused, and that perhaps the accuser(s) might want to examine their own misconduct:
The former chair of the JIC (Judicial Investigation Commission) stated he could speak to the abilities and character of Respondent Tarr and Respondent Lanham. He stated as attorneys representing the JIC they have exceedingly difficult jobs as they must not only know the judicial canons but act fearlessly in doing those things as required by their jobs as JDC. The former Chair of the JIC stated that FCJ Stotler’s March 2021 letter demonstrates both an ignorance of the system and a willingness to respond to adverse decisions in an irresponsible manner. The former Chair further opined that the reckless letter required FCJ Stotler’s removal from further service on the Judicial Hearing Board.
Now, an entire body of Family Court Judges have made the same false allegations and requests. Numerous sitting Family Court Judges out there have apparently now engaged in what is described in the report as acting in an ignorant and irresponsible manner, and which raises a serious question as to their fitness to serve in a judicial capacity. But who are they, specifically? They’re hiding behind their supposedly private “Association.” The ODC report, if you read through it, mentions the involvement of then-President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock. In fact, it mentions that she apparently assisted Judge Stotler in preparing the letter with the false allegations.
Judge Rock, along with another Family Court Judge, also apparently assisted Judge Goldston with her brief, which included the false statements about the judicial prosecutors:
Did it ever seem like a good idea to get involved in a disciplinary prosecution of a fellow judge and attempt to have the prosecutors fired? What are the potential remedies? Judicial disciplinary complaints? Impeachment proceedings? If Judge Stotler isn’t fit to preside over a judicial disciplinary hearing, then is he, or others who joined him, fit to preside over cases involving people’s children and finances? These questions need to be asked, and there may be some news on that front in the near future.
We have several pending FOIA requests pertaining to this, and hopefully will have more information soon. Meanwhile, the federal civil rights lawsuit against Judge Goldston, and others, remains pending. Read more about the background of this case here:
This week we filed a second federal civil rights lawsuit against the Putnam County, West Virginia so-called “Special Enforcement Unit.” This is the same “SEU” guys who were featured in the Dustin Elswick video. This case features one of the victims who came forward after the Elswick video became public.
It involves a young man who was visiting a friend’s house, on his way to go fishing. The SEU just happened to raid his friend’s home, without a warrant, keeping my client in handcuffs for an extended period of time while they searched the house. Apparently they found a small amount of pot in the friend’s house and a couple hundred dollars in cash, which they took. No paperwork documenting the event was ever provided in response to our FOIA requests. There were no criminal charges.
We’re alleging multiple civil rights violations, including unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Here’s the Complaint, in full.
Here’s the Petition for Rehearing and Petition for Rehearing En Banc we filed yesterday in the Walker AR-15 open carry case, which will give effectively stay the case while the other judges on the Fourth Circuit have an opportunity to review our petition and consider whether to get involved.
If the Panel Opinion remains, Black is meaningless, because there will always be “more” available to any police officer. Even if an individual has violated no law, they will be subject to detainment based on any speculative crime which generally could be committed by any anonymous person. A man walking in the direction of any woman might be a rapist, given that he would appear to have the physical ability to carry out a rape. Any driver of a car heading in the direction of any other human being might be a potential murderer, because they appear to have the physical ability to run-over people, should they so choose. The analogies could go on and on because, like the Michael Walker case, these scenarios are all generalized, rather than based on individualized reasonable suspicion.
Deputy Donahoe did, and claims to have done numerous other times, exactly that which Black forbade: to assume that being a felon in possession of a firearm was the default status; that, without more, he could detain and ID anyone he saw with a firearm. He admitted that he had no information that Walker may have been a prohibited person. (J.A. 162:5-8). Donahoe admitted under oath that had no indications that Mr. Walker was a threat to anyone, nor appeared to have any ill intentions (J.A. 167:1-4). Donahoe told Mr. Walker at the beginning of the stop, “At this point, I have the absolute right to see whether you’re legal to carry that gun or not.” (See J.A. 209 – Video of Incident).
