Isn’t that weird that I just did a video on the issue of whether there’s a constitutionally protected right to flash your lights at oncoming traffic, in order to warn them of an approaching speed trap, and then what do you know, it ends up happening again right here in West Virginia. This brand new exclusive footage you’re about to see however, is the worst of those incidents I think you’ll ever see anywhere on Youtube. Frankly, I’m disgusted by the actions of this deputy with the Nicholas County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department.
Here’s the citation William was given:
This was Corporal J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department. His behavior was disgraceful. But I’m also disappointed in the aftermath here. Corporal Ellison shamefully gave this man a ticket for two alleged violations – at least on paper – which were allegedly having an unsigned registration card, which is total garbage, as well as an alleged “special restrictions on lamps,” which was a frivolous charge meant to fabricate the nonexistent crime of warning fellow Americans about government waste, laziness and tyranny.
Here’s the police report by Cpl. Ellison:
You’re really not going to believe this, but William went to court yesterday in the Magistrate Court of Nicholas County – that’s Summersville, West Virginia. He represented himself. He was being prosecuted by a prosecuting attorney from that county, with the matter presiding before Nicholas County Magistrate Michael Hanks. I’m really shocked to tell you that Magistrate Hanks convicted this man of the alleged crime of “Special Restrictions on Lamps.” He did dismiss the bogus charge of having an unsigned registration card because it’s thankfully not even on the books anymore – which by the way was the offense for which William was placed in handcuffs.
Between the prosecutor and the magistrate, which of those great legal minds thought it was a good idea to convict William of “special restriction on lamps?” Just looking at the statute, which is clearly not meant to apply to this situation, it makes an explicit exception, citing a different statute that allows for flashing lights for the purpose of warning the operators of other vehicles “of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing…, etc.”
Here’s the prior video I did on flashing lights to warn of a speed trap:
Stay tuned for updates. I’m going to help William….
Police officers have a hard time understanding that reasonable suspicion to justify detaining a citizen is supposed to be based on suspicion of a crime, rather than a hunch or ego of the officer. How many police videos we see were completely unnecessary and achieved nothing, other than bad publicity, lawsuits and constitutional violations?
Devin Thomas was asleep in his truck on Christmas night in a Home Depot parking lot in Delaware. He was waiting for the store to open because he needed to buy products they sell for his business. He was traveling for work, which takes place on the highways, hence the fact that he was sleeping in his truck. He awoke to a flashlight in his face and somebody trying to talk to him.
A law enforcement officer may detain an individual for investigation when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that criminal activity is afoot. Courts, in this case the Third Circuit, consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the facts known to the officer amount to an objective and particularized basis for reasonably suspecting criminal activity. An officer is entitled to draw specific reasonable inferences from the facts in light of his experience.
Courts have ruled that the government “must do more than simply label a behavior as ‘suspicious’ to make it so.” Police officers must “be able to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.”
“An individual’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.” However, the Supreme Court has noted “the fact that the stop occurred in a `high crime area’ [is] among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis.”
Courts in the Third Circuit have allowed officers to consider proximity to locations where crimes are known to have occurred as one factor in the development of reasonable suspicion. What crime was suspected here of Mr. Thomas having committed? I reviewed the state trespassing laws in Delaware. I see no basis for any objectively reasonable belief any of those even theoretically could have been violated here.
It doesn’t appear that there could have been any reasonable suspicion that the crime of trespassing has been committed. Delaware doesn’t appear to have any automatic liability trespassing statute wherein you’re committing the crime of trespassing just by virtue of driving in, or parking in, the parking lot of a closed business. It doesn’t appear that there’s any evidence that Home Depot complained about this individual in particular, or about people driving in, or parking in, their parking lots after hours, or before hours. There appears to have been no allegation that there was any burglary that occurred at this location, but rather alleged knowledge of past issues. Certainly nothing particular to this individual. Moreover, no information is given that the behavior of parking in a parking lot, or the appearance of this individual, or this vehicle, justified suspicion of burglary. To the contrary, it appears to be a work truck in the parking lot of a work supply business.
Trooper White wrote in his police report, that he was on “proactive patrol” and just happened to be passing by Home Depot when he observed a white truck with its lights on parked next to two Home Depot rental vehicles. He further wrote that “Home Depot recently advised” them that “they were having issues with their alarm system and requested additional patrols in the area for suspicious activity.” He wrote that it was 2:30 in the morning, and the store didn’t open until 7:00 a.m.
However, he mentioned no actual report of any criminal activity, much less criminal activity pertaining specifically to Mr. Thomas. At least not prior to the seizure of Mr. Thomas. It was a white truck in a construction material store parking lot. There was no indication that the vehicle had entered a closed-off area, through a gate, or past no trespassing signs. It was a public place parking lot. I see nothing in the Delaware trespassing laws criminalizing the behavior whatsoever. All we have here is an officer with a hunch and an ego.
After we get past the reasonable suspicion issue, we have the fact that Mr. Thomas was tased here. The alleged justification for that, according to the officer who fired the taser was that Mr. Thomas was allegedly grabbing and pushing Trooper White’s arm as White attempted to forcibly unlock the driver’s side door.
However, Trooper White can be heard on the dash cam footage saying to the tasing officer, “I didn’t mean for you to have to tase him.” Apparently that trooper tased Mr. Thomas because Trooper White told him to tase him. At least he did, but didn’t really mean it. At one point in their reports they mentioned that they used “de minimis” force in extracting Mr. Thomas from his vehicle. That’s literally not true. Tasing is actually a high level of force that’s not supposed to be used where unnecessary. I believe there’s a good case to be made here that, even if reasonable suspicion existed to extract Mr. Thomas from the vehicle, that the level of force was unreasonable.
He was only suspected of having committed trespassing, at best. He wasn’t actually a threat to them in any way. He was just standing on his rights. He was surrounded by police officers. He wasn’t going anywhere. They had no indication of any immediate safety threat to any individual. Except to Mr. Thomas, of course.
On August 19, 2022, Joshua Gibbons arrived at Aerojet Rocketdyne Corporation in Jonesborough, Tennessee. He sent me a link to his video of him getting arrested shortly afterwards. A few other people submitted this video as well.
The police officer, a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, jumped straight into a warrantless arrest here. He needed probable cause to arrest Josh without an arrest warrant. There are three levels of interaction between a police officer and an individual:
A consensual encounter;
An investigatory detention; and
A warrantless arrest.
Number 1 requires nothing, so long as it’s objectively consensual. Fourth Amendment protections to not apply to consensual encounters.
An investigatory detention requires reasonable suspicion. Fourth Amendment protections do apply to detentions. They must be reasonable.
A warrantless arrest requires probable cause.
Here, the officer appears to have skipped directly to number 3, a warrantless arrest, which requires probable cause.
What is the basic criminal trespass law in Tennessee?
State v. Hollingsworth, 944 S.W.2d 625 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1996).
Before an accused can be convicted of criminal trespass, the State of Tennessee must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (a) the accused entered or remained on the property, or a portion of the property, of another person, and (b) the accused did not have the owner’s effective consent before entering the property. Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)…
The accused’s knowledge that he or she did not have the “effective consent” to enter the property may be inferred from “(1) personal communication to the [accused] by the owner or by someone with apparent authority to act for the owner,” and (2) “[f]encing or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders.” Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)(1) and (2).
State v. Lee (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000).
Knowledge that the person did not have the owner’s effective consent may be inferred where notice against entering or remaining is given by personal communication to the person by the owner. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-405(a)(1).
Was he on public or private property? If he was on private property, did Josh have knowledge that he was on private property without the owner’s consent? As far as the issue over public or private property, more information is needed. With the information given however, we know the following:
Josh subjectively believed he was located within the public right of way. Being right on the edge of the public road, he very well may have been. You’ll notice that there was a fence a little further off the road. Josh was nowhere near that fence. Josh credibly demonstrated to the police officer that he subjectively believed he was on a public right of way, and not trespassing onto a private owner’s land. Secondly, the police officer didn’t know one way or the other whether Josh was within a public right of way, or on private property. Moreover, even if Josh was on public property, the officer admittedly didn’t know who the owner was.
Therefore, there’s a great case to be made that Josh could not have violated Tennessee’s criminal trespassing statute. Even if he was on private property, there’s no evidence that he had the requisite criminal intent to commit trespassing. Additionally, the officer performed almost no investigation prior to his warrantless arrest. Surprisingly he didn’t even bother to request Josh’s ID first. He just arrested him.
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.
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.
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.
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.