Home video cameras are certainly handy at catching law enforcement violating your constitutional rights. Check out those prior videos if you want to hear me discuss the constitutional rights at play in those incidents. But did you know that the government is also actively using them as well? Do you have a Ring doorbell? How is the footage stored? Can the police obtain that footage against your will, even if you’ve done nothing wrong? What if I told you that Ring just might provide stored footage from cameras inside and around your home to police, even without your consent?
A guy named Michael Larkin was featured in a Politico article. His story exemplify what can happen to you if you use Ring doorbells. He’s a business owner in Hamilton, Ohio, and has a Ring doorbell camera and 20 other Ring cameras in and around his home and business. Five of those cameras surround his house, which record in 5 to 15 second bursts whenever they’re activated. He also has three cameras inside his house, as well as 13 cameras inside the store that he owns. All of these cameras are connected to his Ring account. Ring, the company, stores this footage on their servers for up to 180 days. He thought his footage was his own private footage. But he thought wrong.
February 13, 2023, Jacob Jackson is walking down a public sidewalk in Beckley, West Virginia. A uniformed sheriff’s deputy pulls up in a marked police cruiser and activates his emergency lights. The reason? He has civil service papers to serve related to an eviction proceeding. Jacob asserts his rights. The deputy asserts what he believes to be his rights as a police officer. Can a police officer forcibly detain you, ID you, search you, put his hands on you, just because he has civil paperwork to serve on someone? Even if you’ve done nothing illegal?
Jacob brought me his cell phone video. I then obtained the body cam footage via a FOIA request from the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department.
When police officers encounter pedestrians, they could trigger an investigatory detention, which requires reasonable suspicion, or they could just be engaged in a consensual encounter, which requires nothing. It’s just a conversation.
Consensual encounters, i.e., a conversation, does not trigger the Fourth Amendment, and can be easily identified if the subject asks whether or not he’s free to leave. If the question isn’t asked, courts will look to the circumstances. Would a reasonable, regular person believe that he was NOT free to leave? Were emergency lights activated? Multiple police officers? Guns drawn? Put in handcuffs? Accused of criminal conduct? Told to show your hands? Told to get on the ground? Or was it just a conversation.
The question is whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter. If the person was involuntarily detained by the officer, that constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, no matter how brief the detention or how limited its purpose.
If a detention occurs, the courts require the detaining officer to be able to articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate that the person’s behavior is indicative of some sinister criminal activity. It must be based on suspicion of illegal conduct. In other words, it cannot be based on suspicion of legal conduct, such as walking down a public sidewalk, or even being a defendant in a civil lawsuit – even an eviction proceeding. Anyone can serve lawsuit paperwork: a private investigator, a rando off the street – anyone. Just doing that does not entitle any individual to detain or arrest the target of the civil service.
This video demonstrated that Jacob Jackson was not suspected of having committed any crime. The officer had no right to involuntarily detain him. He had no right to do anything but engage in a consensual encounter with Mr. Jackson. Due to the fact that Mr. Jackson asserted his rights, there’s no doubt that the officer detained him and thereby triggered the Fourth Amendment. Given the fact that there was no allegation or suspicion of illegal conduct, reasonable suspicion did not exist, and therefore the Fourth Amendment was violated – no matter how brief the detention was, and no matter how badly the officer, or some litigant, wanted Mr. Jackson to be served with the paperwork.
Imagine it’s winter time. You’re at home in Erie, Pennsylvania. There’s snow everywhere. Your Ring Doorbell alerts you to movement at your front door. It’s a SWAT team. They grab your doorbell camera and chuck it into the snow and then start to bust down your door. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve broken no law. You have no idea why they’re there. And neither do they apparently. What do you do? What is the law?
It was March 12, 2023.Officers approach the house and notice the Ring doorbell and then they remove or destroy it. The homeowner got to the front door and confronted the officers. They told him to come outside, which he did.
Sadly, Lance, who submitted the footage, has early onset dementia. He explained this to the officers. He decided to take out his cell phone and begin filming their interaction – for his safety and theirs, of course. That’s when Lance’s cell phone footage begins. The cops absolutely did not want to be filmed, even though they were on Lance’s property, without a search warrant and without probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion, to believe that Lance had committed any crime at all.