The District Court acknowledged that “where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention.” Black, 707 F.3d at 540 (J.A. 326). There was no “more.” Walker had committed no crime. He wasn’t observed committing a crime. Not a single person alleged that a crime was committed by Michael Walker. To allow a police officer’s subjective fear of AR-15s, or of theoretical copycat crimes, to be utilized as “more,” effectively swallows the rule. This opens the door to racial profiling, and so on. To allow the Panel Opinion to stand is to unravel Black, and important civil rights protections.
Remember my video with Kentucky Lawyer Chris Wiest about his excessive force lawsuit involving the Kentucky State Police back in March? One of the police officers involved was fired and charged with perjury after he was caught lying in the deposition in Chris’ civil lawsuit.
A former Kentucky State trooper has been criminally charged with perjury after denying under oath that he beat a man with a flashlight in April 2020.
Thomas Czartorski was named in a lawsuit alleging troopers used excessive force against Alex Hornback of Shepherdsville while executing a bench warrant. The lawsuit also alleged that Hornback’s parents recorded the officers beating him, and that a trooper deleted the footage. But a home security video captured the incident. A lieutenant with the Kentucky State Police accused Czartorski in a complaint filed Thursday of lying during a January deposition when he said he didn’t use any force during the arrest. Czartorski turned himself in Friday afternoon at the courthouse on a felony charge of first-degree perjury, according to his attorney, Josh Schneider. The charge carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.
Congratulations to West Virginia’s first Second Amendment “Sanctuary,” Putnam County, in obtaining a new anti-gun diatribe of a published opinion from the Fourth Circuit. This morning, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the Walker case. Basically, the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to the AR-15, and it matters not that the WV legislature allows its citizens to possess and use AR-15s, because the judiciary decides what peasants may possess – not the state legislature.
I knew it was going to be bad, since at the oral arguments one of the judges likened the AR-15 to the M-16. And he ended up authoring the opinion. You can listen to the oral arguments here, if you missed them.
Join me live at 7pm for a discussion on the ruling:
The saga of the Family Court Judges attempting to sway justice in the case of the Family Court Judge Search Case continues. As I already posted about, I sent a FOIA request to the Family Court Judicial Association to ascertain, among other things, who actually voted to engage in this conduct. Their lawyer responded, as I expected, denying that they are accountable to the public via FOIA:
So this is like saying that any group of government officials can just form their own “voluntary association” and then conduct business pertaining to their official jobs, and even use their government employees, emails, and so on, and yet avoid FOIA accountability. We’ll have to see about that.
Here are some of the recent filings flying back and forth in their efforts at intervening in the pending disciplinary matter involving Judge Goldston:
This past Thursday, on June 24, the Fourth Circuit quietly issued an en banc opinion in “Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department, which challenged the Baltimore Police Department’s Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) pilot program on Fourth Amendment grounds. In an opinion written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, the Court held that the AIR mass aerial surveillance program was an unconstitutional search and seizure (at least at the point the data was accessed).
The AIR program “tracks every movement” of every person outside of a structure in the City of Baltimore, retaining 45 days worth of data which is a “detailed, encyclopedic” record of where everyone came and went within the city during daylight hours. Law enforcement can “travel back in time” to observe a target’s movements, forwards and backwards. The Court likened the data to “attaching an ankle monitor to every person in the city,” and noted that, “whoever the suspect turns out to be, they have effectively been tailed for the prior six weeks.”
The Court held that “because the AIR program opens “an intimate window” into a person’s associations and activities, it violates the reasonable expectation of privacy individuals have in the whole of their movements.” Whereas traditional aerial or static camera surveillance have been upheld as reasonable by the courts, those cases “all involve some discrete operation surveilling individual targets.”
The AIR program records the movements of a city. With analysis, it can reveal where individuals come and go over an extended period. Because the AIR program enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals’ movements, we hold that accessing its data is a search, and its warrantless operation violates the Fourth Amendment.
Opinion at p. 28
The AIR program is like a 21st century general search, enabling the police to collect all movements, both innocent and suspected, without any burden to “articulate an adequate reason to search for specific items related to specific crimes.
Opinion at p. 32
Since this holding came from the Fourth Circuit sitting en banc, the only where to go from here is to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Today I served a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the attorney who is representing West Virginia’s “Family Judicial Association” in their attempt at preventing judicial discipline against the WV Family Court judge who was caught on video searching my client’s home.
