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.
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))
Breaking news out of federal court in South Carolina, where a federal jury has just awarded a $550,000 verdict against a former Richland County Sheriff’s deputy, as well as the sheriff’s department itself.
Here are the relevant case documents, including the complaint, jury instructions, verdict form, as well as the full deposition transcript of one of the officers:
Earlier this year, deputies with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia attempted a traffic stop on a 77 year old man named Ralph Ennis, who was apparently suffering from dementia. He didn’t stop, but instead drove to a gas station. An officer from a different agency, the Front Royal Police Department, captured what happened on his body cam.
The footage shows a deputy slamming the elderly man’s head against a truck while pinning his arms behind his back. A second deputy then tackles the man to the ground, hitting the man’s head on the concrete.
“Please let me up!” the man cried out, with two officers on top of him. “Let me go!” Just prior to all the violence, the video shows that all the man did was to get out of his car and walk towards the deputies with his keys in his hand.
The Front Royal officer was clearly shaken by what he saw and said so while his body cam was still recording, as he left the scene. USA Today reported on the aftermath. The elderly man was apparently then hospitalized with a brain bleed. He would never get out of the hospital. He died about two weeks later.
Let me repeat what I just said a few videos ago: there are two kinds of people in this world; those who support the “he deserved it defense,” and those who support the Constitution unconditionally. Those who are willing to allow police officers to bend the rules, so long as the victim deserved it, in their eyes, haven’t fully thought things through.
Case in point: Your usual Fourth Amendment Fudd, who is the same guy that thinks the Second Amendment protects his bolt action .30-06, but not your AR-15, is okay with the police beating someone unnecessarily who chose to lead the cops on a pursuit. The same Fourth Amendment Fudd who is okay allowing police officers the discretion to mete out their version of justice with no due process, however is NOT okay with the cops beating his elderly father with dementia who had no idea what was actually happening. If you allow one, then you have chosen to allow the other. By definition. You either protect all constitutional rights, or you protect none.
This is just one of many recent incidents involving police officers and elderly people with dementia. Police officers have been enabled to fly-off the handle at the slightest perceived threat to their authority. They have been enabled to fly-off the handle on the basis of perceived threats to officer safety. They have been authorized to act like robots; to attack at the slightest provocation, without compassion for those they’re entrusted to serve and protect.
The law assumes that police officers will make mistakes; that they will have bad information, or misunderstand the situation. The law judges them objectively – not based on what they actually thought or intended, but based on how a reasonable officer would act in the same circumstances.
And here’s the problem. Most of us would look at those circumstances, including good police officers, such as the guy wearing the body cam in this footage, and say, “hell no.” We are not robots. We are supposed to be able to adapt; to deal with different types of people in different scenarios. What would happen if a confused old man walked into a bank, holding his keys in his hand. Would he be immediately tackled and handcuffed by security? Or would any competent person recognize that they’re dealing with an elderly man who might be confused? Does it ever cross the mind of a reasonable police officer that a vehicle may not be stopping because it’s an elderly driver who is confused or suffering from dementia? I would argue that a reasonable officer should be concerned first with protecting and serving an elderly man.
As the U.S. population ages and more people develop dementia, older people are increasingly running into problems with the police. There’s no national count of how many people with dementia are arrested each year. But an analysis of U.S. crime data by The Marshall Project shows that the number of arrests of people over 65 grew by nearly 30% between 2000 and 2020 – at the same time that overall arrests fell by nearly 40%. The number of elder arrests is growing faster than the population is aging. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also estimates that from 2010 to 2020, more than 12,000 people 65 and older ended up in a hospital emergency room for injuries caused by police or private security.
Unfortunately, police officers are not taught to think about the citizen. They are taught to only think about officer safety. It’s drilled into them. Citizen safety is last. That’s our problem. But “officer safety” is not mentioned anywhere in our Constitution. Where it exists is in police officer training. Instead, police officers should be trained in how to help people. They are the ones who wanted to be in a public service job. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about them being scared. If they’re scared, go find another job.
