$550,000 Verdict After 58 Year-old Woman Tased

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:

Elderly Man With Dementia Protected and Served by Police

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.

Unbelievably, but not surprisingly, the government medical examiner ruled that the death was of natural causes. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that the man’s son filed a lawsuit against the government. 

Here’s the complaint:

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. 

Freedom is scary. Deal with it. 

5 Cops Charged After Bodycam is Released

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.

Raw Footage here.

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.

https://apnews.com/article/louisiana-arrests-monroe-eca021d8a54ec73598dd72b269826f7a

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?”

Associated press, 12/15/22

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!”

Associated press, 12/15/22

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.

Associated press, 12/15/22

Homeless Vet Brutally Beaten by Colorado Springs Police

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:

Here’s the raw footage:

Facebook version: https://fb.watch/hr4f5205A7/

Here’s his GoFundMe:

https://gofund.me/aa5741c9

How Not to Arrest a Runaway Autistic Child

On February 23, 2022, a 12 year old autistic boy, reportedly ran away from home. Law enforcement was dispatched. That child encountered Deputy Matthew Honas, who handcuffed and hogtied the child, and then tased him without warning in the deputy’s police cruiser. This happened in Jackson County, Kansas. Although the officer was fired, the government is doing what government does: it’s hiding the video footage. Also, the government is protecting a bad cop, who is a threat to public safety. They fired him; then they let things settle down for awhile. Then, when it’s no longer in the news, the officer pops up somewhere else and continues working as a police officer. 

There was no report of the child committing any crimes, other than running away from home, which perhaps is some of juvenile delinquency status offense under state law. There was a history between the child and the officer, however. Deputy Honas had previously encountered the child and was aware he was autistic. During the prior encounter there was also a physical struggle, according to a report disciplining the officer. But no details are provided. 

Is there any video footage? How do we know what really happened? The Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper reported that Honas was not wearing a body cam, but that most of the interaction was captured by his in-car camera. The Capital-Journal attempted to obtain a copy of the footage via an open records request, but was denied under the open criminal investigation exception to disclosure under state law.

Honas was fired a little over a week after the incident. Termination of employment isn’t enough though. Why? Because bad cops just pop up somewhere else, usually in a small town that pays less. Then they get what they pay-for, which is a police officer who is already certified and experienced, but willing to work for less – because they’re damaged goods and a liability risk.

The Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, which oversees law enforcement certifications in Kansas, issued a disciplinary report that reprimanded Deputy Honas. The report concluded that Deputy Honas “used excessive force multiple times throughout his contact” with the child. He “shoved, elbowed, applied pressure points, carried, pulled, ‘hog tied,” and ultimately tased” the child.” During this time, the child was “sitting in the patrol car” and “not actively resisting.” His hands were cuffed behind his back. Deputy Honas began to press the child’s jaw pressure points without giving any direction to the child to do anything. This, the report concluded, “appeared to be of a punitive nature.” 

But it gets worse. Deputy Honas refused and cancelled assistance from two other available officers. He chose not to use de-escalation techniques; he failed to use other options in restraining the child. He said that he was going to call a transport van, but did not. On several occasions, Deputy Honas applied pain compliance techniques without telling the child what he was supposed to do. He told the boy, “When the other guy gets here, you’re going to hurt more.” He also said, “here’s the deal, you do anything you’re not supposed to do I will tase you again.” 

The report ultimately concluded that Deputy Honas engaged in “Unprofessional Conduct,” which at least in part, is defined as “using excessive physical force in carrying out a law enforcement objective.” The report, for purposes of law enforcement discipline in Kansas, then defines excessive force as “physical force . . . greater than what a reasonable and prudent officer would use under the circumstances.” Unfortunately, the report merely “reprimanded” Deputy Honas rather than revoke his certification to continue to work elsewhere in Kansas as a police officer. 

