Hotel SWAT Team Raids Customer’s Room and Searches for Firearms

Ben was in Las Vegas for DEFCON, the world’s largest annual hacker convention. Ben’s day job is in the field of cybersecurity. He was staying at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. Around 11pm on Sunday, August 14, he’s startled out of a sleep, in his dark hotel room. There’s pounding on the door. He walks to the peep hole in his underwear, peers through and sees what appears to be armed law enforcement in tactical gear. 

He’s ordered out of the room, in his underwear. They then search his room for firearms. They’re not law enforcement, but rather the hotel’s “Special Response Team.” They refuse to explain the basis for their belief that Ben has firearms in his room. In addition to working in cybersecurity, Ben is also involved in the firearms community, and operates the Open Source Ordinance Youtube channel, where he posted the originals of these videos. Here’s the main video:

Here’s the second one:

Many people know the basic rule that constitutional rights can only be violated by government officials, and that therefore they don’t protect us from private actors. At first blush, this seems to be the case here. Despite their appearance, these were private security guards. There may be Nevada state law protections at play, but it’s difficult to implicate federal civil rights protections. That would require a bit of legal gymnastics. But the more I research this, after having watched this footage, I think there are some possibilities. 

There are actually quite a few cases out there discussing private hotel security and constitutional rights. Many of these arise out of criminal cases. There are actually cases where federal courts have attributed state action, and Fourth Amendment violations, to private hotel security. However, these cases involve the question of suppressing evidence in criminal cases. Basically, if private security searches a hotel room, then police arrive, there may be a sufficient connection to establish state action by the private security. There was actually a Las Vegas casino found liable for Section 1983 violations in a Ninth Circuit opinion, where they had a system of working with the police in issuing citations, performing certain law enforcement functions. That was Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc., from 2012.

In the last few years, with concern over active shooters, certain hotels in Las Vegas have apparently formed their own SWAT teams, so as to provide what is essentially a faster law enforcement response. There may be facts there, depending on the level of interaction between the hotels and local law enforcement, to show a similar system of privatization of law enforcement. Where that’s the case, government shouldn’t be allowed to avoid Section 1983 liability by merely delegating their law enforcement functions to private corporations. So there may be a theory of liability there. 

Another possibility, the thought of which is fueled by the speculation here regarding the source of the hotel’s belief that Ben had firearms in his room, is that perhaps the federal government is indeed compiling, maintaining, and sharing information about the firearms community with private corporations responsible for site security. We don’t know if that was the case here, but can we really take anything off the table at this point? If that were true, that could be another potential basis for federal civil rights liability. 

I suspect we will be seeing more of this type of activity in the future, just as we’ve been seeing troubling behavior out of the ATF, as well as the FBI. Instead of a social credit score, perhaps they have a firearms community score. Do you have access to machine guns? Well, you may have a great credit rating. 

Is There a Right to Flash Lights to Warn Motorists of a Speed Trap? – Can They Stop You?

Is there a constitutionally protected right to flash your lights at oncoming traffic, in order to warn them of an approaching speed trap? There’s remarkably few rulings out there on this issue, and a quick search reveals very little guidance from the judiciary and the legal community. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a common occurrence. I hear about it from time-to-time and there’s a few instances out there if it being captured on video. Perhaps my favorite is an old video from the guy they called the Godfather of First Amendment auditors, Jeff Grey.

This occurred in Florida, near Jacksonville, on I-10, and involves a classic Florida speed trap, full of unnecessary government employees who have nothing else better to do than to harass people and flex their egos and authority. Jeff sets the trap with the bait. And the cops can’t resist it. 

Here’s the original video:

What we have here is an acknowledgment that Jeff was subjected to a traffic stop as a sole result of his flashing his lights. There’s no allegation of speeding, seat belt, or other pretext for the stop. Remember: every traffic stop is already an investigative detention, by definition, and therefore reasonable suspicion must be present to justify the invasion of Fourth Amendment protections. Now, reasonable suspicion is usually pretty easy for even the dumbest of police officers to articulate, which encourages them to lie. They just have to say they saw you violate some traffic law. Here, had they known ahead of time who they were dealing with, they probably would have made something else up. But the first thing that popped out was feigned concern about protecting or helping Jeff. They know that’s a lie. Jeff knows that’s a lie. They know that Jeff knows that’s a lie.

If this were true, there would be no Fourth Amendment justification to continue to detain Jeff. However, the footage clearly shows that they indeed continue to detain him. What likely happens is that the officers now go back to their police cruisers, and discuss the situation. Now they’re aware that Jeff was filming them. For police officers who were already willing to lie about the reason they pulled Jeff over, this could be a problem. As you’ll see, their strategy is to stop the recording. But Jeff refuses, calling their bluff.

Even now in 2022, there’s still no clear federal law on the issue on whether there’s a federally protected First Amended right to warn oncoming traffic about a speed trap. But there’s a wealth of clearly established law on the right not to be detained by the police in the absence of reasonable suspicion. If the officers in Jeff’s video had been honest about the reason they were pulling Jeff over, and if they were able to point to a Florida statute he was violating, they may have been justified in their actions, or at the very least entitled to qualified immunity. However, they basically admitted that they pulled him over in retaliation for warning other motorists, without bothering even to lie about a pretextual reason for doing so, thereafter repeatedly trying to intimidate him into turning off his camera.

There are no Supreme Court cases on this. There are no federal appellate cases, to my knowledge. There are only a couple of U.S. District Court opinions, and a couple of state circuit court opinions. There was a 2019 memorandum opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin holding that a policy and practice of stopping, detaining, and citing drivers who flash their headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a speed trap violates his right to free speech under the First Amendment. This was Obriecht v. Splinter.

The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” It protects conduct, symbols, and non-verbal communication that express or convey a particularized message reasonably understood by viewers. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 404-06 (1989). Flashing headlights could easily be placed into the category of expressive conduct. In the Obriecht v. Splinter case, this point was conceded by the state. However, even expressive conduct may be regulate by the government. For example, speech that incites or produces “imminent lawless action,” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969), or is integral to criminal conduct, such as fighting words, threats, and solicitations, United States v. White, 610 F.3d 956, 960 (7th Cir. 2010), is not protected by the First Amendment. 

Another similar case from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri held in 2014 that this conduct was entitled to protection under the First Amendment. (Elli v. City of Ellisville, Mo). At least two state circuit courts have found that drivers have a constitutional right to flash their headlights. (State of Oregon v. Hill (2014); State v. Walker (Tenn. 2003)).

The problem with the lack of precedent on this issue leads to a big problem for potential plaintiffs: qualified immunity. The standard for qualified immunity requires establishing that the police officer violated clearly established law. Where there is almost no established case law, that’s going to be a tough task. 

However, as we saw from Jeff’s video, if police are going to pull people over for flashing their lights at other motorists, they need to be honest about what they’re doing, and identify a state or local statute they allege is violated by the relevant conduct. Then, the victim of that stop can mount a First Amendment challenge. This is how the law will become clearly established. At the same time, if they’re not being honest, only video footage is going to protect the motorist from pre-textual lies, which if documented, will establish liability for a Fourth Amendment violation, with no good argument for qualified immunity. 

Kentucky Officers Denied Qualified Immunity and Headed to Trial

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.

Prior video:

Update video with the footage:

Here’s the recent court order in the case, discussed in the videos:

Video Shows Teen Arrested Waiting For His Dad – Court Denies Qualified Immunity

In 2019, on a rainy April night in Sterling Heights, Michigan, 18- year-old Logan Davis had just gotten off work at a sandwich shop and was waiting under a nearby awning for his dad to pick him up and drive him home. A few minutes later, Davis ended up hand-cuffed in the back of a Sterling Heights police cruiser, having been forcibly taken to the ground and arrested for loitering. Davis subsequently sued the City of Sterling Heights and Officer Jeremy Walleman for unlawful arrest in federal court.

Recently, the federal court issued a memorandum opinion denying Officer Walleman qualified immunity. So we have both a video of what happened, and the subsequent opinion from a federal court after examining the video and sworn deposition testimony.

Here’s the Video:

And here’s the Order:

As I’ve explained many times before, you have stronger Fourth Amendment protections as a pedestrian, as opposed to an occupant of a vehicle. A warrantless arrest, like the one at issue here, is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment if supported by “probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed.” An officer has probable cause “only when he discovers reasonably reliable information” that that an individual has committed or is committing a crime. 

Where an officer lacks probable cause but possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a person has been involved in criminal activity, he or she may conduct an investigative “Terry” stop and briefly detain that person to investigate the circumstances. During a Terry stop, an officer may request that a suspect identify him or herself, and the suspect does not have a Fourth Amendment right to refuse the request. Additionally, a state may criminalize refusal to provide identification during a Terry stop. 

Section 35-17 of the Sterling Heights’ City Code of Ordinances prohibits loitering and provides that prior to making an arrest for loitering, the officer must provide the individual with an opportunity to dispel any concern or alarm – which can be accomplished by the individual identifying themselves and providing a reason for their presence. 

Section 35-19(B)(4) of the City Code provides that it’s a violation to fail to produce identification upon the request of an officer who is investigating possible unlawful conduct. 

If Officer Walleman had reasonable suspicion to investigate Davis for loitering under § 35-17, he could lawfully order Davis to produce identification then, under § 35-19(B)(4), arrest him if he refused. To conduct an investigatory stop, reasonable suspicion requires that an officer have more than a hunch—they must possess a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the individual of criminal activity. Such a determination of probable cause or reasonable suspicion must be based on the totality of circumstances, considering “both the inculpatory and exculpatory evidence”— that is, an officer “cannot simply turn a blind eye toward evidence favorable to the accused,” nor “ignore information which becomes available in the course of routine investigations.” 

In denying qualified immunity to Officer Walleman, the federal court held that, even if reasonable suspicion to investigate Davis for loitering existed early in the encounter—and it is not clear that it did—any reasonable suspicion, even arguable reasonable suspicion, was dispelled when Davis explained to Officer Walleman why he was standing where he was and showed Officer Walleman his Firehouse Subs shirt and badge. After that point, a jury could conclude, no reasonable officer would believe they had a justified suspicion of unlawful loitering, and without such a basis, Officer Walleman no longer had the legal authority to demand Davis’ identification and arrest him if he refused. 

The Court pointed out that Davis was standing near Firehouse Subs, wearing a Firehouse Subs shirt, which he showed to the officer, and that more specifically, he was standing under the Dickey’s BBQ doors because there was an awning – and it was raining. He is observed on the video not acting suspiciously – not peering in windows, but just waiting.

It always comes down to this though: that police officers can’t seem to do anything, or talk to anybody, without forcibly demanding an ID from people. If people refuse, it becomes time to teach a lesson about the authority of government – a power trip. However, two can play at that game. Now a jury gets to decide whether government did have that authority. Perhaps it would be easier to just be a polite public servant and use common sense. 

Officers Show at 2AM to “Flex” on Homeowners

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. 

Cops at Your Door: What They Don’t Want You to Know

You may have seen the video I posted last week of police harassing private citizens on their own front porch here in West Virginia. This sort of behavior happens all the time: cops show up to a private residence, they knock on the door. What are your rights in that situation? What rights to the police have to do what they’re doing? Let’s make some things clear. 

For instance, in the McDowell County video I just posted, the officer can be heard multiple times in the body cam footage, claiming that he had reasonable suspicion to justify his behavior, based on the fact that he found what he believed to be four marijuana plants near the home. Based on that, the officer demanded the name and birthdate of the property owner, who was standing on the porch. 

Can police officers, assuming they have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime was committed, and the property owner on the front porch may have committed it, demand identification under penalty of arrest for obstruction for noncompliance? That’s what ended up happening, of course, as you’ll see if you watch the footage of what happened to Jason Tartt. 

The too-long-didn’t-watch answer is no. If police officers are on your private property, that changes things. Cops are trained on the requirement for reasonable suspicion – to develop some reasonable suspicion they can articulate, even if total B.S., and then that entitles them to forcibly demand identification from whomever they deem a suspect. That is generally how things work in public places – but not on private property, especially a home. 

Let’s look at this scenario of police on your front porch and make sure we’re all on the same page about what the law is, and what the law is not, for both police and the occupants of private property. 

According to the 1980 Supreme Court opinion in Payton v. New York, in order to legally arrest someone in a home, rather than in a public place, absent consent or exigent circumstances, police officers must have a warrant. 

According to the 1984 Supreme Court opinion in Oliver v. United States, the heightened Fourth Amendment protections of the home extend beyond just the interior of the home itself into what’s called the “curtilage” of the home, which is the land immediately surrounding and associated with the home. Why? Because according to the Supreme Court, the curtilage is considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes. The Fourth Circuit, where the porch video occurred, just in 2015 issued an opinion holding that a warrantless search of curtilage is presumed to be unreasonable. (Covey v. Assessor of Ohio County).

In the 2013 Supreme Court opinion of Florida v. Jardines, the Court held that a search undoubtedly occurs when the government, without a warrant, obtains information by physically intruding within the curtilage of a house, which in that actual case involved a home’s front porch. The Court cautioned that a search occurs unless a homeowner has explicitly or implicitly sanctioned the government’s physical intrusion into the constitutionally protected area, i.e., the yard and/or porch of the home.

Some of these broad Supreme Court holdings have been interpreted in slightly different ways in different federal appellate circuits. The porch video from last week was from West Virginia, which is in the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit made clear as early as 2001 that police officers will be denied qualified immunity for failing to comprehend that they have no right to enter a home’s curtilage to make an investigation based on reasonable suspicion. (Rogers v. Pendleton). They have no “right.” All they can do is engage in what’s called a “knock and talk.” This is the scenario in the large majority of these front door encounters with police. 

That’s right… Police officers in the Fourth Circuit were cautioned in 2001 that they would be denied qualified immunity for ignorantly believing the existence of reasonable suspicion allowed the to enter and remain in a homeowner’s curtilage without consent of the homeowner. Yet it seems that it’s still being taught to officers, and being used to arrest people. 

Under the “knock and talk” exception to the warrant requirement, a police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” This means there is an “implicit license . . . to approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” An officer may also bypass the front door (or another entry point usually used by visitors) when circumstances reasonably indicate that the officer might find the homeowner elsewhere on the property. “Critically, however, the right to knock and talk does not entail a right to conduct a general investigation of the home’s curtilage.”

The obvious difference between a police officer and a young girl selling girl scout cookies, is that many, if not most, homeowners have no idea whether they have any right to refuse to answer the door, or to ask the person to leave. Police like it this way. They don’t inform people of these rights, and the courts have ruled that they have no legal obligation to do so. You have to inform yourself and spread the word. 

Police officers, and anyone else really, have an implied license to come onto your property and knock on your door. This implied license can be revoked. Homeowners can prevent ordinary citizens and police officers alike from conducting a knock and talk by revoking their implied license to be there. However, few citizens know that an implied license exists. Generally, the courts require that a homeowner do so by clear demonstrations or express orders. For instance, asking someone to leave or refusing to answer questions. 

What about no trespassing signs? This is a topic of dispute, and can vary by federal circuit. The Tenth Circuit had a particularly bad opinion on this in the Carloss case, which resulted in one law professor creating “LAWn” signs providing notice to the police that their implied license to perform a knock and talk at the address is revoked. No trespassing can be ambiguous. One could certainly be more specific and avoid the grey area. Of course, another option is verbally telling the police that they’re not welcome and ask them to leave. That’s hard for a lot of people to do. Police know this and use it against you. 

Back to the McDowell County porch case, the officer thought he was smart saying he had reasonable suspicion, and now you have to provide identification or else get arrested for obstruction. But his own footage dooms his defense. He’s well inside private property. The homeowners have clearly expressed that they were afraid of him, asking for his name, which he refused. He arrested their landlord by physically seizing him on the front porch, well within the home’s curtilage, without probable cause and a warrant. The video disproves any later claim of exigent circumstances. More than that – I haven’t shown this footage yet – but he then radioes his superiors on the drive to jail – telling them repeatedly what he had done. There is obviously either a policy of civil rights violations in this department, or systematic ignorance, or both. 

Police Harass Innocent Citizens on Their Porch – Lawsuit Filed Today

What you’re about to see here is outrageous body cam footage that has never before been seen by anyone, other than law enforcement. It shows what happened to my clients, Jason Tartt, the property owner and landlord, as well as Donnie and Ventriss Hairston, his innocent and mistreated tenants, on August 7, 2020, when they were subjected to civil rights violations by two deputies with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, Dalton Martin and Jordan Horn. 

Today we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, which is posted below. But you can watch the footage for yourself. Before the body cams were turned on, what you need to know is that there was a complaint received that an abandoned church, in an overgrown parcel of land not owned by any of these individuals, apparently had four marijuana plants growing there, among the thick brush. Crime of the century, right? The perpetrators must be one of the elderly African American residents nearby, of course. Instead of treating them as human beings, let’s accuse them first thing, then mistreat, harass, and retaliate against, them if they dare to get uppity, or not know their place. 

Donnie and Ventriss Hairston were sitting on the front porch of their rural home, when two deputies approached and began to harass and intimidate them. Their landlord, who lives next door, joined them shortly afterwards and began to ask questions. When they asserted their opinions and rights, retaliation ensued. The landlord, Jason Tartt, was seized and arrested. The Hairstons were shoved into their home against their will. This is never before seen footage, outside of law enforcement of course. Take a look and form your own opinion about what happened.

Here’s the footage:

Here’s the lawsuit:

Stay tuned for updates….

Ring Doorbell Saves the Day Again: Eviction at the Wrong House

It’s a relaxing summer afternoon. You’re visiting family about 15 minutes away from your home. You locked your doors before you left, like you always do. Your three dogs are safely secured inside your house. All of a sudden you get a notification from your Ring doorbell security camera, at your front door. You see two police officers and some other stranger standing on your doorstep. They just busted the lock off your front door. They’re in the process of entering your home. You have three dogs in the house and you immediately have awful thoughts racing through your head about police officers and dogs. Not knowing what else to do, and having no idea what’s happening, you confront them using the doorbell’s audio speaker. They tell you that they’re there to evict you. You have no idea what they’re talking about.

This was the experience of Jennifer Michele of Land O’Lakes, Florida, in Pasco County. It was a complete surprise to her, given the fact that she had no knowledge of any eviction proceedings against her. She had been living there for 13 years. She posted this footage to Tik Tok, and it went viral. Here it is…

The Maxim that “a man’s house is his castle” is older than our Republic, and deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. As scholars have observed, it protects all levels of society, down to the “poorest man living in his cottage.” It formed much of the basis of the Fourth Amendment itself. While 4th Amendment protections have eroded over time almost everywhere else – cars, schools, sidewalks, airports, and so on, it has retained its original strength in the home. The home still receives the greatest protection under the Constitution. It’s our castle. This is expanding in many states, with “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws, and other self defense protections for law abiding citizens. 

Searches and seizures which take place in a person’s home are presumptively unreasonable, which means they are illegal by default according to the Fourth Amendment. The only exceptions are consent and exigent circumstances, which are not at issue here. 

Thus where law enforcement busts your lock off your front door, without a warrant, or in this case a valid eviction order, they violated your Fourth Amendment rights, by default application of the law. But are there any consequences? This is where qualified immunity comes in. 

There are two scenarios: 

1) Where the warrant or eviction order lists the homeowner’s correct address, but which is actually the wrong address. So on its face, there is a warrant for that address, but it was supposed to be a different address; or 2) where the warrant or eviction order lists an entirely different address and they just showed up and executed it at the wrong house. This could be equally applicable to arrest warrants where the wrong John Smith is arrested. Is the mistake in the warrant, or in the execution of the warrant? If the mistake is in the warrant, then how did it get there, and who was responsible? These questions are all highly important to the qualified immunity issue. The unfortunate reality is that qualified immunity is typically granted in these sorts of mistaken identity or address cases. Not always, but very frequently.

One must also remember that this is Pasco County, the same county as the video I recently posted showing the SWAT style entry into a woman’s home over a building permit inspection. That brings up what is most likely a better legal argument here, which is the existence of a policy of constitutional misconduct. This is likely not the first issue. Why is Pasco County law enforcement showing up in tactical gear, with very little information or communication, for an eviction? There may be a Monell Claim here, which would be important because a county or municipality cannot assert qualified immunity as a defense to Monell liability for a policy of constitutional violations.

The consequence of out of control government here was relatively harmless in the end. But often it’s not. Similar mistakes are often made, with tragic results. When law enforcement forcibly enters someone’s home, they do so with firearms, which often are used against occupants – either human or canine. Because, they have to get home safe at night. Nobody else does, necessarily, but they must, at all costs. Protect and serve. When you have the peace-of-mind of qualified immunity, you can just act first and sort out the damage later. Or, as we used to say in football, “let the paramedics sort them out.” 

Tased and Arrested in Walmart – Lawsuit Filed

You may have seen the video I posted back in January of 2021 showing my client being arrested in a West Virginia Walmart for bringing an uncased shotgun into the store. He brought the shotgun into the sporting goods section in order to determine if they had any slings that would fit. 911 calls ensued from store employees. What happened was captured on surveillance footage. Well, big update today. Here’s the Complaint:

W. Va. Code § 61-3B-2 provides that for conviction of trespass in a structure or conveyance, the potential sentence is only a fine of not more than $100.00. There is no possibility of incarceration under the statute. As the West Virginia Supreme Court observed in State ex rel. Forbes v. McGraw, 183 W.Va. 144, 394 S.E.2d 743 (W. Va. 1990), pretrial incarceration of a defendant for an alleged standalone violation of § 61-3B-2 would be improper because incarceration is not a potential penalty of the offense. § 61-3B-2 also expressly requires that the suspect refuse to leave the premises. Fortier never asked, or gave Plaintiff the opportunity, to leave the premises. 

Nor could Fortier have established that Plaintiff committed the crime of obstruction in violation of WV Code § 61-5-17(a), as at no time did Plaintiff fail to do exactly as ordered by any law enforcement officer. Lastly, I’ll just point out that open carry of firearms is perfectly legal in West Virginia, as we are a constitutional carry state. Mr. Lanham is not, and was not a person prohibited from being in possession of a firearm. Both handguns and longarms are legal to openly carry in West Virginia. Thus, the shotgun was carried in conformance with West Virginia law. That being said, a private property owner may prohibit firearms in their store. Assuming they do so, the violation of a store firearms prohibition policy is not a crime in West Virginia.

Here’s a recap of the footage and an update on the lawsuit:

As you can see in the video, at the time Plaintiff was tased, his hands were in the air, the shotgun was no longer in his possession, and he had walked to the wall, as directed by the defendant officers. He had fully complied with their directives and objectively gave the officers no indication that he posed a threat to anyone. No objectively reasonable police officer could have perceived the Plaintiff as posing an immediate threat to the safety of any individual. He was compliant and was not physically resisting. Here, Plaintiff had committed no crime, and while the officers had been called to the location by employees of Walmart, there was no indication that Plaintiff had committed any crime at all, much less a serious crime. There was no allegation that he was a physical threat to any individual. Plaintiff was not subsequent charged with, or alleged to have committed, any crime, other than trespassing. The trespassing charge was subsequently dismissed. 

Plaintiff offered absolutely no resistance, and was tased unnecessarily. The unreasonableness of tasing the Plaintiff is demonstrated by the fact that the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office has no record of any employee ever having tased the Plaintiff on August 1, 2020. In response to a FOIA request seeking the identity of the officer who tased the Plaintiff, and any documentation pertaining to the incident, they responded that they had no records regarding the incident. 

Also corroborating the fact that tasering the Plaintiff was unnecessary, the criminal complaint written and signed by Defendant Fortier stated that, “A Deputy with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office encountered the [Plaintiff] first, and was able to detain him without incident.” The narrative mentioned nothing about the need for any use of force, nor the application of any use of force, including tasering, against the Plaintiff. Indeed, the narrative claimed that no incident occurred, much less a taser deployment. 

The third and final count of the lawsuit is also a Fourth Amendment violation, similar to the first count. However, whereas Count One was for the warrantless arrest of Mr. Lanham, Count Three focuses on the fact that Mr. Lanham was needlessly and maliciously prosecuted, even after his arrest. He ultimately obtained the dismissal of the criminal charge. That was inevitable. But they prosecuted him anyways, as if they felt some need to just go through the motions. 

During the processing of Plaintiff’s arrest, Defendant Fortier expressed to Plaintiff that even though it was legal for him to openly possess and carry firearms in West Virginia, that he needed to charge him with something just by virtue of the fact that they responded and the media began to report on it.  During the litigation of the criminal charge, Plaintiff retained counsel (me), who served a FOIA request on the City of Nitro, requesting the video footage of the incident, which they had obtained from Walmart. In response to the FOIA request, Defendant Fortier expressed to Plaintiff that since he went to a lawyer, he was no longer going to agree to the dismissal of the frivolous prosecution, which he had previously intended to do. 

Eventually, the charge was dismissed when the prosecuting attorney and municipal judge realized that Plaintiff could not have committed the charged offense. However, at the urging of Defendant Fortier, the dismissal of the frivolous prosecution was needlessly delayed, causing unnecessary additional damage to the Plaintiff. 

Here’s the original video posted last year:

Cops Arrest Homeless Vet for Being in a Median and do This to His Dog, Sunshine

Just released, body cam footage shows Gastonia, North Carolina police arresting a homeless veteran, suspected of panhandling in a median, and tasing his dog, named Sunshine. Unfortunately, Sunshine didn’t make it. This is brand new footage, ordered released by a judge, against the will of Gastonia law enforcement, who fought the release of the footage, supposedly to guarantee the homeless vet, Joshua Rohrer, a “fair trial.” Yeah, right. If law enforcement doesn’t want you to see it, then you probably need to see it. 

Here’s the raw footage:

In the applicable jurisdiction – the Fourth Circuit – these cases seem to come out of North Carolina. There is a very recent published opinion out of the Fourth Circuit – Ray v. Roane – which deprived police officers of qualified immunity in a civil lawsuit for shooting someone’s dog. Here’s a video I just did a few weeks back in June on another similar video:

As an initial matter, it is well-settled that privately owned dogs are “effects” under the Fourth Amendment, and that the shooting and killing of such a dog constitutes a “seizure.” So it’s a different legal standard that standard police shooting cases. It’s an overall reasonableness standard, recognizing that police can shoot dogs where officer safety justifies the decision. 

The question is whether, at the time the officer shot the dog, he held a reasonable belief that the dog posed a threat to himself or others. If the facts are sufficient to show that such a belief was unreasonable, then the law is clearly established in the Fourth Circuit that shooting a dog under those circumstances would constitute an unreasonable seizure of Mr. Rohrer’s property under the Fourth Amendment. That’s not a great way of looking at the value of our dogs, but that’s the actual legal analysis.

Here, the tasing officer, Maurice Taylor, claims that the dog “bit his boot.” Although I snipped the footage for Youtube reasons, you can click the link and watch the entire raw footage on Mr. Rohrer’s channel. You can see that the tasering took place well after the dog allegedly bit the boot. Immediately after the officer claims the dog bit the boot, you can see the dog wagging its tail. I have my doubts. Perhaps what really happened is the dog came up to him, wagging his tail, and Officer Friendly kicked her in the face. They don’t call them “jack booted thugs” for nothing. 

That reminds me of the officer from yesterday’s video, where the guy he beat up actually attacked his fists. At the point where the taser is deployed, the arguable officer safety concern actually involves his partner. You can see the dog on video at this point, and the dog clearly doesn’t make any move to attack the partner. 

All-in-all, the response to this itself speaks of the lack of reasonableness of the decision under the circumstances. And how many cops were present towards the end of the footage. Fifteen? Twenty? Who is paying these people, and where are they now?