The driver of a black GMC Sierra, who led the Arkansas State Police on an absolutely insane high-speed pursuit, did actually have legs. However, dash cam video shows that his legs appeared to be injured and totally limp, as officers dragged him across the road, handcuffed, and shoved him into the rear of a police car. Was that a constitutional violation?
On May 20, 2023, at 3:21 p.m. Arkansas State Police Trooper Jackson Shumate initiated a traffic stop on a black GMC Sierra, at US Highway 67 South at the 3 mile marker along with Trooper T. Van Schoyck and Trooper A. Escamilla. The vehicle was known to be driven by 42-year-old Christopher Monroe. Arkansas State Police said before this chase, Monroe was already wanted for drug traffic charges out of Sherwood, Arkansas. On May 4th, 2023 he fled from ASP before doing the same on the 19th. Ten days prior, police in Rockwell County, Texas put out a warrant for his arrest for evading in a motor vehicle.
Police attempted to box him in, bur failed and the chase was on. At one point early in the interaction Trooper T. Van Schoyck attempts to PIT the vehicle but ends up failing and sliding into a concrete barrier instead. Despite that failure to stop the vehicle, the police continue to chase Monroe as speeds climb. Monroe and the police cars following him cross over the Arkansas River going around 120 mph (193 km/h). Monroe then turns around and makes it only a few blocks before being hit from behind by police, which causes him to roll his truck. The GMC eventually hits a brick wall and comes to a stop on its wheels.
Because of how forceful the crash is, the police car itself almost flips. Later, Monroe is removed from the car by police who had surrounded it. Police found 64 grams of ecstasy, 100 grams of meth, 436 grams of cocaine, 89 grams of fentanyl pills, 182 grams of marijuana, 12 grams of heroin, and 46 grams of Xanax. Along with a Taurus handgun and numerous drug paraphernalia, Monroe also had $8,612 in cash in the car. He was charged with trafficking fentanyl and cocaine, possession of narcotics and methamphetamine with intent to deliver, felony fleeing, simultaneous possession of drugs and a firearm, aggravated assault of law enforcement and criminal mischief.
An arrestee has a constitutional right to be provided with medical care if there was a known, serious need for medical care. A serious medical need is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.
Deliberate indifference is established only if there is actual knowledge of a substantial risk that the arrestee required medical treatment and if the Defendants disregarded that risk by intentionally refusing or failing to take reasonable measures to deal with the problem. Mere negligence or inadvertence does not constitute deliberate indifference.
Earlier this year, deputies with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia attempted a traffic stop on a 77 year old man named Ralph Ennis, who was apparently suffering from dementia. He didn’t stop, but instead drove to a gas station. An officer from a different agency, the Front Royal Police Department, captured what happened on his body cam.
The footage shows a deputy slamming the elderly man’s head against a truck while pinning his arms behind his back. A second deputy then tackles the man to the ground, hitting the man’s head on the concrete.
“Please let me up!” the man cried out, with two officers on top of him. “Let me go!” Just prior to all the violence, the video shows that all the man did was to get out of his car and walk towards the deputies with his keys in his hand.
The Front Royal officer was clearly shaken by what he saw and said so while his body cam was still recording, as he left the scene. USA Today reported on the aftermath. The elderly man was apparently then hospitalized with a brain bleed. He would never get out of the hospital. He died about two weeks later.
Let me repeat what I just said a few videos ago: there are two kinds of people in this world; those who support the “he deserved it defense,” and those who support the Constitution unconditionally. Those who are willing to allow police officers to bend the rules, so long as the victim deserved it, in their eyes, haven’t fully thought things through.
Case in point: Your usual Fourth Amendment Fudd, who is the same guy that thinks the Second Amendment protects his bolt action .30-06, but not your AR-15, is okay with the police beating someone unnecessarily who chose to lead the cops on a pursuit. The same Fourth Amendment Fudd who is okay allowing police officers the discretion to mete out their version of justice with no due process, however is NOT okay with the cops beating his elderly father with dementia who had no idea what was actually happening. If you allow one, then you have chosen to allow the other. By definition. You either protect all constitutional rights, or you protect none.
This is just one of many recent incidents involving police officers and elderly people with dementia. Police officers have been enabled to fly-off the handle at the slightest perceived threat to their authority. They have been enabled to fly-off the handle on the basis of perceived threats to officer safety. They have been authorized to act like robots; to attack at the slightest provocation, without compassion for those they’re entrusted to serve and protect.
The law assumes that police officers will make mistakes; that they will have bad information, or misunderstand the situation. The law judges them objectively – not based on what they actually thought or intended, but based on how a reasonable officer would act in the same circumstances.
And here’s the problem. Most of us would look at those circumstances, including good police officers, such as the guy wearing the body cam in this footage, and say, “hell no.” We are not robots. We are supposed to be able to adapt; to deal with different types of people in different scenarios. What would happen if a confused old man walked into a bank, holding his keys in his hand. Would he be immediately tackled and handcuffed by security? Or would any competent person recognize that they’re dealing with an elderly man who might be confused? Does it ever cross the mind of a reasonable police officer that a vehicle may not be stopping because it’s an elderly driver who is confused or suffering from dementia? I would argue that a reasonable officer should be concerned first with protecting and serving an elderly man.
As the U.S. population ages and more people develop dementia, older people are increasingly running into problems with the police. There’s no national count of how many people with dementia are arrested each year. But an analysis of U.S. crime data by The Marshall Project shows that the number of arrests of people over 65 grew by nearly 30% between 2000 and 2020 – at the same time that overall arrests fell by nearly 40%. The number of elder arrests is growing faster than the population is aging. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also estimates that from 2010 to 2020, more than 12,000 people 65 and older ended up in a hospital emergency room for injuries caused by police or private security.
Unfortunately, police officers are not taught to think about the citizen. They are taught to only think about officer safety. It’s drilled into them. Citizen safety is last. That’s our problem. But “officer safety” is not mentioned anywhere in our Constitution. Where it exists is in police officer training. Instead, police officers should be trained in how to help people. They are the ones who wanted to be in a public service job. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about them being scared. If they’re scared, go find another job.
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….