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.
What would happen if a police officer initiates a pursuit with a fleeing vehicle, then that vehicle crashes, and the officer says, oh well, and drops the pursuit, leaving the scene? He just leaves; doesn’t stop to help; doesn’t call an ambulance; just turns the other direction and heads to Dunkin Donuts? Is that a civil rights violation? You might be surprised.
It was May of this year in Dallas, Texas. Dallas Police Officer Leonard Anderson and his trainee, Officer Darrien Robertson observed a vehicle leaving a gas station with his lights off. They began to pursue and attempted to initiate a traffic stop. But the vehicle fled – lights still off. The police car gets left in the dust, basically. Apparently, the Dallas Police Department has a pursuit policy that provides for officers not to pursue vehicles, unless they’re pursuing a subject believed to have committed a violent felony offense. That appears to have been the case here. As far as I can tell, they began to chase the guy because he left the gas station with his lights off.
Dash cam footage actually captures the officers witness the car wreck, off in the distance, as well as their reactions. Through audio from the officers’ dash camera video, Anderson and Robertson can be heard talking to each other about the crash. Anderson was driving at the time. “Did you see that?” Robertson asked. “That’s his fault,” Anderson replied. A nearby surveillance camera captured a better view of the vehicle, which narrowly missed hitting a pedestrian, jumping the curb and wrecking. Nineteen seconds later, the same camera captured officers Anderson and Robertson pull up to the crash site and promptly make a right hand turn, driving away.
Here’s the raw footage, courtesy of WFAA:
Bystanders at the scene witnessed the police car drive away. Instead, they attempted to help the driver, who was now trapped, his car on fire. Eventually, the two officers returned the scene, after other officers and first responders arrived. The crowd wasn’t happy. They had seen what had happened and were telling everyone who would listen. The officers tried to tell them at one point that they didn’t see what they saw. But they weren’t having it.
Afterwards, the chief of the Dallas Police said he was appalled by the officers’ actions and commended the civilians who helped the crash victim. “I’m embarrassed for the men and women of this department,” Garcia said. “This is not what we stand for.” “Those citizens did an admirable job — and did a job that our officers should have done,” the chief added.
Here’s what happened in the end. Fast forward from May of 2022 to just last week. It was announced by the Dallas Police that Senior Cpl. Leonard Anderson would be terminated as a result of this incident and trainee officer Darrien Robertson, whom Anderson was training at the time, was given a 30 day suspension.
Now here’s the question. Clearly we saw police officers fail to aid someone who needed aid. One of them was fired for it. No doubt that was a department police violation. But was it a civil rights violation under federal constitutional law? Let me know in the comments what you think. This is an interesting issue, and it’s not so easy.
It’s important to remember the basic fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that in general, police have absolutely no to duty to protect us. They can refuse to do their jobs, or be really bad at doing their jobs, and we can’t sue them for it. It’s not a civil rights violation, according to the Supreme Court. This has come up a lot in the context of school cases, where the government has actually exposed children to actual harm, that the children actually suffered, but the courts have refused to allow compensation. It’s come up in CPS and foster home cases. And it’s also come up in domestic violence cases – and to a lesser extent in some pursuit cases.
The Supreme Court has held that government officials cannot be held responsible for harm caused by third parties. In DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. DSS, 489 U.S. 189 (1989), state social workers became aware that a child might be the victim of abuse based on suspicious injuries. They concluded, however, that there was insufficient evidence of child abuse to retain the child in state custody, so they allowed him to be returned to his father’s custody from the hospital where he was being treated. Later, the father so severely beat the child that he suffered severe brain damage and fell into a life-threatening coma. The child and his mother then filed a § 1983 action against the state social workers, asserting that they failed in their duty to protect the child, thus violating his substantive due-process rights.
The Court made clear that “[a]s a general matter … a State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” The Court identified an exception to this general rule, however, specifying that the State does have a duty to protect citizens against private violence when the State has a “special relationship” with that citizen:
[W]hen the State takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the Constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being. The rationale for this principle is simple enough: when the state by the affirmative exercise of its power so restrains an individual’s liberty that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at the same time fails to provide for his basic human needs— e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety—it transgresses the substantive limits on state action set by the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause.
So the question is, okay, so they were not technically responsible yet. But they saw the crash. They didn’t call an ambulance. They didn’t provide first aid themselves. Is that a civil rights violation? We’re back full circle to the first issue. The Fifth Circuit has specifically held that no general right to medical care exists; such a right has been found only where there exists a special custodial or other relationship between the person and the state. Kinzie v. Dallas County Hospital District (5th Cir. 2003). Thus we’re back where we started.
While DeShaneymakes clear that the state’s mere awareness of a risk of harm to an individual will not suffice to impose an affirmative duty to provide protection, most federal circuits hold that if the state creates the danger confronting the individual, it may then have a corresponding duty to protect. This is known as the “state-created danger” theory/doctrine. Here, however, the Fifth Circuit has “repeatedly declined to recognize the state-created danger doctrine.” Joiner v. United States , 955 F.3d 399, 407 (5th Cir. 2020). Since this occurred in the Fifth Circuit, that’s not going to help.
Thus, here we are. There’s probably no civil rights violation. So is this news to you? Did you know that the federal courts generally hold that police officers have no legal obligation to call an ambulance for you, provide first aid, CPR, etc.? I find that shocking and unacceptable. So it’s important to know the exception. When? When there’s custody or a special relationship. Do you think the officers knew that here and were just playing 4D chess for their insurance company? I don’t think so. But it probably was convenient. That way, the department can just throw these guys under the bus, apologize publicly, and then quietly deny any compensation to the victim.
Now the victim here perhaps didn’t deserve compensation. He did it to himself. He could have killed an innocent person. So I’m just speaking in general. The usual tragedy is that the guy hits a car full of kids and wipes out an entire family. Then the government, similar to what these guys did here, just says, oh well, and takes a right hand turn and drives somewhere else….
How long can a traffic stop last? Can officers “prolong” a stop and order a drug dog? Also, can police officers baptize you in lieu of a ticket? April 17, 2019, William Klaver was driving south towards Chattanooga, Tennessee. Police Officer Daniel Wilkey, a Hamilton County deputy sheriff, stopped Klaver for a tinted-window violation. The driver didn’t know it at the time, but he was facing a police officer described by the New York Times seven months later as having been charged “with rape, extortion, stalking and assault,” as well as “false imprisonment, child molestation and forced baptism.” Yes, that’s right. “Forced baptism.” And there’s video, believe it or not.
After stopping the driver and approaching his window, Wilkey told Klaver that he stopped him because his windows were “way too dark” and requested his driver’s license. It was 8:10 p.m. As Klaver searched for his license, Wilkey inquired about where Klaver was headed. When Klaver didn’t respond, Wilkey asked, “Not going to talk to me?” At about this time, Police Officer Tyler McRae, another Hamilton County deputy, pulled up and approached the vehicle’s passenger side window. After several seconds, Wilkey asked Klaver, “You okay?” and again requested his license. Klaver then asked, “Am I being detained?” Wilkey responded “yes” because of the “window-tint violation,” after which Klaver handed over his license.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354-56 (2015). Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop.
The Supreme Court has provided a list of acceptable tasks that are connected generally to safety and driver responsibility:
Officers will usually question a driver about the traffic infraction; they will run the driver’s license plate; they will request and review the vehicle’s registration and insurance; they will check for outstanding warrants; and lastly they will write a ticket. Officers also commonly question drivers about their travel plans. So long as they do so during the time that they undertake the traffic-related tasks for the infraction that justifies the stop (Arizona v. Johnson), officers may also ask questions about whether the driver has drugs or weapons in the car, or even walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car (Illinois v. Caballes). These unrelated tasks turn a reasonable stop into an unreasonable seizure if it “prolongs” the stop. Officers may not avoid this rule by “slow walking” the traffic-related aspects of the stop to get more time to investigate other potential crimes.
Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes. See Hernandez v. Boles (6th Cir. 2020).
The reasonable suspicion basis for the traffic stop detainment was an allegation of dark tint. Later, the officers would argue the existence of other criminal suspicion, including suspicion of Klaver being a “sovereign citizen” and Klaver visibly shaking. This, they would argue, justified the officers suspecting Klaver of being in possession of drugs. As Wilkey and McRae headed back to Wilkey’s cruiser, Wilkey said the words “sovereign citizen” to McRae. The officers then talked. Wilkey observed that Klaver’s van had an “obstruction” which was a Marine Corps sticker, over his license plate. He also claims to have noticed that Klaver was “shaking like a leaf.” He told McRae they should “make sure he ain’t got no pot or anything.” Wilkey suggested that they call for a drug-sniffing dog. McRae agreed because Klaver would “say no to a search.” A criminal background check revealed no relevant criminal history.
About 5 minutes into the stop, the officers returned to Klaver’s van and requested his registration and insurance card. Wilkey continued to question Klaver. He asked him whether he had ever been arrested; whether he was on any “kind of medication” or had “any kind of disability,” because “you’re shaking.” He asked if he had “Parkinson’s or anything like that?” Klaver responded he didn’t think that Wilkey was entitled to ask him these questions. Wilkey responded that Klaver’s shaking suggested he was “hiding something” or had “drugs.” He asked, “you don’t have any of that, do you?” Klaver responded, “You know I don’t.” A minute later, Wilkey again asked Klaver if he had anything illegal in the car like “weapons or anything like that.” Klaver said no.
Did the deputies have reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop?
To have reasonable suspicion here, the deputies needed a “particularized” belief (that is, one tied to Klaver) and an “objective” belief (that is, one tied to articulable facts rather than amorphous hunches) that Klaver possessed drugs. The court looks to the totality of the circumstances.
The 6th Circuit rejected the officers’ claims that Klaver might be a “sovereign citizen” solely because he asked if they were detaining him. They noted that the video showed that Klaver was reasonably polite, not loudly confrontational. “Unless everyone who is reluctant to speak with the police might be a ‘sovereign citizen,’ the deputies’ claim appears to have rested more on a ‘subjective hunch’ than objective facts.” The Court noted that the officers failed to identify a single judicial decision or evidentiary citation suggesting that a person’s “sovereign citizen” status correlates with the likelihood of possessing drugs. Therefore the assumption was irrelevant.
The 6th Circuit also rejected the officers’ claims that Mr. Klaver shaking justified a suspicion of possessing drugs. “Many law-abiding people show their nerves in the same way when confronted by the police . . . [s]o we have always given nervous shaking little weight,” as it “amounts to a weak indicator of crime.” The Court also rejected the officers’ claims that Mr. Klaver’s reluctance to cooperate or respond to questions, including about why he was shaking, justified a suspicion of possessing drugs. A suspect generally does not have a duty to cooperate, and so the lack of cooperation does not alone provide reasonable suspicion to believe that the suspect is committing a crime.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991).
Wilkey then asked permission to search the van. Klaver responded, “I refuse permission for you to search my vehicle” and said “there’s nothing in here.” Wilkey continued to ask many of the same questions he had already asked, about the reason for Klaver shaking.
At 8:18 p.m., now 8 minutes into the stop, the deputies returned to the police cruiser and requested a canine officer. Dispatch informed them two minutes later than one was in route to the scene. Wilkey then filled out paperwork for the traffic ticket over the next several minutes. At 8:24 p.m., McRae approached Klaver. A few minutes before, Klaver began recording video from inside his van. He filmed himself peeling the tint from the inside of his driver’s side door window. McRae attempted to ask him about his military service. Klaver responded that he didn’t mean to be “disrespectful,” but that he would not “answer any more questions.” He stated that he wanted to be “on my way” if they were not arresting him. McRae stated that Wilkey was writing a ticket. Klaver said they needed a reason to detain him. McRae described the window tint and license plate violations, and then returned to Wilkey’s cruiser.
Deputy Wilkey continued filling out the ticket until the canine officer arrived at 8:32 p.m. The stop had now persisted 22 minutes. Wilkey told the canine officer that Klaver was likely a “sovereign citizen” who was “being combative” and “trying to conceal himself.” He said that the canine officer should let him finish with the ticket before deploying the dog in case Klaver “does something stupid.” Wilkey then returned to the van and ordered Klaver to exit the van for the dog sniff. He patted Klaver down and discussed the citation with him as the dog circled the van. Klaver now told Wilkey that the tint was now off his driver’s side window.
At 8:40 p.m. Deputy McRae told Wilkey (and an incredulous Klaver) that the dog had alerted to drugs in the van. McRae and Wilkey then searched the van for five minutes. They found nothing. Wilkey again asked Klaver whether he had drugs. Klaver again answered that he did not. As Klaver signed the citation, he said to Wilkey: “In case you were wondering, I have muscular dystrophy.” Wilkey replied: “That’s all you had to say, sir.” Klaver then drove off at 8:50 p.m.
Mr. Klaver filed a pro se lawsuit against Wilkey and McRae (among others). The defendant officers moved for summary judgment. The Court denied the motions on the ground that the officers unreasonably prolonged the stop without reasonable suspicion that Klaver possessed illegal drugs. The defendant officers filed an immediate appeal on qualified immunity grounds. The 6th Circuit issued an opinion on November 3, 2022.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354-56 (2015).
1. Did Wilkey and McRae prolong the stop beyond the time necessary to resolve the window-tint violation?
2. If so, did they have reasonable suspicion to believe that Klaver was engaging in other crimes?
The 6th Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that both Wilkey and McRae unreasonably prolonged the stop.
The 6th Circuit upheld the denial of qualified immunity to the officers, noting that, “[w]e have a mountain of caselaw indicating that heightened nerves represent weak evidence of wrongdoing and cannot be the primary justification for a stop.
Stay tuned for Part 2, on the aftermath of Daniel Wilkey…
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.
I know that many people are following my progress in the Creepy Cops Search Case out of Putnam County, West Virginia, where drug task force police officers were caught on camera illegally searching my client’s house. That apparently includes those officers and their lawyers in the pending federal civil rights lawsuit. This is the most recent update about the case:
On Friday, the defendant officers’ lawyers filed a motion completely centered on my Youtube channel, requesting an order prohibiting me from ever publishing video deposition testimony of those police officers. Basically they’re requesting court approval for a coverup. Now, important First Amendment issues are implicated. Police already have qualified immunity. The one remedy given to us by Congress it to sue them. Now they want to turn that process into something akin to Family Court or abuse and neglect proceedings, where government gets to operate in secrecy and without accountability and exposure. Here’s the motion they filed:
The video depositions in the Creepy Cops Search Case haven’t even been taken yet. They’re actually scheduled to be taken in a few days. I already agreed to postpone them several times already at their request, because they were concerned that the FBI was investigating them. So I gave them time to evaluate their situation and hire or consult criminal defense attorneys before they testified. Now, they want to testify essentially in secret. Why? Because posting their video testimony allegedly puts them in danger. They went through the prior videos I published on this situation and cherry picked the craziest ones they could find, and presented them to the Court as the basis for why I should be forever silenced from exposing their misconduct.
At the end of every video I tell you that freedom is scary. Why? Why is it scary? Fear is the tool that tyrants use to subject us and take away our freedoms. Over and over again. From the beginning of recorded history to the present. Of course police officers in America, if given the choice, would choose to operate in secrecy. They don’t want to be recorded. They don’t want to give you their names – they just want yours.
A West Virginia Deputy has been indicted by the feds. It just hit the news a few days ago. I figured there must be body cam footage of the incident, so I sent a FOIA request to the employer. I was holding off on discussing the case until I saw the footage. I’ve now received a response, and you’re not going to like it. Here’s what we know right now. Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Lance Kuretza has been indicted in federal court for a felony civil rights violation after allegedly punching and pepper spraying a handcuffed suspect, as well as for attempting to cover-it-up by filing a false police report.
The DOJ issued a press release. I went ahead and pulled the unsealed indictment off pacer. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain much in the way of details. I rightfully assumed there must be body cam footage. That has now been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, who gave a media interview explaining that there was indeed body cam footage of this incident, and that it was key to their decision to indict the defendant officer. He gave some additional details that weren’t in the indictment:
“Once we saw the evidence and interviewed the witnesses we knew this case had to be charged.”
He also noted that the Monongalia County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to pursue state charges.
So, that means the body cam footage must be good – or rather, bad. In fact, he said, “The video really speaks for itself, there’s a lot of it and that’s why body cams are so important…” And if that’s the case, why did the state-level county prosecutor not file charges? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. As you’ll see, the county is now attempting to stop me from sharing this body cam footage with the public. They can give it to the feds, but not the citizens they represent.
As soon as I heard about the initial indictment, and saw the DOJ press release, I sent a FOIA request to the sheriff’s department. As of this morning, they responded, denying my request on the grounds that there’s a federal prosecution taking place. The problem is however, I didn’t FOIA the feds, but rather the county, who has decided not to prosecute. There’s an exception in our state FOIA statute where there’s still an open criminal investigation. But they don’t have one.