Searches and seizures which take place in a person’s home are presumptively unreasonable, which means they are illegal by default according to the Fourth Amendment. The only exceptions are consent and exigent circumstances. Here, the officers had no search warrant for this house. It also appears that they had no legitimate reason to believe that the fugitive they were looking for was inside the house.
According to their own words, they received an anonymous tip that the fugitive could be inside the home. In reality, the fugitive had no connection whatsoever to the home. Anonymous tips cannot form the basis of probable cause. Which is why they didn’t have a warrant. They should have investigated the anonymous tip, in which case the officers would have discovered that it was not credible. Instead, they just got the boys together, rolled up on the house, destroyed private property and then commenced an illegal search.
While the homeowner gave the officers consent to go inside the house, he subsequently revoked that consent after finding out that the officers were acting off a bogus anonymous tip. Moreover, they had already invaded the curtilage of the home and destroyed private property prior to obtaining that consent. They had no legal justification to do so and therein violated the Fourth Amendment.
Lance is looking to file a lawsuit, if any Pennsylvania lawyers are interested in helping him.
UPDATE: Since I made the video on this, Lance found out that the officers had first applied for a search warrant, based on the anonymous tip. That warrant was apparently denied by a judge as lacking probable cause. Then the officers showed up anyways. In the end, they were apparently at the wrong house. Not surprisingly…. Lance’s home had no connection to the fugitive they were looking for.
Video footage has just been released showing misconduct by a notorious former sheriff in Clayton County, Georgia. That footage resulted in his conviction for federal civil rights violations, for which he is about to face sentencing. In other words, here’s yet another rare, but great, example of law enforcement being held accountable for civil rights violations in the best possible way – criminal prosecution.
Victor Hill, the former sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, was charged with seven counts of willfully depriving detainees at the Clayton County Jail of their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force by law enforcement officers. Specifically, the grand jury who indicted him alleged that Hill caused the seven victims to be strapped into restraint chairs at the jail without any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose and for a period exceeding that justified by any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose. The grand jury further alleged that these offenses caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to the victims.
The trial is already over. On October 26, 2022, a jury convicted Hill on six of the seven counts. As to each of those six guilty counts, the jury further found that the offense caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to 6 different victims.
The reason you’re seeing this now is because some of that footage was just released. The released footage shows the restraint of Robert Arnold, who was booked into the jail on February 25, 2020. He was accused of assaulting two women inside a Forest Park grocery store earlier that month.
“What was you doing in Clayton County that day?” Sheriff Hill asked Arnold.
“It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States,” Arnold replied.
“No, it’s not. Not in my county,” responded Sheriff Hill.
When Arnold challenged Sheriff Hill on his right “to a fair and speedy trial,” Hill told sheriff’s office employees to bring him a restraint chair.
“Roll that chair ’round here,” ordered Sheriff Hill. “Roll that chair ’round here.”
According to a 2018 policy approved by Hill, restraint chairs “may be used by security staff to provide safe containment of an inmate exhibiting violent or uncontrollable behavior and to prevent self-injury, injury to others or property damage when other control techniques are not effective.”
Prosecutors also introduced surveillance videos from inside the jail that showed Sheriff Hill’s interactions with Glenn Howell on April 27, 2020. Howell, a landscaper, had a dispute with a Clayton County Sheriff’s Office deputy about payment for work that Howell did on the deputy’s property. Sheriff Hill called Howell to try to intervene and the conversation became heated. When Howell tried to contact Hill again, Hill obtained a warrant for Howell’s arrest on a charge of harassing communications. Howell turned himself in a few days later.
In the surveillance video, Howell is pictured sitting on a bench for several minutes. He appears to follow commands as an intake officer searches him and processes his belongings. At one point, prosecutors pointed out, jail staff left Howell alone in the intake area—something attorneys argued they would not have done if Howell was a threat. Footage shows Sheriff Hill arriving about an hour later and speaking to Howell in the hallway. Less than a minute into the conversation, Howell is placed into a waiting restraint chair.