Isn’t it crazy that I just did another hogtying video, where there was body cam footage, out of Colorado. In that video I discussed some rare hog-tying law that existed in the 10th Circuit. Well guess what. It can be confusing to understand which states are in which federal circuits. But guess which federal circuit Kansas is in? That’s right, 10th Circuit, just like Colorado. There’s a 2008 case, Weigel v. Broad, out of the 10th Circuit, that denied qualified immunity to police officers for hogtying arrestees. Basically, it holds that hogtying is almost never reasonable, as it poses a high danger of positional asphyxiation.

Here’s the prior video:

Pastor Calls Cop a “TYRANT” and Gets Chased Into Church

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.

Cops Hogtie Innocent Man | Can the Police Hogtie Arrestees?

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. 

There’s a 10th Circuit case, Weigel v. Broad, 544 F.3d 1143 (10th Cir. 2008), that discusses hogtying, making it clear that the courts consider it akin to the use of deadly force, as it poses a high danger of positional asphyxiation. I’ll put all the legal citations in the blog post on this, which you find in the description. The Weigel case also cites another 10th Circuit case, Cruz v. City of Laramie, 239 F.3d 1183, 1188-89 (10th Cir. 2001), which is relevant here. 

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. 

Full raw footage here.

Cop Slams Pregnant Woman Over Broken Taillight – In Her Own Driveway

So many police encounters we see in the news, or on Youtube, were completely unnecessary. Some may say those are just circumstances where “A-holes collide,” but they need to keep in mind that we’re not talking about random people encountering each other, but rather an interaction between a citizen and that citizen’s government. These are not equal positions. Hot-headed police officers who primarily enforce their ego and authority, tend to escalate situations unnecessarily, creating crime out of thin air and endangering the safety of everyone. A little bit of common sense and a little bit of kindness would really go a long way. 

Recently, a federal lawsuit was filed in Kentucky and the body cam footage was released, showing a young pregnant woman confronted by a police officer, in her own driveway, over a busted taillight. Take a look and then I’ll give you my thoughts about whether her constitutional rights were violated. Can the police just pull in your driveway after you park and detain you in your yard, much less use force on you?

According to the lawsuit, the officer, McCraken County, Kentucky Deputy Jon Hayden threatened to tase this 24 year old pregnant woman, Elayshia Boey. He then “face planted” her into a cruiser, pinned her to the ground, with his knee on her back, holding her down with the full weight of his body. She was six months pregnant at the time. 

In his citation, Deputy Hayden wrote that after Boey refused to identify herself, he attempted to arrest her by grabbing her writ to “gain control.” However, the body cam footage showed that after the deputy asked her to identify herself, she gave her name. The deputy further wrote in his report that “after a brief struggle, Boey was then placed on the ground by physical force to gain control and compliance.” Boey and her mother were both arrested and charged with felony assault of a police officer. Those charges are apparently still pending. After a complaint was received, McCracken County Sheriff Ryan Norman said that the sheriff’s department had investigated itself and concluded that none of their policies or procedures were violated. He apparently didn’t mention whether any constitutional protections were violated. 

A few minutes later, after both women had been arrested, Hayden puts his body camera back on. His audio shuts off twice when he explains to other deputies what happened. Later, Deputy Hayden’s conversation with the jail nurse and the nurse’s evaluation of Boey are also not audible on the body camera. Note that when the women were upset and verbalizing their displeasure during the arrest, that he left that audio running. But at other times, he apparently concealed his own audio.

Deputy Hayden did not take her for medical treatment. Instead a jail nurse refused to admit her because of her injuries and being 6 months pregnant. Only then was she taken to an ER. Legal analysis aside, was any of that really necessary? Is it that difficult to just be kind, or at least calm? You would think that rational police officers would sometimes think to themselves, do I really need to be doing this right now? What is my purpose? What am I trying to achieve? This is where ego gets in the way. The question is not what you think you have the authority to do, but rather, what should you do? Hell, just acting rationally, what is in your own best interests? Whereas citizens should ask themselves at times whether they really want to invite the man into their lives, so should police officers ask whether they want to invite drama into their lives through demonstrating their perceived authority, or demanding what they perceive to be respect. 

