Police officers in Northhampton, Massachusetts, pulled a 60 year old woman over for a defective headlight. Within minutes of the traffic stop, she was violently pulled out of her car, slammed to the ground and then pepper sprayed. All criminal charges were subsequently dropped. The woman, who speaks English as a second language and had some difficulty communicating with the officers, has now hired a lawyer and is threatening to sue. Let’s go over the dash cam footage and see whether any constitutional violations occurred.
Police charged Driouech with assault and battery on a police officer, attempting to disarm a police officer, resisting arrest and refusing to identify herself, in addition to the lights violation, according to court documents. In his arrest report, Sellew alleged she tried to roll up her window and put her car in drive during the traffic stop, then resisted arrest when Sellew ordered her to step out of her car and grabbed his baton as he tried to take her down.However, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office soon dismissed all of those criminal charges against Driouech. She did admit to the broken headlight charge in court.
Vancouver Police Department Officer Andrea Mendoza allegedly pulled a man’s pants down and threatened to charge a Taser onto his exposed genitals. This occurred immediately after police were called to Walmart due to suspected shoplifting. The man had already said he was “done” resisting by that point, body camera footage shows. But she threatened him again and held the Taser against his skin for 24 seconds.
On Tuesday, the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office filed fourth-degree assault charges against the officer. The local police union has, of course, objected to the prosecutor’s decision. Apparently, all of the criminal charges against the shoplifting suspect were dropped.
Recently, a new sheriff was elected in Los Angeles County. He held a press conference about some bodycam footage that he had just become aware of, showing a deputy punching a mother in the face, in an attempt to take the baby from the mother over concerns that she had not properly transported the child in a carseat. Did the officer act reasonably?
By the way, this is the same agency that is also under investigation for another incident, wherein an elderly woman was slammed to the ground unnecessarily.
To determine whether a police officer applied excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, we instead examine officers’ actions “in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). Specifically, we examine “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865.
This never-before-seen footage shows my client being attacked by a police K9 in Moundsville, Marshall County, West Virginia. Cops were looking to arrest her on a probation violation. She was scared and hiding under some clothes. The K9 was used, not only to search and find her, but to punish her by violently biting and attacking her. Today we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
When a K9 is deployed on a citizen, that individual is “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. Assuming the seizure itself was lawful, the issue is whether the seizure may be “unreasonable” due to being an excessive level of force. The deployment itself of a police K9 during the course of a seizure may be unreasonable, depending on the circumstances. Courts look to the Graham Factors: the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect is actively resisting or evading, and most importantly, whether the suspect poses an immediate safety threat to the officer, or others.
Here’s the police report:
Kandi Wood was severely injured on arm due to the K9 attack:
Repeatedly over the years, the Courts have held generally that the use of serious or violent force, i.e., disproportionate force) in arresting or seizing an individual that has surrendered, or who is not actively resisting or attempting to flee, and who does not present a danger to others, is an unreasonable excessive force violation.
The Fourth Circuit has also held that sending a police dog into a home that contained a burglary suspect, without warning, resulting in severe injuries to the homeowner, was an excessive force violation. Vathekan v. Prince George’s County (4th Cir. 1998). Furthermore, doing so where the suspect was surrounded by police officers is itself unreasonable and excessive, even where a warning is given. (Kopf v. Wing (4th Cir. 1991).
The 7th Circuit has denied qualified immunity to a police officer where he failed to call off a police dog that was mauling a “non-resisting (or at least passively resisting) suspect.” Becker v. Elfreich (7th Cir. 2016). That Court also denied qualified immunity to an officer who commanded a dog to attack a suspect who was already complying with orders, and where there were multiple backup officers present. Alicea v. Thomas (7th Cir. 2016).
The Fourth Circuit cited that last case in 2017 as providing “fair warning” to police officers that they will lose qualified immunity where an officer deploys a police dog against a suspect was was “not in active flight at the time he was discovered,” but was “standing still, arms raised….” Booker v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr. (4th Cir. 2017).
Where K9s are deployed, a warning should be given, along with an opportunity to surrender, where possible. Deploying K9s on suspects who have been already subdued, surrounded, or who are not actively resisting or evading arrest, is also likely excessive force, with or without a warning. Deploying K9s on suspects who pose no immediate threat is generally going to be unreasonable. K9s should only be deployed where there exists a serious immediate safety threat in a tense, fast-moving situation, where there’s some actual reason for doing so.
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This woman was 6 and a half months pregnant when she was pulled over by New York State troopers on March 20. She alleged that she was forced off the road, pulled out of her vehicle, and then treated roughly by the troopers, resulting in her having an emergency C section on the same day, ending in the death of the unborn child. She hired an attorney who called for an investigation in an interview with the media, claiming that civil rights were violated and that the child’s death was homicide, caused by the troopers, claiming she was yanked out of her car like a “rag doll” and slammed on the hood of a vehicle.
In response, the New York State Police released the body cam footage, along with a statement announcing that a “quantity of fentanyl and methamphetamine was located secreted” in the woman’s body. Does the footage corroborate the claims, or exonerate the troopers?
A college student is walking down the sidewalk. Suddenly he is grabbed by multiple police officers wearing plain clothes. He has no idea they’re police officers. He thinks he’s getting mugged. Bystanders think he’s getting mugged. They call 911. It looks like a mugging. They take his wallet. They beat him. But they were cops. Not just any cops. They were federalized into a task force. You are an innocent victim. Can you sue them?
Qualified immunity is bad enough. But imagine an America where the federal government can deputize your local law enforcement and take them completely out of state and local control. Imagine they can violate your constitutional rights and there’s nothing you can do about it. Imagine they have more than just qualified immunity, but you basically can’t sue them at all. That’s what’s at issue in this important case, King v. Brownback, being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Institute for Justice – for a second time.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Patrick Jaicomo, who has already argued this case once before the Supreme Court. He explains the backstory about what happened to James King, as well as the extraordinary lengths the government has gone to keep an innocent victim from ever seeing a jury over the violation of his constitutional rights.
This is an extremely important issue because we are seeing these federal task forces pop up all over the country. If the courts take the position that state and local officers are effectively federal officers, they basically can’t be sued. Courts will say, yeah he violated your constitutional rights, but there’s nothing you can do about it. So far, that’s what has happened to James King. He was completely innocent and local police officers beat the hell out of him. But he couldn’t sue them.
The Institute for Justice is asking the Supreme Court to fix this problem. Here’s some insight from one of the country’s top civil rights lawyers about this case and about what you can do to help. The King case is important because it’s undisputed that James was innocent; that his civil rights were violated. The only real issue is whether, as a citizen, there’s anything he can do about it. If a private citizen beat him, he could sue him and seek money damages before a jury. But here he can’t because he was beaten by his government.
If they were just regular state and local cops, it wouldn’t be a problem. He would beat qualified immunity. But here they have been hiding behind the protection of the federal government. Even though they were in fact state and local cops enforcing state and local laws. If this is allowed, I think we’ll see much more of this federal deputization, just to allow local police to violate the constitution without consequences. That can’t happen.
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: