This footage was submitted by a man who encountered law enforcement in Burleson, Texas, in a Kroger parking lot. He was documenting the lack of front license plates in the parking lot for something he was working on. A “Karen” in a nearby store saw him photographing cars and called the police. The police showed up and began to “investigate” the non-crime taking place. The man asserted his rights and asked if he was free to leave. He wasn’t. Thus the 4th Amendment was implicated. Was the detention justified?
This video was submitted by Jordan, who was pulled over in Charleston, West Virginia while delivering food via an online app. He was pulled over for a broken tag-light. Officers then asked him to exit the vehicle. He was frisked and then made to watch, while officers searched his vehicle because they claimed to smell marijuana. Can cops order you out of your vehicle at a traffic stop for any reason? Can they frisk you and search your pockets for any reason once they order you out of the vehicle? Can they search your vehicle just because they claim to smell marijuana?
“[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)).
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).
The odor of marijuana alone, as of the current state of the law, provides probable cause for officers to search a vehicle for evidence of marijuana possession – despite state laws legalizing the possession of marijuana under some circumstances. As the Fourth Circuit noted in United States v. Mitchell (4th Cir. 2018), “[t]his is especially the case so long as marijuana possession is prohibited by federal law, without exception. 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1).”
This footage shows a man being confronted, arrested and tased by police officers, after he pulled over on the side of the road to observe and record a traffic stop involving his son. Did he have a right to observe and record the traffic stop? Or can the police make him leave – or worse?
Kenneth Espinoza was driving to a shop to get his truck serviced. His son was following him separately in another vehicle. But then, his son was pulled over by a deputy with the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office, for allegedly following too closely to the police car. His father then pulled over behind the deputy to observe the stop and wait for his son.
But that’s not the main story here. Rather, the story becomes the officers on the scene getting butthurt about the father observing and waiting behind the stop. In the bodycam video, Deputy Henry Trujillo is seen walking up to the father’s window. He tells Espinoza he needs to leave the scene, or else he’ll be charged. Espinoza refuses, but moments later can be seen then attempting to leave the scene, at which point the deputies prevent him from leaving, including by pointing weapons at him.
The footage then shows the father being tased multiple times, including while handcuffed.
Prosecutors have now dropped all charges against Espinoza. He had been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. Espinoza’s lawsuit also alleges that Deputy Trujillo shouldn’t have even been a deputy in the first place, due to his criminal history. In 1997 he was charged with felony menacing with a weapon, which was pled down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The following year, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment. According to the father’s attorney, that conviction should have barred Trujillo from becoming certified as a police officer in Colorado. There were also multiple restraining orders filed against Trujillo, including a 2006 domestic abuse allegation, including a stalking and assault allegation from 2007. Apparently a protective order was entered against him.
But there’s more. Trujillo was apparently forced to resign from the sheriff’s office in 2009 due to a conviction that is now sealed. What was it? We don’t know. Because it’s sealed. But then, he was rehired in 2010. Then in 2018 he was promoted. Now he’s third in command. The Las Animas County Sheriff released a statement saying he has asked for help from an outside agency to review the actions of his deputies. He said that Deputy Trujillo is still on active duty.
What is the law here? Did the father have a right to wait and observe at his son’s traffic stop? The bodycam footage indicates that the father was not just waiting and observing the stop, but also recording the stop. That’s the most important fact here.
It just so happens that Colorado, which is in the 10th federal circuit, is where case law just dropped last year on this very issue. And it’s not good for the officers. The case is: Irizarry v. Yehia, 38 F.4th 1282 (10th Cir. 2022). Here’s the backstory:
Early in the morning on May 26, 2019, Abade Irizarry, a YouTube journalist and blogger, was filming a DUI traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado. Officer Ahmed Yehia arrived on the scene and stood in front of Mr. Irizarry, obstructing his filming of the stop. When Mr. Irizarry and a fellow journalist objected, Officer Yehia shined a flashlight into Mr. Irizarry’s camera and then drove his police cruiser at the two journalists.
Mr. Irizarry is a “Youtube journalist and blogger” who “regularly publishes stories about police brutality and conduct or misconduct.” On May 26, 2019, he and three other “YouTube journalists/bloggers” were filming a DUI traffic stop with their cell phones and cameras “for later broadcast, live-streaming, premiers, and archiving for their respective social medial channel[s].”
Here’s what the court held:
Filming the police performing their duties in public is protected activity. Police Officers in Colorado will be deprived of qualified immunity where they violate a citizen’s First Amendment right to film police performing their duties in public and take retaliatory actions against them. Officers standing in front of a camera, threatening violence, including aiming police cruisers at the individual, violate the First Amendment.
On February 10, 2023, Corey Lambert was driving down the road and he gave the middle finger to a police officer who was driving by. That police officer then, in response to the middle finger, initiated a traffic stop. This occurred in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The officer was Coby Engle from the Martinsburg Police Department.
Here’s what he wrote in his report:
I witnessed a white male driver later identified as Corey Lambert, driving a Chevy pickup truck traveling east bound on Mall Drive. When I passed Corey I witnessed him giving an improper hand signal prior to turning left onto Mall Access Road. I then turned around and initiated my emergency lights and sirens and conducted a traffic stop in the parking lot of Grand Home Furnishings on Mall Loop.
When I approached Corey I advised to him the reason for the stop. Corey later stated that he was not indicating his direction [of] travel in his vehicle with his hand signaling and that he was simply giving me the middle finger.
Due to this being a municipal violation of hand and arm signals 339.10 I then asked Corey multiple times for his driver license registration and proof of insurance. He told me multiple times that the didn’t have to provide me with these documents.
At this time Pfc. Boursiquot told Corey again that if he didn’t provide us with these documents that he would be placed under arrest. Corey continued to not comply with our demands. Corey was then placed under arrest at this time and transported back to the Martinsburg City Police Station for processing.
Believe it or not, Corey was then held on a cash only bond for four days and three nights, following his arrest. He was charged with municipal violations of improper hand signal and two counts of obstruction. Then, because the charges were municipal, instead of a real court and real judge, it went to the municipal court, which so they told us on the phone, claims not to be a “court of record,” and as such apparently keep no paperwork. But they told us that the result was that the improper signaling charge was dismissed. One count of obstruction was dismissed. And he was convicted of one count of obstruction.
The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to spoken words, but rather include gestures and other expressive conduct, even if vulgar or offensive to some. For example, in Cohen v. California (1971), the Supreme Court held that an individual wearing a jacket bearing the words “F**k the Draft” in a courthouse corridor could not be prosecuted for disturbing the peace.
Consistent with this precedent, although “the gesture generally known as ‘giving the finger’ … is widely regarded as an offensive insult,” Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. N.Y. State Liquor Auth. , (2d Cir. 1998), it is a gesture that is generally protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g. , Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard (6th Cir. 2019) (“Any reasonable [police] officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”); Garcia v. City of New Hope (8th Cir. 2021) (“[Plaintiff’s] raising his middle finger at [a police officer] is a rude and offensive gesture but nonetheless, under current precedent, is a constitutionally protected speech activity.”); Batyukova v. Doege (5th Cir. 2021) (same); accord Swartz v. Insogna (2d Cir. 2013) (holding that giving the middle finger could not support arrest for disorderly conduct); see generally Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law , 41 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 1403, 1407–08, 1434 (2008) (observing that the middle finger can express a variety of emotions—such as anger, frustration, defiance, protest, excitement—or even “possess[ ] political or artistic value”).
A college student is walking down the sidewalk. Suddenly he is grabbed by multiple police officers wearing plain clothes. He has no idea they’re police officers. He thinks he’s getting mugged. Bystanders think he’s getting mugged. They call 911. It looks like a mugging. They take his wallet. They beat him. But they were cops. Not just any cops. They were federalized into a task force. You are an innocent victim. Can you sue them?
Qualified immunity is bad enough. But imagine an America where the federal government can deputize your local law enforcement and take them completely out of state and local control. Imagine they can violate your constitutional rights and there’s nothing you can do about it. Imagine they have more than just qualified immunity, but you basically can’t sue them at all. That’s what’s at issue in this important case, King v. Brownback, being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Institute for Justice – for a second time.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Patrick Jaicomo, who has already argued this case once before the Supreme Court. He explains the backstory about what happened to James King, as well as the extraordinary lengths the government has gone to keep an innocent victim from ever seeing a jury over the violation of his constitutional rights.
This is an extremely important issue because we are seeing these federal task forces pop up all over the country. If the courts take the position that state and local officers are effectively federal officers, they basically can’t be sued. Courts will say, yeah he violated your constitutional rights, but there’s nothing you can do about it. So far, that’s what has happened to James King. He was completely innocent and local police officers beat the hell out of him. But he couldn’t sue them.
The Institute for Justice is asking the Supreme Court to fix this problem. Here’s some insight from one of the country’s top civil rights lawyers about this case and about what you can do to help. The King case is important because it’s undisputed that James was innocent; that his civil rights were violated. The only real issue is whether, as a citizen, there’s anything he can do about it. If a private citizen beat him, he could sue him and seek money damages before a jury. But here he can’t because he was beaten by his government.
If they were just regular state and local cops, it wouldn’t be a problem. He would beat qualified immunity. But here they have been hiding behind the protection of the federal government. Even though they were in fact state and local cops enforcing state and local laws. If this is allowed, I think we’ll see much more of this federal deputization, just to allow local police to violate the constitution without consequences. That can’t happen.
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Check out this brand new footage from Cabot, Arkansas – yet another Walmart video – submitted to me by this man’s lawyer. Walmart calls the cops and reports a non-crime. Usually they do this without ever asking the individual to leave; they just call the cops. Then the cops show up and likewise don’t ask the person to leave, but instead, they demand an ID in the absence of any legitimate suspicion of criminal behavior.
So no crime has been committed, but the person gets detained. As I’ve explained numerous times, what is required for police to detain someone against their will? Is it enough that a Walmart employee doesn’t like the way you look, or something about you? No. Police must have reasonable suspicion to detain you. When you are forced to stop and talk to them and provide ID, that’s a detainment. Reasonable suspicion is required.
Here’s the civil lawsuit, just filed:
Here’s the police report:
February 13, 2023, Jacob Jackson is walking down a public sidewalk in Beckley, West Virginia. A uniformed sheriff’s deputy pulls up in a marked police cruiser and activates his emergency lights. The reason? He has civil service papers to serve related to an eviction proceeding. Jacob asserts his rights. The deputy asserts what he believes to be his rights as a police officer. Can a police officer forcibly detain you, ID you, search you, put his hands on you, just because he has civil paperwork to serve on someone? Even if you’ve done nothing illegal?
Jacob brought me his cell phone video. I then obtained the body cam footage via a FOIA request from the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department.
When police officers encounter pedestrians, they could trigger an investigatory detention, which requires reasonable suspicion, or they could just be engaged in a consensual encounter, which requires nothing. It’s just a conversation.
Consensual encounters, i.e., a conversation, does not trigger the Fourth Amendment, and can be easily identified if the subject asks whether or not he’s free to leave. If the question isn’t asked, courts will look to the circumstances. Would a reasonable, regular person believe that he was NOT free to leave? Were emergency lights activated? Multiple police officers? Guns drawn? Put in handcuffs? Accused of criminal conduct? Told to show your hands? Told to get on the ground? Or was it just a conversation.
The question is whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter. If the person was involuntarily detained by the officer, that constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, no matter how brief the detention or how limited its purpose.
If a detention occurs, the courts require the detaining officer to be able to articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate that the person’s behavior is indicative of some sinister criminal activity. It must be based on suspicion of illegal conduct. In other words, it cannot be based on suspicion of legal conduct, such as walking down a public sidewalk, or even being a defendant in a civil lawsuit – even an eviction proceeding. Anyone can serve lawsuit paperwork: a private investigator, a rando off the street – anyone. Just doing that does not entitle any individual to detain or arrest the target of the civil service.
This video demonstrated that Jacob Jackson was not suspected of having committed any crime. The officer had no right to involuntarily detain him. He had no right to do anything but engage in a consensual encounter with Mr. Jackson. Due to the fact that Mr. Jackson asserted his rights, there’s no doubt that the officer detained him and thereby triggered the Fourth Amendment. Given the fact that there was no allegation or suspicion of illegal conduct, reasonable suspicion did not exist, and therefore the Fourth Amendment was violated – no matter how brief the detention was, and no matter how badly the officer, or some litigant, wanted Mr. Jackson to be served with the paperwork.
New bodycam footage just released out of Raleigh, North Carolina, where I once worked as a prosecutor, showing police officers encountering, detaining and using force on Darryl Tyree Williams on January 17, 2023. That use of force, involving multiple uses of tasers, by multiple officers, resulted in the death of Mr. Williams.
What I want to focus on is not the actual tasing part. You know how that goes. But rather, whether it was constitutional for him to have been detained and handcuffed in the first place. Nobody had reported a crime. Rather, the officers were allegedly engaged in what they called “proactive patrols” of business parking lots in a location they claim “has a history of repeat calls for service for drugs, weapons, and other criminal violations.”
This is an important constitutional issue. When did the seizure take place? When were Fourth Amendment protections first triggered here? It depends on the facts, and in this case, the footage.
Here’s the police report:
You have two different scenarios for these types of police encounters:
1) consensual encounters, which are theoretically voluntary in nature – meaning that the suspects are free to leave at any time. This does not trigger Fourth Amendment protections; and then you have
2) a detainment, which does trigger Fourth Amendment protections. For a lawful detainment, officers must have reasonable suspicion of a crime. That did not exist, according to the report, until after the door was opened.
So, if the occupants in the car were already detained prior to the officer observing the open container and marijuana, they were being illegally detained from the very beginning. The issue here is a factual one.
As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)).
Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)).
Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).5… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018)).
These are relevant facts to examine:
T]he number of police officers present during the encounter, whether they were in uniform or displayed their weapons, whether they touched the defendant, whether they attempted to block his departure or restrain his movement, whether the officers’ questioning was non-threatening, and whether they treated the defendant as though they suspected him of “illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as ‘routine’ in nature.”… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018))
Here’s yet more footage showing police officers who misunderstand the concept of reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is necessary for a police officer to detain someone against their will. This includes traffic stops. There are limits to the length and scope of any such detention. Of course, those limitations depend on the seriousness and nature of the criminal violation suspected.
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)).
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?
From the Dayton Daily News:
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:
Following the release of the footage to the public, the officer has been placed on leave, pending internal investigation.