Remember the video I posted that was filmed by my client, showing a police officer purportedly experiencing a contact overdose after an arrestee allegedly threw a white powdery substance in his face? The suspect was charged with two counts of attempted murder of police officers. Well, a year has now gone by and the toxicology results came in. The criminal case is now over. Was it real? Was it a hoax?
Here’s the RAW footage of the incident, as captured by my client:
Vancouver Police Department Officer Andrea Mendoza allegedly pulled a man’s pants down and threatened to charge a Taser onto his exposed genitals. This occurred immediately after police were called to Walmart due to suspected shoplifting. The man had already said he was “done” resisting by that point, body camera footage shows. But she threatened him again and held the Taser against his skin for 24 seconds.
On Tuesday, the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office filed fourth-degree assault charges against the officer. The local police union has, of course, objected to the prosecutor’s decision. Apparently, all of the criminal charges against the shoplifting suspect were dropped.
Body camera video showing a Larimer County Colorado Sheriff’s deputy tasing a man on Interstate 25 seconds before he was hit by a passing SUV was released Wednesday by attorneys for the man’s family and by the sheriff’s office. Who’s at fault here? Was this a constitutional violation? Is it the officer’s fault? The car’s fault? The guy who ran’s fault? Did the officer commit a crime?
This video was submitted by Tyler from Coweta, Georgia, showing him being pulled over while pulling into a gas station over an alleged seatbelt violation. That quickly escalated into a violent use of force wherein Tyler was slammed to the ground and tased. He was then arrested and taken to jail. Although he spoke to the supervisor, he was repeatedly accused of having “fought” with the deputies. Subsequently, all criminal charges were dropped prior to trial.
My client, Wendell Marcum, was arrested in his own front yard by deputies with the Brooke County Sherriff’s Department, for cursing during his interaction with them about a dog complaint. Yesterday we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Wheeling Division of the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging multiple violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First Amendment. Can the police perform a warrantless arrest of a man standing in his own front yard, for cursing and asking them to leave his property?
The law is clearly established that an individual has a First Amendment right to express profanity during an interaction with law enforcement. SeeCohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1972); see also Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974) (The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a conviction under a Louisiana statute that had provided that “It shall be unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”).
The Supreme Court held in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) that, “absent exigent circumstances, an arrest in the home or curtilage area around the home must be accomplished by means of an arrest warrant….” In Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit held that police officers must have probable cause plus either a warrant, or exigent circumstances, to perform a search or seizure within the curtilage of a person’s home, and that if asked to leave, officers are required to leave and seek a warrant.
Supreme Court jurisprudence extends heightened Fourth Amendment protections beyond just the interior of the home itself, but also to the “curtilage,” which is the “land immediately surrounding and associated with the home,” because the curtilage is “considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984). The Fourth Circuit has made clear that a warrantless search of curtilage is presumed to be unreasonable. Covey v. Assessor of Ohio Cnty., 777 F.3d 186 (4th Cir. 2015).
WV law creates the possibility for a criminal charge (disorderly conduct) due to a subject’s expression of profanity where: (1) The person is in a “public place” and where he (2) Disturbs the peace of others by “violent, profane, indecent or boisterous conduct or language; and (3) is requested to desist by a law enforcement officer and doesn’t. The West Virginia Supreme Court held in 2015 that the word “others” in W. Va. Code Section 61-6-1b (“disorderly conduct”) does not include law enforcement officers, but rather than some other third party must be present and actually offended by the subject’s conduct, in order to commit the criminal offense of “disorderly conduct.” Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015).
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.
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.