What’s happening here is that the county – Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office – is attempting to prevent the public from seeing the video, even though the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the federal indictment just discussed it on the radio. Here’s more of what he said:
Deputy Kuretza and six others responded to a disturbance at the Residence Inn Jan. 20, 2018. An investigation at the scene determined none of the suspects broke laws or would be arrested, but management asked they be escorted from the property.
As the group exited the floor, Kuretza ordered one of the guests to open the door to a nearby room where he found a man sleeping. Kuretza then allegedly began to shake the man and hit his feet to wake him up. When the guest explained he was sleeping, Kuretza threw him off the bed and beat him, investigators said. As the contact escalated, Kuretza restrained the guest as the six other officers were in the room.
“This particular victim had a flashlight in his face and thought it was his friends just messing around with him,” Ihlenfeld said. “It turned out it was a sheriff’s deputy and from there it really got out of control.”
Kuretza battered and used pepper spray on the victim while handcuffed. While the suspect was being taken out of the property Kuretza allegedly continued to use unnecessary force.
“The report that was filed after this did not indicate the pepper spray had been deployed after handcuffs were used, in fact it said pepper spray was deployed before handcuffs were used – which was not consistent with the video evidence we have.”
So I already responded to their denial of my FOIA request and am threatening to sue them for illegally denying my request. The public has a right to see this footage. The sheriff’s department can’t just suppress footage owned by the public. I will get the footage, and now I really want to see it. I pulled the actual indictment and I’ll post it up on the blog if you want to see it. Here’s what it charges:
The indictment contains two counts. The first is deprivation of rights under color of law. This alleges that Lance Kuretza, a Deputy Sheriff with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, while acting under color of law, deprived the victim of his Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in an unreasonable, i.e., excessive, i.e., unnecessary and unjustified, use of force. Specifically, he punched the victim in the face, striking him, spraying him with pepper spray at a time after the victim had been handcuffed. It’s also alleged that he kneed the victim while escorting him. The indictment specifically alleges that this offense included the use of a dangerous weapon and resulted in bodily injury to the victim. Why was that last part alleged? As we’ve discussed before in these glorious cases, where those elements are present, the charge of deprivations under color of law transforms from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Count two alleges that, the following day, on January 21, 2018, Deputy Kuretza knowingly falsified and made a false entry in a record and document with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence an investigation into his actions. Specifically, it alleges that Kuretza made false entries into a use of force report by falsely stating that he sprayed the victim with pepper spray before the victim was handcuffed, as well as by omitting that he sprayed the victim with pepper spray after the victim was handcuffed, and also omitting that he struck the victim after he was handcuffed.
If convicted, Kuretza faces up to 10 years in prison for the civil rights violation and up to 20 years in prison for falsifying the report.
There’s quite a bit of case law placing police officers on notice that it’s unreasonable excessive force to use tasers and pepper spray on handcuffed arrestees. The Fourth Amendment bars police officers from using excessive force to effectuate a seizure. Courts evaluate a claim of excessive force based on an “objective reasonableness” standard, taking into account “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. These are known as the Graham Factors. The Courts also look at the circumstances as of the moment force was deployed, with an eye toward the proportionality of the force in light of all the circumstances.
There’s already binding legal precedent in the Fourth Circuit, which is where West Virginia is located, that pepper spraying suspects in response to minimal, non-violent resistance is a Fourth Amendment violation. SeePark v. Shiflett (4th Circ. 2001). There’s quite a bit of case law denying correctional officers qualified immunity for using pepper spray unnecessarily, for the purpose of causing pain, or for retaliation, as well as for using it excessively.
There’s a big difference between pepper spraying an arrestee who is handcuffed and one who is not handcuffed. There’s also a difference between the use of pepper spray in a jail or prison context, and use against non-incarcerated individuals, where it’s much more likely to be considered excessive force by the Courts. Unfortunately, I can’t show you the body cam footage. But we now have confirmation that it exists. I may have to sue for it. But I’ll get it one way or the other. I’ll post the documents I have so far up on the blog at thecivilrightslawyer.com. I look forward to following this one and seeing what happens.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 2021, Corey Jones got up early to work on some property improvements at his home, clearing brush around his acreage. He got out there early because he had to take his kids to school. Since it was still dark out, he used a headlamp. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the horse-owning Karen next door called 911 on him, complaining that she saw a guy in the woods on her neighbor’s property. She did this despite the fact that she had no idea who her neighbor was. Officers from the Pope County, Arkansas, Sherriff’s Department arrive, listen to her explanation, and then trespass onto Corey’s property, confronting him, and then arresting him. Everything that happens here is outrageous. But also instructive. Corey is a subscriber to my channel, and has graciously allowed me to share what happened.