It’s really not that much different than child custody litigation. Just because you can, or you think it’s fair, doesn’t mean that it’s also best for your child, or you in the long run. You’ll end up in a better position, and happier, by just being kind, or at least manipulative and pretending to be kind. Meanwhile, record and obtain evidence with a smile on your face. But I guess that’s too much to ask at this point. 

In the footage, we don’t see the beginning of the stop. Thus I’m not sure whether Boey was already out of her car prior to the initiation of the stop. This is actually a common issue I see. Can police officers pull into your driveway, knowing you just pulled in, got out of your car, and begin walking in your house, and then at that point initiate a traffic stop? This is where it depends on the circumstances. 

As we’ve discussed before, reasonable suspicion of a crime is required to detain a suspect. Usually in a traffic stop that is based on the officer allegedly observing a traffic law violation. Driving with a broken taillight could meet the reasonable suspicion requirement. But what about seeing the busted taillight, and then not getting to the suspect until they’re standing in their yard, the car now parked? What about not getting to them once they’re inside their house, even though you saw them drive with a busted taillight? This is where we could get into a lot of “what ifs” that could be tricky for a police officer. If you’re going to have to perform a traffic stop on someone who is now standing in their driveway, or yard, or porch, you might want to ask yourself if the crime for which you’re basing reasonable suspicion on is sufficiently important to justify entering this grey area that may involve you now being within the curtilage of someone’s home, without a warrant, and without probable cause.

Now, if there is a warrant, a police officer could even follow a homeowner inside their home to arrest them. Note I said it has to be their home. The home of a third party would require a search warrant, or a valid exception. If it was a “hot pursuit” situation, under some circumstances officers could be given quite a lot of leeway in entering, or remaining in the curtilage of a residence. But those “what ifs” don’t appear to be relevant here. We are looking at the most minor of minor traffic offenses, followed by an arrest for an alleged failure to identify, where the arrestee had just given her name. As I mentioned in a recent video on one of my cases, he tables turn when you’re talking about a police encounter occurring within the curtilage of a suspect’s residence. Law enforcement has no right to demand identification on your own private property – at least not without a warrant. 

But it just goes back to the fact that a police officer should ask himself, why am I here? What is my purpose? What do I have to gain? And also, what do I have to lose? It would be a novel idea for law enforcement in this country to just try being kind and using common sense. Of course, there are plenty of those officers around. You just don’t hear about them or see them on Youtube. Because they are the ones who go home at night – drama free. 

Cops Tase and Arrest Guy Sleeping in his Truck in a Home Depot Parking Lot

Police officers have a hard time understanding that reasonable suspicion to justify detaining a citizen is supposed to be based on suspicion of a crime, rather than a hunch or ego of the officer. How many police videos we see were completely unnecessary and achieved nothing, other than bad publicity, lawsuits and constitutional violations? 

Devin Thomas was asleep in his truck on Christmas night in a Home Depot parking lot in Delaware. He was waiting for the store to open because he needed to buy products they sell for his business. He was traveling for work, which takes place on the highways, hence the fact that he was sleeping in his truck. He awoke to a flashlight in his face and somebody trying to talk to him. 

A law enforcement officer may detain an individual for investigation when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that criminal activity is afoot. Courts, in this case the Third Circuit, consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the facts known to the officer amount to an objective and particularized basis for reasonably suspecting criminal activity. An officer is entitled to draw specific reasonable inferences from the facts in light of his experience.

Courts have ruled that the government “must do more than simply label a behavior as ‘suspicious’ to make it so.” Police officers must “be able to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.”

“An individual’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.” However, the Supreme Court has noted “the fact that the stop occurred in a `high crime area’ [is] among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis.”