On May 10, 2019, officers attempted to stop Ronald Greene over an unspecified traffic offense around midnight. A high-speed pursuit began, ending in brutal treatment at the hands of police officers. They did everything in the book to Mr. Greene, who repeatedly cried out that he was scared. Just this week, the other surviving police officers involved in the death of Ronald Greene were criminally charged in Louisiana State Court with crimes ranging from negligent homicide to malfeasance.
The 46-minute clip shows one trooper wrestling Greene to the ground, putting him in a chokehold and punching him in the face while another can be heard calling him a “stupid motherf——.”
Greene wails “I’m sorry!” as another trooper delivers another stun gun shock to his backside and warns, “Look, you’re going to get it again if you don’t put your f——- hands behind your back!” Another trooper can be seen briefly dragging the man facedown after his legs had been shackled and his hands cuffed behind him.
Facing the most serious charges from a state grand jury was Master Trooper Kory York, who was seen on the body-camera footage dragging Greene by his ankle shackles, putting his foot on his back to force him down and leaving the heavyset man face down in the dirt for more than nine minutes….
The others who faced various counts of malfeasance and obstruction included a trooper who denied the existence of his body-camera footage, another who exaggerated Greene’s resistance on the scene, a regional state police commander who detectives say pressured them not to make an arrest in the case and a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy heard on the video taunting Greene with the words “s—- hurts, doesn’t it?”
Law enforcement attempted to coverup their misconduct and to suppress the body cam footage from the public.
Greene’s May 10, 2019, death was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning, when authorities told grieving relatives that the 49-year-old died in a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase near Monroe — an account questioned by both his family and even an emergency room doctor who noted Greene’s battered body. Still, a coroner’s report listed Greene’s cause of death as a motor vehicle accident, a state police crash report omitted any mention of troopers using force and 462 days would pass before state police began an internal probe.
All the while, the body-camera video remained so secret it was withheld from Greene’s initial autopsy and officials from Edwards on down declined repeated requests to release it, citing ongoing investigations.
But then last year, the AP obtained and published the footage, which showed what really happened: Troopers swarming Greene’s car, stunning him repeatedly, punching him in the head, dragging him by the shackles and leaving him prone on the ground for more than nine minutes. At times, Greene could be heard pleading for mercy and wailing, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the first time. Now the DOJ has instituted a broad investigation into the Louisiana State Police.
The AP later found that Greene’s arrest was among at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which state police troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings of mostly Black men, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct. Dozens of current and former troopers said the beatings were countenanced by a culture of impunity, nepotism and, in some cases, racism.
Such reports were cited by the U.S. Justice Department this year in launching a sweeping civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police, the first “pattern or practice” probe of a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades.
On October 9, 2022 around 2:30 a.m. Dalvin Gadson, a homeless veteran, living in his car temporarily, was stoped by officers with the Colorado Springs Police Department, Sand Creek Division, for not having a license plate on his vehicle. Dalvin was a former helicopter mechanic in the Army National Guard. He apparently had no prior criminal history.
He had been homeless for about 3 to 4 months, living in his car and delivering Door Dash to save enough money for an apartment. While sleeping in his car, a stranger named Carlos knocked on his car window, woke him up, and asked him to drive him to his job. He offered to pay him $20.00 for the ride. He needed the money, so he agreed. Then he was pulled over by the police. Remember as you watch this: the reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct forming the basis for the stop was a license plate violation.
This is how the traffic stop ended:
This is apparently the happy officer who beat him, showing off his injuries for the purpose of trumping up bogus criminal charges:
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.
On the morning of February 1, 2022, 57 year old Benjamin Quarles was running errands in downtown Minden, Louisiana, after dropping off his wife for a medical appointment. She was a dialysis patient. Mr. Quarles is a school bus driver with no criminal record. As he approached an intersection, he stopped at a red light. While stopped, his car was struck from behind by an 18-wheeler dump truck. The impact pushed Mr. Quarles’ car into the intersection. He had violated no criminal or traffic laws.
Mr. Quarles stayed inside his vehicle. Shortly afterwards, two Minden Police Officers arrived at the scene. body cam footage captured what happened. Due to his wife’s condition, Mr. Quarles was apprehensive about the officers’ germs. As the officers approached him, he communicated to the officers that he wanted to keep his distance from them. For cops, this is sort of like rolling up your window most of the way at a traffic stop. They love that. This is a direct affront to their authority in their eyes. They see it as disrespect. Instead of actually communicating, which is what they’re supposed to be doing in these situations, they instead escalate and retaliate.
The officers yelled to Mr. Quarles that he was under arrest and to step out of the car. Mr. Quarles moved his left leg from inside the passenger compartment of the car and placed it on the ground outside the car. He looked at Officer McClaren and asked, “help me out of the car.” The officers refused. Mr. Quarles then, with his foot still outside the car, grabbed his cell phone off the console, before getting out of the car. At that moment, Mr. Quarles was pepper sprayed by Officer Hammontree, and yanked from his car by the two officers.
Mr. Quarles was forcibly thrown to the ground. Then Officers McClaran and Hammontree left him lying on the ground, handcuffed and injured, with his mask soaked in pepper spray. He was left there on the ground until the ambulance arrived. He was transported to a local hospital emergency room for treatment. The entire time he was in the hospital, Mr. Quarles was guarded by two Minden police officers. How brave of them. Protect and Serve. That’s their motto. Mr. Quarles was then put in a cage for a period of time, until his brother came and bailed him out. When he got his car back, he found it had been ransacked, presumably because it had been searched by the officers, obviously looking for the hidden cash and drugs. They didn’t find the cash and drugs, but they did apparently find a $30 Circle K gift card, as it was missing from the car after the officers finished with it.
At the time this happened, Mr. Quarles was the victim of a traffic accident that was someone else’s’ fault. He had committed no crime. The subsequent accident report determined that he did nothing wrong. The two officers never bothered to determine whether Mr. Quarles was injured in the accident. They just escalated and retaliated, due to a perceived disrespect of their non-existent authority.
There can be no doubt that due to the show of force by the officers, telling him he was under arrest, using force on him, pulling him out of the car, that he was subjected to a warrantless arrest at that point. A warrantless arrest requires probable cause that Mr. Quarles had committed some crime. There was no allegation of any crime having been committed. The officers charged him with a violation of Louisiana’s “Resisting an Officer” statute, i.e., “resisting arrest.” At his initial court appearance on March 2, 2022, that charge was dismissed on the motion of the prosecutor. The charge was most likely dismissed because the officers did not possess any probable cause to believe that Mr. Quarles had committed any crime prior to him being seized. The chicken cannot come before the egg.
It’s always necessary to resolve the criminal charges before filing a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit. There are several reasons for this. Depending on the circumstances, a conviction of one or more of the criminal charges arising from the incident can bar a successful 1983 suit. For instance, if the claim is for false arrest, meaning a warrantless arrest performed in the absence of probable cause, one wouldn’t want to plead guilty to the facts you’re alleging didn’t exist. It can get complicated, but that’s the general idea. This is one of the first things I generally have to tell people. Sometimes getting rid of the criminal charges is easy; sometimes it’s not.
In this case, a section 1983 civil lawsuit was filed and was just recently amended. It appears that the government is fighting hard against it. There is a pending motion to dismiss. What should government have done? They should have apologized and compensated for violating the man’s civil rights. If they didn’t have the evidence to even take the criminal case to a trial, they should compensate him. Then there’s the injuries they inflicted on him. They should compensate him for that. Why? Use of excessive force by police officers against an arrestee, or anyone really, is a Fourth Amendment violation. They are liable for damages, assuming they’re not awarded qualified immunity.
At some point there will be a ruling on qualified immunity in this particular case – probably after depositions are taken and there’s testimony for the court to analyze. I’ll try to keep an eye on this one, as I’m curious to see what happens here. I’ll be rooting for Mr. Quarles.
October 9, 2020, Sterling Police Officer Paul McDaniel pulled Christian Weitzel from his apartment and threw him to the ground. With the assistance of Sterling Police Officer Matt Williams and Logan County Sheriff’s Deputy Alton McGuffin, the three officers hogtied Mr. Weitzel with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, his ankles strapped together, and his ankles and wrists tied together behind his back. They drug him to a police cruiser, threw him into the rear seat, and left him in that position until he was finally released at the jail.
There was a verbal argument between Mr. Weitzel and his wife, Brittany Weitzel. Mr. Weitzel was not arrested or charged with any criminal offenses related to a domestic dispute. The officers were called to the scene following a call from a neighbor of a possible domestic dispute due to hearing loud voices. After the officers arrived at the apartment, they could not hear anyone yelling inside the apartment. They did not observer any altercation taking place, or any crimes being committed.
Officer McDaniel asked Brittany what was going on and she stated, “just an argument.” She did not appear to have any injuries. She did not request assistance from the officers. She had not called them to the scene. Mr. Weitzel then walked up to the doorway from inside the apartment. He did not step outside the threshold of the apartment door. He asked Officer McDaniel, “what’s up man,” in a calm nonthreatening, and nonaggressive manner.
Officer McDaniel asked Mr. Weitzel to “come here and talk to me man.” Mr. Weitzel, in a calm, nonthreatening and nonaggressive manner, stated, “I’m cool,” indicating that he wanted to stay inside the doorway of his apartment. He made no sudden moves. He did not threaten the officers in any way. Mr. Weitzel did not appear to be armed. Nor did the officers have any information or indication that Mr. Weitzel was armed. Mr. Weitzel was ultimately hogtied for approximately 16 minutes. Mr. Weitzel was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing. All the charges were subsequently dismissed by Logan County Court Judge Ray Ann Brammer.
A lawsuit was filed just a few days ago in state court in Colorado over these allegations. I’ll post it up to the blog, link in the description. As for the facts, based on the body cam footage and the facts presented in media reports and the civil lawsuit, constitutional rights were violated. Why?Although the officers were called to the scene of a reported domestic dispute, they ended up acting on a very small amount of information that, even if true, does not justify an arrest of the homeowner, much less a use of force.
A neighbor called 911, reporting a suspected verbal argument. There was apparently no allegation of a crime being committed, or that anyone’s physical safety was in jeopardy. When officers arrived at the scene, they saw no crime being committed. They located and observed both spouses at the residence. Neither appeared to be in distress, or requested their assistance. Without Mrs. Weitzel requesting their assistance, under these circumstances, the officers had no justification for pulling Mr. Weitzel out of his house. That’s a Fourth Amendment violation right there. But even assuming they acted properly up to that point, then we have the arrestee being hogtied on the ground.
Colorado is the 10th federal circuit. A quick search of the case law shows that police officers hogtying anyone is a terrible idea under almost any fact pattern. It could theoretically be reasonable under some circumstances, but I really don’t know what that would be. It certainly would not be reasonable under this fact pattern, where the arrestee had not committed any crime at all, much less a severe one. Watching the body cam footage shows that the arrestee is not attempting to harm the officers. He poses no threat to them.
Rather, it appears that the officers hogtied the man in retaliation for not immediately respecting their authority by stepping out of his house when they asked him to do so – despite having no legal justification for the demand. This appears to be one of those common situations where police are going to teach a lesson about respecting the police. It’s clearly not about the safety of anyone on the scene, including the arrestee.
In Cruz, Wyoming police officers responded to a complaint of a naked man running on the exterior landing of an apartment building. When the officers arrived, Mr. Cruz, the man on the landing, was jumping up and down and kicking his legs in the air. When he descended from the landing, the officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. They hogtied him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cruz’s face blanched. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Expert reports indicated that Mr. Cruz’s death resulted from positional asphyxiation. Citing Cruz, the 2008 Weigel opinion denied those officers qualified immunity for similar conduct, issuing a clear warning to law enforcement to think twice about hogtying arrestees. As a result of this, the Wyoming State Police, as I understand it, prohibited the practice. Back in the 90’s, the DOJ also warned against the cruel practice.
There are a lot of other hogtying cases out there. But I gave you the 10th Circuit law, as that is applicable for this particular jurisdiction.