When the officers arrive – this is Sgt. Damon McMillan and Deputy Hayden Saffold, both of the Pope County Sheriff’s Department – the Karen again tells them same story. Of particular importance here is the fact that she clearly does not allege that Corey trespassed onto her property. She’s claiming that she was subjectively scared of someone she saw on someone else’s property, which in fact was the property owner. She admittedly has no idea who owns the property. She makes no allegation of any crime, other than expressing her own fear of nothing.
Now the officer notices Corey on his property. He now becomes the one trespassing, as he confronts Corey. Of course, he’s got to have that ID – like an addict. Does he care that he’s on private property and has no idea who the owner is? Of course not.
Corey ends up being arrested for violation of § 5-54-102. Obstructing governmental operations, which provides that:
(a) A person commits the offense of obstructing governmental operations if the person:
(1) Knowingly obstructs, impairs, or hinders the performance of any governmental function;
The Arkansas courts have defined “governmental function as “any activity which a public servant is legally authorized to undertake on behalf of any governmental unit he serves.”
Thus the Arkansas obstruction statute does not specifically provide a mandatory requirement to provide ID to a police officer. Rather, it criminalizes the providing of a false ID to an officer. However, it does criminalize “obstructing” any activity which a public servant is “legally authorized to undertake…”
Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 provides that:
A law enforcement officer lawfully present in any place may, in the performance of his duties, stop and detain any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving danger of forcible injury to persons or of appropriation of or damage to property, if such action is reasonably necessary either to obtain or verify the identification of the person or to determine the lawfulness of his conduct….
Thus it appears that the officers in Arkansas may detain individuals if they suspect that individual committed a felony or certain dangerous or damaging misdemeanors. It would be a stretch to even include trespassing into that category – especially where they have no complaint from the owner of the property, and are actually themselves trespassing and confronting the actual property owner.
The footage was very clear that the property owner, who did identify himself as owning the property, expressed that they were not welcome. I really don’t see any basis for the officers having a reasonable suspicion of any crime having been committed here. Nor does it appear that if they had such suspicion of simple trespassing, that their actions would have been justified.
The officers are clearly worried about ending up on Youtube or in the media, as well as the fact that they suspect Corey of being anti-police, which is ironic under the circumstances. A solid case could be made here that what they actually are doing is retaliating against Corey, in violation of his First Amendment rights.
Sadly, part of the story here is what happened afterwards. I’d like to tell you that the charges were dismissed. But apparently Corey ended up being convicted of the obstruction charge. On what basis? I really don’t know. But I do know that the judge who convicted him, I’m told, was Judge Don Bourne of Pope County, Arkansas.
A little over a week ago, our old friends KARK in Little Rock reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court officially suspended Judge Don Bourne without pay for ethical violations, including mistreating litigants in her courtroom and failing to appoint lawyers for criminal defendants. Basically, for running a kangaroo court. I also found this gem, where KARK showed footage of Judge Bourne threatening a defendant with prison rape, among other things. It was only a two week suspension, but thankfully, after his term expires in 2024, he will never again be allowed to serve as a judge in Arkansas. Why even allow him to remain at all?
Hopefully an Arkansas lawyer can swoop in and save the day here. I wish I could help, and I’d be happy to, to the extent that I can. But I’m not an Arkansas lawyer. Perhaps there’s more to the story, I don’t know, but the footage shows what the footage shows. I trust in the footage. And I really feel bad for Corey Jones. He was mistreated by his government – by a couple of tyrant thugs, egged on by a despicable Karen. I’d love to see a civil lawsuit here. Usually, however, you have to win on the underlying criminal charges – which is probably why Officer King George, III is pushing them. He wants to know why anyone would be anti-government or anti-police? Because of swamp creatures like you.
