Federal Lawsuit Filed in the Creepy Cops Caught on Video Case

The lawsuit was filed today on behalf of Dustin Elswick, against Putnam County, West Virginia, along with four police officers involved in the infamous “Special Enforcement Unit.” These are the cops who were caught on hidden camera searching the inside of Dustin’s home. Although they cut the wire on an outside surveillance camera, they were apparently unaware of the cameras inside the home.

This is a federal “Section 1983” lawsuit alleging the violation of federal constitutional rights; namely, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. A warrantless search of your home is automatically unconstitutional in the absence of one of two exceptions: consent, or exigent circumstances (emergency), neither of which apply here. Two prior federal lawsuits have already been filed against the SEU thus far for similar allegations in the Johnson case, as well as the Dillon case. The remedy is an award of money damages, along with reasonable attorney fees and expenses.

There was an internal investigation, as the news reported, but we never received information about the outcome. That sheriff has since been replaced.

Here’s the Complaint:

Here’s the original video:

Here’s the update video:

U.S. Supreme Court to hear cell phone seizure case – United States v. Wurie

Cell phones are increasingly becoming a primary component of any encounter between police and civilians.  Along with that comes the warrantless seizure of cell phones.  After all, they hold great evidentiary value from a law enforcement perspective.  Neither the Fourth Circuit, nor the U.S. Supreme Court, has yet taken a position on whether there is a First Amendment (and therefore Fourth Amendment) right to videotape police officers.  This isn’t exactly the same issue, since it mostly deals with seizing and searching cell phones incident to an arrest.  But, the issue is the same when the person filming is arrested, at which point their phone will be seized.

When the phone is seized can the officers go through the phone without first obtaining a warrant?  There is a very well written post on this topic from the Alabama Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review blog, written by Lacy Triplett.  She opined that:

The Court may take the approach of the majority of circuit courts and find that a cell phone is a container, which can be searched incident to arrest so long as the search is limited in scope and contemporaneous to the arrest. Or, the Court may take the approach of the First Circuit in Wurieand find that the privacy interests in an individual’s cell phone greatly outweigh the government’s need to immediately search a cell phone without first securing a warrant. 

In any event, you know that right now across the country, police officers go through the cell phones of arrestees, where they find valuable information such as, every text message conversation the person had in the last year – or even their email history.  They also contain photos, videos – you name it.  Those practices, and law enforcement training, is going to depend on the outcome of Wurie.