In Sherman, Texas, a police officer with the Paris Police Department – Officer Derek Belcher – was caught on video, including his own body cam, taunting the father of a young man who was shot by police several months earlier. The father was upset that his suicidal son was shot in the back by police officers, resulting in paralyzation. Apparently, the father had been expressing his displeasure with the Paris Police Department, including by “flipping” them off, which as I’ve discussed in prior videos, is a constitutionally protected activity under the First Amendment. Following the release of the footage, Officer Belcher was placed on administrative leave.
You can watch the body cam from the man’s son being shot here.
It’s happened yet again – this time in Ohio – where police arrive to a trespassing complaint at a business (this time at a McDonald’s) and instead of allowing the person to leave the business, they instead detain and forcibly ID the individual. Do police officers have the right to detain someone under these circumstances? More importantly, do they have NEED to do so?
An incident that led to an officer hitting a woman multiple times Monday began as a dispute over missing cheese on a Big Mac. Butler Twp. Sgt. Todd Stanley and Off. Tim Zellers responded at 4:20 p.m. to a call about a disorderly customer at the McDonald’s at 3411 York Commons Blvd., and on arrival, officers spoke to Latinka Hancock, according to a police report.
When the woman refused to provide her ID, the officers engaged in a brutal and violent use of force against her, which one customer inside the McDonald’s caught on video:
There is a video showing a female cop suddenly pull her pistol and point it at a driver’s head during a routine traffic stop. Then there was a subsequent video providing commentary and advice about the situation. However, the information was incorrect. There’s unfortunately a lot of misinformation floating around about the rights of vehicle occupants during traffic stops. It’s important to know your actual rights and not misinformation that could really cause you some serious problems.
What are your basic constitutional rights at a traffic stop?
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).
Additionally, “a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle.” Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 410, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) (per curiam)). That rule, the justification for which is officer safety, extends to passengers, as well. Wilson, 519 U.S. at 414–15, 117 S.Ct. 882. (United States v. Vaughan, 700 F.3d 705 (4th Cir. 2012)).
As for the 9th Circuit, where this encounter took place, “pointing guns at persons who are compliant and present no danger is a constitutional violation.” Thompson v. Rahr, 885 F.3d 582 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing Baird v. Renbarger , 576 F.3d 340, 346 (7th Cir. 2009)).
We do not discount the concern for officer safety when facing a potentially volatile situation. But where the officers have an unarmed felony suspect under control, where they easily could have handcuffed the suspect while he was sitting on the squad car, and where the suspect is not in close proximity to an accessible weapon, a gun to the head constitutes excessive force.
This footage shows a woman in Michigan attempting to visit her mother in a nursing home. The facility decides to trespass her from the property and call law enforcement. Once the police arrive, she voluntary leaves – or rather attempts to leave. Then this happens…. Once again, the issue arises: can the police detain and forcibly ID a citizen who is in the process of voluntarily leaving a private business following a trespassing complaint?
On December 13, 2022, Waterbury, Connecticut police officer James Hinkle had a complete meltdown, caught on video, that ended in him getting fired for verbally abusing a motorist. Details here.
Here’s the statement from the employer:
“His conduct during this encounter with a citizen of the community is unacceptable and not representative of the men and women serving the Waterbury Police Department,” Waterbury Chief Fernando Spagnolo said in a statement. “WPD officers are trained to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism when performing their duties.”
Yesterday we filed a federal section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the police officer featured in the “Hillbilly Law Degree” video posted back in October.
On January 10, 2021, my client, John, went to Walmart, during all the insanity that shall not be discussed. He was not committing any crime. He felt he was being treated unfairly. He was just trying to buy some products and was in the process of checking out. But Manager Karen at Walmart called the cops on him, reporting that he was refusing to wear a thing she wanted him to wear, and using some bad words. A police officer responded, and this is her body cam footage. If a non-crime was reported, usually they are investigating a potential trespassing situation. The problem with that is, many states, like West Virginia, only penalize trespassing where a customer was given the opportunity to leave, but refused. If the person even offers to leave, and the cop says, no you can’t leave, give me your ID or you’re going to jail, is that legal?
This presents a common scenario where police officers attempt to manufacture a “stop and ID” law, where none exists:
There’s a dispute between a store and a customer. The store calls the police, reporting something that’s not a crime. The police show up to investigate the said non-crime. They demand ID. Now like many states, West Virginia does not have a “stop and ID” law. However, if they have reasonable suspicion a crime was committed, and that a particular individual committed that crime, they can perform an investigative detention which can involve forcibly obtaining an ID from a suspect. So what is the crime? Can the alleged crime of “trespassing” be used to detain and ID a shopper who has not been asked to leave the store, and who has not been given the opportunity, or even allowed, to leave the store by the responding police officer?
This footage comes to us from Birmingham, Alabama, where we see a police cruiser physically ramming a vehicle involved in a so-called exhibition driving event, which I take it means just doing donuts mostly, while people film. This officer is now under investigation by the Birmingham Police Department. Is that legal? Can a police officer ram a vehicle doing donuts, or whatever else “exhibition” driving consists of? What constitutional rights are at play?
This footage comes to us from Lake City, Florida, where a couple of guys were apparently doing some donuts in a fairly-new-looking Corvette, ending in the car catching on fire. The fire department arrived, as well as the police. Bodycam footage shows the conversation that ensued between the investigating officer and the driver of the burned car. Was the driver required to provide a statement for the officer’s report?