A few weeks ago I posted the video of my clients in McDowell County, West Virginia encountering a similar type of tyranny within the curtilage of their home. The point was, you can’t be on my curtilage without my consent and demand an ID – even if you have reasonable suspicion. Here, however, it looks like we’re not dealing with curtilage, but rather what the courts call “open fields.” Generally, unfortunately, there are no federal Fourth Amendment property protections for open fields. The line between a home’s curtilage and the adjacent open fields can sometimes be a grey area.
However, that doesn’t mean that state trespassing and criminal procedure laws aren’t applicable. I see no Arkansas law that allows police officers to trespass on your private property against your consent and demand your ID to ascertain whether you are trespassing on your own property. Quite the opposite.
Federal Fourth Amendment protections will always apply to the person. Federal law prohibits an investigative detention – i.e., give me your ID or I’ll arrest you – in the absence of reasonable suspicion. The Karen neighbor alleged to crime that was committed. She alleged only her objectively unreasonable and irrational fears. There was no allegation of trespassing. A police officer’s own irrational subjectively unreasonable fear that someone theoretically could be trespassing on a particular property, without more, cannot be valid reasonable suspicion. Especially under these circumstances.
Big update in Chris Wiest’s case in Kentucky, where several Kentucky police officers are being held accountable for their misconduct. Tonight he joined me for a live video, and we discussed developments in the case, at length. This is the case where the officers denied (under oath) striking the guy they were arresting, later finding out that video footage showed otherwise. This led to Officer Thomas Czartorski later being charged with perjury.
Update video with the footage:
Here’s the recent court order in the case, discussed in the videos:
You’re home asleep in your bed. It’s two in the morning. Your significant other is asleep next to you. Your child is asleep in the next room. Suddenly, you hear shouting outside. Three armed police officers are outside your house, shining lights, shouting at you to exit your home. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re afraid. You comply with their orders, because they’re the police. There’s three of them, armed with the authority of the government. So you go outside. They order you onto the ground. They place you in handcuffs. Once in custody, you recognize one of the officers. As it turns out, he’s there to intimidate you. And also ask about your puppies.
This happened on August 2, 2020 at the residence of Shane Glover, who was there with his girlfriend and their sleeping child, as reported by the Post and Courier newspaper. These officers showed up to Shane Glover’s home after Glover had attempted to talk to Officer Jermaine Smith earlier that day, about inappropriate comments Smith had made about Glover’s girlfriend. Prior to approaching Officer Smith, Glover called 911, telling dispatchers that “he knew Smith was a police officer and that he did not want anything bad to happen to him when he approached Smith to talk. But Smith drove off before Glover was able to make contact with him. Just hours later, Officer Smith and two of his buddies would show up to Glover’s house and force him out of his home at gunpoint.
Officer Smith can be heard on the video asking Glover, who is now standing outside in his underwear, if he was “making threats.” This is referencing Glover’s attempt to confront him earlier in the day. Glover denies making any threats. Smith says, “it’s all recorded” and “they say you were looking for me.” One of the other officers says, “You’ve got to expect consequences.” The officers eventually uncuffed Glover and his girlfriend and left the property. They were not charged with any crimes. The officers weren’t even in their jurisdictions. The Orangeburg County Sherriff’s Office has jurisdiction over the area. But they were never contacted for assistance. They actually asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (“SLED”) to investigate this incident. An investigation was opened, and is apparently still pending.
As I’ve explained many, many times, at this point, a man’s home is his castle. It doesn’t have to be a brick home. It can be a single-wide trailer, an apartment, or even a hotel room. The police cannot arrest you in your home without an arrest warrant. They cannot arrest you in someone else’s home without a search warrant. Any entry, or violation into the sanctity of a home is presumptively unconstitutional, as explained in the 1967 Supreme Court opinion in Katz v. United States. There are only two valid exceptions: consent and exigent circumstances. Consent is explained in the 1973 Supreme Court opinion in Schneckloth v. Bustamonte. Exigent circumstances is detailed in the 2006 Supreme Court opinion in Brigham City v. Stuart.
Even assuming a threat was made earlier in the day, as Mr. Bamberg correctly explained, the proper response to that would have been to seek a warrant from a judge. Police officers do not get to be judge, jury, and executioner. There was no warrant here, thus, it’s irrelevant whether a threat had been made. Even if it had, that pales in comparison to what happened here, which was essentially a kidnapping at gunpoint, among other things.