Police officer Heather Weyker, of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Police Department, was found by the federal courts to have fabricated false charges against several dozen Somali refugees, including Hamdi Mohamud, who spent 2 years in prison for it. Hamdi is now represented by the Institute for Justice, who represents her in an almost decade-long lawsuit against Weyker, which so far has been unsuccessful. Believe it or not, Weyker is still working a six figure job at the St. Paul Police Department, despite having been adjudicated as a liar. Her attorney, Patrick Jaicomo, of the Institute for Justice, joined me to explain this insane story.
Even though the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2016 that Officer Weyker had fabricated false charges against numerous individuals, the St. Paul Police Department used her in a recruiting video in 2017!
Police arrested and detained several young people in Watertown, Wisconsin, on Saturday while they were preaching at a public drag queen event. Video circulated on social media showing multiple police officers arresting Marcus Schroeder as he was reading from the Bible. One officer was recorded aggressively pulling a microphone out of his hands and walking him away in handcuffs. Nick Proell, another young Christian, was detained and removed from the venue but later released with a warning. Is this a First Amendment violation?
It’s happened yet again. More innocent people ordered out of their cars due to police mistakenly believing the car was stolen – this time in Frisco, Texas. Police held a Black couple at gunpoint and handcuffed their son after mistyping their car’s license plate into their system, leading them to falsely believe the car the family was driving was stolen.
“We made a mistake,” Frisco Police Chief David Shilson said in the department’s later statement. “Our department will not hide from its mistakes. “Instead, we will learn from them.”
The last video I made on this issue was from Lehi, Colorado. Generally speaking, without more, police officers should not be aiming firearms at people. Reasonableness is the key. Aiming guns based on clerical entries and government policy is rarely going to be reasonable. Doing so should be based on actual perceived threats presented by the persons with whom they’re dealing.
Is there a protected First Amendment right to flip the bird, or give the middle finger, to police officers? This footage comes to us from Riverside, California from “Joshing U” on Youtube, showing his arrest, for what he claims was retaliation in response to his giving the middle finger to a California Highway Patrol officer. Back in April I did a video on the same topic, involving my client, Corey Lambert.
The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to spoken words, but rather include gestures and other expressive conduct, even if vulgar or offensive to some. For example, in Cohen v. California (1971), the Supreme Court held that an individual wearing a jacket bearing the words “F**k the Draft” in a courthouse corridor could not be prosecuted for disturbing the peace.
Consistent with this precedent, although “the gesture generally known as ‘giving the finger’ … is widely regarded as an offensive insult,” Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. N.Y. State Liquor Auth. , (2d Cir. 1998), it is a gesture that is generally protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g. , Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard (6th Cir. 2019) (“Any reasonable [police] officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”); Garcia v. City of New Hope (8th Cir. 2021) (“[Plaintiff’s] raising his middle finger at [a police officer] is a rude and offensive gesture but nonetheless, under current precedent, is a constitutionally protected speech activity.”); Batyukova v. Doege(5th Cir. 2021) (same); accord Swartz v. Insogna (2d Cir. 2013) (holding that giving the middle finger could not support arrest for disorderly conduct); see generally Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law , 41 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 1403, 1407–08, 1434 (2008) (observing that the middle finger can express a variety of emotions—such as anger, frustration, defiance, protest, excitement—or even “possess[ ] political or artistic value”).
My client, Wendell Marcum, was arrested in his own front yard by deputies with the Brooke County Sherriff’s Department, for cursing during his interaction with them about a dog complaint. Yesterday we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Wheeling Division of the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging multiple violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First Amendment. Can the police perform a warrantless arrest of a man standing in his own front yard, for cursing and asking them to leave his property?
The law is clearly established that an individual has a First Amendment right to express profanity during an interaction with law enforcement. SeeCohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1972); see also Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974) (The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a conviction under a Louisiana statute that had provided that “It shall be unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”).
The Supreme Court held in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) that, “absent exigent circumstances, an arrest in the home or curtilage area around the home must be accomplished by means of an arrest warrant….” In Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit held that police officers must have probable cause plus either a warrant, or exigent circumstances, to perform a search or seizure within the curtilage of a person’s home, and that if asked to leave, officers are required to leave and seek a warrant.
Supreme Court jurisprudence extends heightened Fourth Amendment protections beyond just the interior of the home itself, but also to the “curtilage,” which is the “land immediately surrounding and associated with the home,” because the curtilage is “considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984). The Fourth Circuit has made clear that a warrantless search of curtilage is presumed to be unreasonable. Covey v. Assessor of Ohio Cnty., 777 F.3d 186 (4th Cir. 2015).
WV law creates the possibility for a criminal charge (disorderly conduct) due to a subject’s expression of profanity where: (1) The person is in a “public place” and where he (2) Disturbs the peace of others by “violent, profane, indecent or boisterous conduct or language; and (3) is requested to desist by a law enforcement officer and doesn’t. The West Virginia Supreme Court held in 2015 that the word “others” in W. Va. Code Section 61-6-1b (“disorderly conduct”) does not include law enforcement officers, but rather than some other third party must be present and actually offended by the subject’s conduct, in order to commit the criminal offense of “disorderly conduct.” Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015).
Kentucky Civil Rights Lawyer Chris Wiest just filed a federal lawsuit in Ohio alleging multiple constitutional violations occurring during the arrest of Demetrius Kerns, which was caught on viral bodycam footage. You may have seen Chris on some of my prior videos. He joined me to talk about the footage and the lawsuit.
There’s a huge update to the case where my client, Darius Lester, was shot by a SWAT team, while trying to sleep in his home. As explained previously, he had no criminal record and had committed no crime. The West Virginia State Police was executing a search warrant for that residence that was entirely unrelated to Darius. They claimed that Darius confronted them and came at them with a hammer, for which they charged him with a felony. That charge has now been to court….
This video comes to us from Hampton, Virginia, where a local high school math teacher got pulled out of his own car at gunpoint by a police officer, who mistakenly believed the car to be stolen. This happens all across the country, where police agencies have policies to perform so-called “high risk” or “felony” stops where their computer tells them a car is stolen. Often this results in innocent people being held at gunpoint by their government.
Here’s a prior post I did on the same issue for another video that goes further into the case law from similar incidents.
This bodycam footage comes to us from Richland, Mississippi, showing Ian Alexander’s traffic stop for speeding. Similar to the video I posted a couple weeks ago from Bexar County, this stop also documents a police officer who believes that he has some sixth sense when it comes to detecting seemingly innocent people who are actually smuggling narcotics. As in the other case, he was completely wrong and achieved nothing other than embarrassing himself and violating the Constitution.
This footage was submitted by Ohio native, Bud Swayze, showing an interaction he had with police in Chillicothe, Ohio, resulting in his bizarre arrest. All charges were subsequently dropped. What are your rights during a basic interaction with law enforcement?