Courts in the Third Circuit have allowed officers to consider proximity to locations where crimes are known to have occurred as one factor in the development of reasonable suspicion. What crime was suspected here of Mr. Thomas having committed? I reviewed the state trespassing laws in Delaware. I see no basis for any objectively reasonable belief any of those even theoretically could have been violated here. 

It doesn’t appear that there could have been any reasonable suspicion that the crime of trespassing has been committed. Delaware doesn’t appear to have any automatic liability trespassing statute wherein you’re committing the crime of trespassing just by virtue of driving in, or parking in, the parking lot of a closed business. It doesn’t appear that there’s any evidence that Home Depot complained about this individual in particular, or about people driving in, or parking in, their parking lots after hours, or before hours. There appears to have been no allegation that there was any burglary that occurred at this location, but rather alleged knowledge of past issues. Certainly nothing particular to this individual. Moreover, no information is given that the behavior of parking in a parking lot, or the appearance of this individual, or this vehicle, justified suspicion of burglary. To the contrary, it appears to be a work truck in the parking lot of a work supply business. 

Trooper White wrote in his police report, that he was on “proactive patrol” and just happened to be passing by Home Depot when he observed a white truck with its lights on parked next to two Home Depot rental vehicles. He further wrote that “Home Depot recently advised” them that “they were having issues with their alarm system and requested additional patrols in the area for suspicious activity.” He wrote that it was 2:30 in the morning, and the store didn’t open until 7:00 a.m.

However, he mentioned no actual report of any criminal activity, much less criminal activity pertaining specifically to Mr. Thomas. At least not prior to the seizure of Mr. Thomas. It was a white truck in a construction material store parking lot. There was no indication that the vehicle had entered a closed-off area, through a gate, or past no trespassing signs. It was a public place parking lot. I see nothing in the Delaware trespassing laws criminalizing the behavior whatsoever. All we have here is an officer with a hunch and an ego. 

After we get past the reasonable suspicion issue, we have the fact that Mr. Thomas was tased here. The alleged justification for that, according to the officer who fired the taser was that Mr. Thomas was allegedly grabbing and pushing Trooper White’s arm as White attempted to forcibly unlock the driver’s side door. 

However, Trooper White can be heard on the dash cam footage saying to the tasing officer, “I didn’t mean for you to have to tase him.” Apparently that trooper tased Mr. Thomas because Trooper White told him to tase him. At least he did, but didn’t really mean it. At one point in their reports they mentioned that they used “de minimis” force in extracting Mr. Thomas from his vehicle. That’s literally not true. Tasing is actually a high level of force that’s not supposed to be used where unnecessary. I believe there’s a good case to be made here that, even if reasonable suspicion existed to extract Mr. Thomas from the vehicle, that the level of force was unreasonable. 

He was only suspected of having committed trespassing, at best. He wasn’t actually a threat to them in any way. He was just standing on his rights. He was surrounded by police officers. He wasn’t going anywhere. They had no indication of any immediate safety threat to any individual. Except to Mr. Thomas, of course. 

Psycho K9 Officer Caught on Dash Cam

New footage showing dash cam video of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department using a K9 to make an arrest. Here’s the footage:

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. 

The Fourth Circuit held, as early as 1995, that the improper deployment of a police dog that mauls a suspect constitutes excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, deploying a dog against a suspected bank robber in a narrow alleyway without warning and a fair opportunity to surrender was unreasonable and excessive. 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 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).

Repeatedly over the years, the Court has 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 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). The Court also cited a 6th Circuit case where officers deployed a police dog to apprehend a suspect that had given police no indication that he presented a danger to others, and was not actively resisting but “lying face down with his arms at his side.” Campbell v. City of Springboro (6th Cir. 2012).

The Fourth Circuit has also cited an 11th Circuit case denying qualified immunity where the officer ordered his K9 to attack a suspect that had previously surrendered and complied with the officer’s order to lie on the ground. Priester v. City of Riviera (11th Cir. 2000).

Generally speaking: 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. 

Raw version of body cam: