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.
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.
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))
Breaking news out of federal court in South Carolina, where a federal jury has just awarded a $550,000 verdict against a former Richland County Sheriff’s deputy, as well as the sheriff’s department itself.
Here are the relevant case documents, including the complaint, jury instructions, verdict form, as well as the full deposition transcript of one of the officers:
On February 23, 2022, a 12 year old autistic boy, reportedly ran away from home. Law enforcement was dispatched. That child encountered Deputy Matthew Honas, who handcuffed and hogtied the child, and then tased him without warning in the deputy’s police cruiser. This happened in Jackson County, Kansas. Although the officer was fired, the government is doing what government does: it’s hiding the video footage. Also, the government is protecting a bad cop, who is a threat to public safety. They fired him; then they let things settle down for awhile. Then, when it’s no longer in the news, the officer pops up somewhere else and continues working as a police officer.
There was no report of the child committing any crimes, other than running away from home, which perhaps is some of juvenile delinquency status offense under state law. There was a history between the child and the officer, however. Deputy Honas had previously encountered the child and was aware he was autistic. During the prior encounter there was also a physical struggle, according to a report disciplining the officer. But no details are provided.
Is there any video footage? How do we know what really happened? The Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper reported that Honas was not wearing a body cam, but that most of the interaction was captured by his in-car camera. The Capital-Journal attempted to obtain a copy of the footage via an open records request, but was denied under the open criminal investigation exception to disclosure under state law.
Honas was fired a little over a week after the incident. Termination of employment isn’t enough though. Why? Because bad cops just pop up somewhere else, usually in a small town that pays less. Then they get what they pay-for, which is a police officer who is already certified and experienced, but willing to work for less – because they’re damaged goods and a liability risk.
The Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, which oversees law enforcement certifications in Kansas, issued a disciplinary report that reprimanded Deputy Honas. The report concluded that Deputy Honas “used excessive force multiple times throughout his contact” with the child. He “shoved, elbowed, applied pressure points, carried, pulled, ‘hog tied,” and ultimately tased” the child.” During this time, the child was “sitting in the patrol car” and “not actively resisting.” His hands were cuffed behind his back. Deputy Honas began to press the child’s jaw pressure points without giving any direction to the child to do anything. This, the report concluded, “appeared to be of a punitive nature.”
But it gets worse. Deputy Honas refused and cancelled assistance from two other available officers. He chose not to use de-escalation techniques; he failed to use other options in restraining the child. He said that he was going to call a transport van, but did not. On several occasions, Deputy Honas applied pain compliance techniques without telling the child what he was supposed to do. He told the boy, “When the other guy gets here, you’re going to hurt more.” He also said, “here’s the deal, you do anything you’re not supposed to do I will tase you again.”
The report ultimately concluded that Deputy Honas engaged in “Unprofessional Conduct,” which at least in part, is defined as “using excessive physical force in carrying out a law enforcement objective.” The report, for purposes of law enforcement discipline in Kansas, then defines excessive force as “physical force . . . greater than what a reasonable and prudent officer would use under the circumstances.” Unfortunately, the report merely “reprimanded” Deputy Honas rather than revoke his certification to continue to work elsewhere in Kansas as a police officer.
Isn’t it crazy that I just did another hogtying video, where there was body cam footage, out of Colorado. In that video I discussed some rare hog-tying law that existed in the 10th Circuit. Well guess what. It can be confusing to understand which states are in which federal circuits. But guess which federal circuit Kansas is in? That’s right, 10th Circuit, just like Colorado. There’s a 2008 case, Weigel v. Broad, out of the 10th Circuit, that denied qualified immunity to police officers for hogtying arrestees. Basically, it holds that hogtying is almost never reasonable, as it poses a high danger of positional asphyxiation.
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.
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.
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?