Why did I do this? A few days ago, the association filed notice that they want to file an amicus brief in the pending disciplinary matter against Judge Louise Goldston, which is what I had previously done on behalf of her victim, Matthew Gibson. Here is the filing they submitted:
The Brief notes the irony that the Association’s actions here are likely violations of the rules in the Code of Judicial Conduct:
First and most importantly, any comment by the WV Family Court Association on the Goldston case pending before the Court would be a violation of Rule 2.10 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the judges who voted in favor of filing the amicus whether it be members of the executive committee or the members as a whole.
The “Family Judicial Association” apparently consists of the 47 elected Family Court judges from around the State of West Virginia. In our FOIA, we are requesting disclosure of the identity of every member who voted to attempt to interfere with a pending case by demanding the firing of the prosecutors, and also who voted to attempt to interfere with a pending case by attempting to insert themselves into pending disciplinary litigation, in which they’re not involved (other than wanting to preserve what they view as their power to search people’s homes, apparently).
Should someone talk to the police without a lawyer present?
The criminal justice system overwhelmingly depends on people to unwittingly incriminate themselves for convictions, which they do.
If a criminal suspect invokes the right to counsel, or the right to remain silent, they generally don’t incriminate themselves.
A criminal suspect need only request a lawyer for all interrogation to stop. They DO NOT need to already have a lawyer – just to ask for one. Just a lawyer in general. These are magic words which stops an interrogation.
Custodial interrogation cannot take place with Miranda warnings and a waiver of the rights to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present before and during questioning.
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
When are Miranda Warnings required to be read? Miranda warnings are required to be given when a suspect is in custody and being interrogated OR when a suspect believes that he is in custody and being interrogated. “Interrogation” includes not only express questioning but also its “functional equivalent,” namely, any conduct “that the police should know [is] reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.” When is someone in custody? That depends. Were they asked to exit a vehicle during a stop? Were guns drawn? Was force used? Were they placed in handcuffs? Were they told they weren’t free to leave?
A suspect can waive Miranda rights, but cannot waive the reading of Miranda warnings by law enforcement. Miranda warnings may need to be read again by police if too much time has elapsed in between the reading of the warnings and the subsequent interrogation.
When are Miranda WarningsNOT required to be given?
Officers can conduct general on-scene questioning as to facts surrounding a crime or other general fact finding without Miranda warnings. Officers can ask about the guilt of others/third parties without giving Miranda warnings. Miranda warnings don’t apply to voluntary statements made prior to interrogation. Miranda warnings don’t apply to statements of guilt made to persons other than law enforcement. Miranda warnings don’t apply if the person interrogated is not in custody.
Miranda warnings are generally not required at traffic stops. SeePennsylvania v. Bruder , 488 U.S. 9, 109 S. Ct. 205 (1988). In this case, the Supreme Court re-emphasized that ordinary traffic stops do not involve custody for the purposes of Miranda, and therefore, police do not need to inform those stopped for traffic violations of their Miranda rights unless taken into custody. Officers can generally ask any questions they want to suspects who are not in custody. See Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009). “An officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop . . . do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”
What about silence? Post-arrest silence by a defendant after Miranda warnings have been given is inadmissible against the defendant. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976). If a defendant gives a statement, however, his silence as to other matters may be admitted. Anderson v. Charles, 447 U.S. 404 (1980); see United States v. Mitchell, 558 F.2d 1332, 1334–35 (8th Cir. 1977). A defendant’s pre-arrest silence may be admitted, Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980) as well as silence after arrest but prior to warnings. Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603 (1982).
When can an officer not interrogate a suspect at all?
An officer may not interrogate if the suspect has requested a lawyer.
An officer may not interrogate if the suspect has in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning stated that he wishes to remain silent.
What sort of behavior by officers may render a confession invalid in court?
A confession MAY be invalid if obtained as the result of withholding food, drink or bathroom access. A confession may be invalid if obtained following threats, coercing or tricking a suspect into waiving Miranda Rights. A confession may be invalid if the interrogation is too long; or, If physical force is used; or, If promises to help a suspect if he or she confesses; or, If the officer misrepresents the body of evidence collected against the suspect