The sheriff’s office restraint chair policy explains that officers should remove someone from the device “when they have determined that there is no longer a threat to self or others, or the inmate must be transported to another facility.” Multiple witnesses, however, testified that when Sheriff Hill ordered someone into a restraint chair, it was understood that person was not to be released for four hours, the maximum allowed under the policy.
The Michigan State Police has now criminally charged one of their own for physically detaining and abusing a man who was walking down the side of a road. According to the trooper’s own report, he accosted the man for not walking on the sidewalk, but instead walking along the edge of the public road. The man had committed no crime. When the trooper attempted to charge him with obstruction, the prosecutors refused to proceed.
On Sept. 4, 2022, Michigan State Trooper Paul Arrowood and his partner were on patrol when they encountered a male subject walking in the roadway on Webber Street near Julius Street in Saginaw, Michigan. Contact was made with the subject and the troopers attempted to physically detain him. Arrowood took the male subject to the ground, striking him with a closed fist multiple times, causing visible injuries.
Saginaw County District Judge Terry L. Clark on the afternoon of Friday, March 3, arraigned MSP Trooper Paul E. Arrowood, 43, on single counts of common law offense or misconduct in office and assault and battery. The former is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, while the latter is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.
“The actions of Tpr. Paul Arrowood fall outside of MSP policy and procedure and they constitute an unwarranted use of force,” stated Col. Joe Gasper, director of the MSP. “The members of the Michigan State Police are committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect, and we will tolerate no less. When we fall short of this standard, we will hold our members accountable.”
He is apparently on unpaid leave pending the results of the criminal case.
One of the excessive force cases we’ve been following just settled, and you may or may not be surprised at the settlement amount. This is the one in Kentucky where a man was arrested inside his parents’ home and was beaten – not terribly – but still beaten, by two Kentucky State Troopers. Then the dad goes to get his cell phone and starts filming. The troopers then took the phone and deleted the footage. Well, as sometimes happens, the parents had interior surveillance cameras that the cops did not know about. My buddy Chris Wiest files a lawsuit against them; puts them under oath at their depositions, and asks them about it. Both troopers denied striking the guy. Unfortunately for them, they had been caught on camera.
On April 9, 2020, Kentucky State Troopers James Cameron Wright, Thomas Czartorski, and a third trooper, Kevin Dreisbach, went to the Hornbacks’ home in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, to arrest 29-year-old Alex Hornback for a missed appearance in Jefferson District Court. Hornback’s mother and father met them at the door and led Wright and Czartorski to the basement, where their son was, while Dreisbach covered the rear of the house.
Czartorski and Wright testified in their January 2021 depositions that they had a relatively calm interaction with Hornback, despite taking him to the floor, and that they didn’t use any other force or strike him.The Hornbacks’ lawyer later released a home-security video contradicting the troopers’ statements. The video showed Wright grabbing Hornback around the neck and slinging him to the floor, though Hornback was not visibly resisting. The video also showed Czartorski striking Hornback four times on the legs with his flashlight. Wright hit Hornback twice in the back with his right forearm and appeared to have his left knee on Hornback’s neck, pushing his face into the floor. Hornback did not suffer any serious injuries.
Can the police pepper spray a handcuffed man just because he’s running his mouth? Here’s some brand new exclusive footage from a federal civil rights lawsuit just filed by my friend, Kentucky civil rights attorney Chris Wiest. We had a great discussion about this footage, the lawsuit he just filed on behalf of this guy, as well as some general advice he has when potential clients are interacting with police officers.
This footage was submitted by a homeowner in Loraine, Ohio, showing police officers enter onto a woman’s private property and refusing to leave. They demand that she send her kids outside, because the officers allege that they observed them jaywalking. Her doorbell footage shows otherwise. I’ve previously discussed what you need to know when police are at your door.
Under the “knock and talk” exception to the warrant requirement, a police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” This means there is an “implicit license . . . to approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” An officer may also bypass the front door (or another entry point usually used by visitors) when circumstances reasonably indicate that the officer might find the homeowner elsewhere on the property. “Critically, however, the right to knock and talk does not entail a right to conduct a general investigation of the home’s curtilage.”
Police officers, and anyone else really, have an implied license to come onto your property and knock on your door. This implied license can be revoked. Homeowners can prevent ordinary citizens and police officers alike from conducting a knock and talk by revoking their implied license to be there. However, few citizens know that an implied license exists. Generally, the courts require that a homeowner do so by clear demonstrations or express orders. For instance, asking someone to leave or refusing to answer questions.
On February 15th, 2023 I was operating as a member of the Lorain Patrol Impact Team targeting high crime areas throughout the City of Lorain, Ohio. I was driving an unmarked Ford Taurus equipped with emergency lights and sirens. I was also dressed in plain clothes with “Police” identifiers displayed on the exterior of my vest, making myself readily identifiable as a Police Officer. It should be known that ATF Special Agent Fabrizio was also in my patrol vehicle at this time. On this date at approximately 1539 hours, we were patrolling the intersection of W. 27th Street and Reid Avenue. It should be noted that on 7/26/2022 a shooting had occurred between a group of juveniles in the area of 126 W. 27th Street and the surrounding area is a known hot spot for shots fired incidents and weapons violation complaints. While patrolling this intersection, S.A. Fabrizio and I observed three males who appeared to be juveniles with there hands in both hooded sweatshirt pockets and their waistbands while looking around their immediate area. Through my prior training and experience, this type of behavior is an indicator that the person may be both armed and checking their surroundings.
S.A. Fabrizio and went around the block to the intersection of W. 27th Street and Broadway Avenue and observed the males illegally cross the road not in a posted cross walk and began approaching the residence of 126 W. 27th Street. Due to this observed traffic violation, I approached the above listed residence and activated my emergency lights and sirens in an attempt to initiate a traffic stop for this violation on the three individuals while they were approaching the house in the front yard. S.A. Fabrizio exited the passenger side and advised the males to stop and to come back to our patrol vehicle. The males acknowledged our presence by looking back at our patrol vehicle and quickly made their way up the front steps to the residence and entered and refused to exit. A female (later identified as Mary Hildreth) came to the front door and began yelling at both S.A. Fabrizio and I as well as asking what we were doing and what the problem was.
New bodycam footage just released out of Raleigh, North Carolina, where I once worked as a prosecutor, showing police officers encountering, detaining and using force on Darryl Tyree Williams on January 17, 2023. That use of force, involving multiple uses of tasers, by multiple officers, resulted in the death of Mr. Williams.
What I want to focus on is not the actual tasing part. You know how that goes. But rather, whether it was constitutional for him to have been detained and handcuffed in the first place. Nobody had reported a crime. Rather, the officers were allegedly engaged in what they called “proactive patrols” of business parking lots in a location they claim “has a history of repeat calls for service for drugs, weapons, and other criminal violations.”
This is an important constitutional issue. When did the seizure take place? When were Fourth Amendment protections first triggered here? It depends on the facts, and in this case, the footage.
You have two different scenarios for these types of police encounters:
1) consensual encounters, which are theoretically voluntary in nature – meaning that the suspects are free to leave at any time. This does not trigger Fourth Amendment protections; and then you have
2) a detainment, which does trigger Fourth Amendment protections. For a lawful detainment, officers must have reasonable suspicion of a crime. That did not exist, according to the report, until after the door was opened.
So, if the occupants in the car were already detained prior to the officer observing the open container and marijuana, they were being illegally detained from the very beginning. The issue here is a factual one.
As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)).
Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)).
Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).5… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018)).
These are relevant facts to examine:
T]he number of police officers present during the encounter, whether they were in uniform or displayed their weapons, whether they touched the defendant, whether they attempted to block his departure or restrain his movement, whether the officers’ questioning was non-threatening, and whether they treated the defendant as though they suspected him of “illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as ‘routine’ in nature.”… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018))
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.
You can read the full background in my first post about this case, here.
This week we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two primary police officers involved. Here’s the full complaint: