Stopped For Flashing & Handcuffed For Laughing | Unreal WV Traffic Stop

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….

BREAKING: WV Parole Officer Abuse and Coverup Exposed | Lawsuit & Indictment

Today we filed a lawsuit against multiple West Virginia parole officers for a pattern and practice of sexual abuse of female parolees in the Parkersburg, West Virginia area. Imagine being a woman in the parole system, where your male parole officer, who has the ability to search your house, arrest you, or send you to prison at any time, begins to demand sexual favors. That’s what’s been happening in West Virginia. Imagine also that you report this to your parole officer’s supervisor and he intimidates you into silence and allows it to continue. Imagine even the FBI comes in and has to tell a Parole Officer to back off, that he’s under surveillance, and meanwhile, the guy’s still employed as a Parole Officer, as if it’s just par for the course. 

My client, identified in the lawsuit by her initials, tragically, was already victimized in the West Virginia correctional system. She was therefore vulnerable to these predators. When her parole officer began to engage in misconduct, she bravely recorded him. Six recordings she created. She took those recordings to the supervising Parole Officer in the region, David Jones. Instead of protecting her and other female parolees from the predator, he ordered her to destroy the evidence, telling her that the predator, Anthony DeMetro, was his friend. He told her to just stick it out until she was off parole. Meanwhile, other women were victimized, and my client was forced to live in fear and humiliation. 

According to the other lawsuit that was filed, which I’ve also posted, other female victims were coming forward to state parole officials, only to be ignored – which is absolutely unacceptable. Thankfully, the FBI was listening and began an investigation. Now the feds have indicted Anthony DeMetro. His indictment is posted in full below. They also filed a criminal information charge against DeMetro’s supervisor, David Jones. I’ve posted that as well. 

Here’s the complaint:

Indictment of Anthony DeMetro:

Information charging David Jones:

WV Town Official: We Don’t Allow the First Amendment Here

Jeff Gray, the “Godfather” of First Amendment auditors on Youtube, this week stopped in a couple different small towns here in West Virginia, publishing two videos of his encounters. Jeff is a great guy. If you’re not familiar with him, he has a sort of raggedy cardboard sign he holds up that says “God Bless the Homeless Vets.” Then he goes to some public place and just says, “God Bless the Homeless Vets.” He’s super polite and respectful. People see the sign and they react however they’re going to react. Thus we see protected First Amendment activity, occurring in a traditional public forum, and then we see how our government servants end up reacting to that activity.

Jeff stopped in Chesapeake, West Virginia, where he was nearly trespassed off public property by a police officer, ironically standing in front of a veteran’s memorial. But for the most part, that one had a positive ending and overall experience. I encourage you to go watch that video.

Then, Jeff went to Mount Hope, West Virginia. When Jeff told me he was coming through West Virginia, asking where he should go, I told him about Mount Hope, where I exposed the fact that they had this police officer who was essentially terrorizing motorists on a nearby four lane highway. So apparently that’s where he chose to go, and you can watch the full video on his channel about just what happened. But here’s a few snippets. As Jeff explains in his videos, panhandling is a constitutionally protected activity. Here’s Jeff’s Mount Hope video:

Since government employees apparently have a difficult time grasping this concept, let me explain panhandling, as it relates to the First Amendment.

First of all, a municipality cannot just prohibit panhandling within its jurisdiction. A town cannot just decide that the First Amendment doesn’t apply within its borders. Theoretically, though they would likely be inviting litigation, a town could impose certain reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on panhandling. They would have to establish some legitimate content-neutral public safety reason for doing so, and then provide available alternatives that are still adequate. Traditional public forums such as parks, sidewalks, etc., could not be completely foreclosed from the activity. 

Panhandling, or “begging” is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that the solicitation of “charitable contributions” is protected speech. Riley v. Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of N.C., 487 U.S. 781, 789, 108 S.Ct. 2667, 101 L.Ed.2d 669 (1988). The Fourth Circuit has cited a sister circuit recognizing that, “We see little difference between those who solicit for organized charities and those who solicit for themselves in regard to the message conveyed. The former are communicating the needs of others while the latter are communicating their personal needs. Both solicit the charity of others. The distinction is not significant for First Amendment purposes.” Loper v. New York City Police Dep’t, 999 F.2d 699, 704 (2d Cir.1993); cited by Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549 (4th Cir. 2013) (“We agree that begging is communicative activity within the protection of the First Amendment.”).

The location of this activity is extremely relevant to its protections. Places such as parks, streets, and sidewalks fall into “the category of public property traditionally held open to the public for expressive activity.” Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to public streets and sidewalks as “the archetype of a traditional public forum.” (Snyder v. Phelps 2011). If a municipality seeks to regulate protected speech in a traditional public forum, they may impose reasonable content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791, 109 S.Ct. 2746, 105 L.Ed.2d 661 (1989). If the regulation is content-based however, the courts apply strict scrutiny. Under strict scrutiny, a regulation will be upheld “only if it is the least restrictive means available to further a compelling government interest.”

Thus step one is determining whether strict scrutiny applies, i.e., whether the regulation is content-based. If not, then intermediate scrutiny applies. The government’s restriction of speech is content-neutral if it is “ ‘justified without reference to the content … of the regulated speech.’ ” (Christian Legal Soc’y v. Martinez 2010). On the other hand, a restriction is content-based if it was “adopted … because of disagreement with the message [the speech] conveys.” “The government’s purpose is the controlling consideration.”

Content-neutral time, place, and manner regulations of speech in traditional public forums are subject to intermediate scrutiny—that is, the restrictions must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” A content-neutral regulation is narrowly tailored if it does not “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.” 

In Reynolds v. Middleton, 779 F.3d 222 (4th Cir. 2015), the 4th Circuit evaluated a Henrico County, Virginia ordinance that banned panhandling and several other forms of solicitation on all county highways. The Court established several evidentiary standards for the government to meet to satisfy intermediate scrutiny for regulating First Amendment activity such as panhandling. 

The Court requires the government to “present actual evidence supporting its assertion that a speech restriction does not burden substantially more speech than necessary.” Additionally, they have to prove that they actually tried other methods to address the government interest the regulation is designed to address, i.e., public safety concerns, flow of traffic, etc. If “available alternatives” are provided by the government, they need not be the speaker’s first or best choice, or provide the same audience or impact for the speech. But they must be adequate. If the speech is panhanding, the individual cannot be required to do so from a place where there is no target audience. If the speech is handing out leaflets, the speaker cannot be removed to only a spot where there is nobody to hand leaflets. 

In short, someone engaging in protected speech generally cannot be subjected to disparate treatment based on the content of their speech whatsoever, and need only be subjected to regulation for legitimate content-neutral reasons only so long as the regulations are minor logistical restrictions, leaving adequate opportunity to continue to express the protected speech.

Therefore, a municipality cannot just prohibit panhandling within its jurisdiction. A town cannot just decide that the First Amendment doesn’t apply within its borders. Theoretically, though they would likely be inviting litigation, a town could impose certain reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on panhandling. They would have to establish some legitimate content-neutral public safety reason for doing so, and then provide available alternatives that are still adequate. Traditional public forums such as parks, sidewalks, etc., could not be completely foreclosed from the activity. Certain key high-traffic areas or spots could possibly satisfy this test. Certain key time restrictions could possibly satisfy the test. But just an outright ban within a town of all panhandling? Absolutely not. That would violate the First Amendment just as much as a ban on all protected speech within city limits. 

Psycho K9 Officer Caught on Dash Cam

New footage showing dash cam video of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department using a K9 to make an arrest. Here’s the footage:

When a K9 is deployed on a citizen, that individual is “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. Assuming the seizure itself was lawful, the issue is whether the seizure may be “unreasonable” due to being an excessive level of force. The deployment itself of a police K9 during the course of a seizure may be unreasonable, depending on the circumstances.

Courts look to the Graham Factors: the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect is actively resisting or evading, and most importantly, whether the suspect poses an immediate safety threat to the officer, or others. 

The Fourth Circuit held, as early as 1995, that the improper deployment of a police dog that mauls a suspect constitutes excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, deploying a dog against a suspected bank robber in a narrow alleyway without warning and a fair opportunity to surrender was unreasonable and excessive. Furthermore, doing so where the suspect was surrounded by police officers is itself unreasonable and excessive, even where a warning is given. (Kopf v. Wing (4th Cir. 1991).The Fourth Circuit has also held that sending a police dog into a home that contained a burglary suspect, without warning, resulting in severe injuries to the homeowner, was an excessive force violation. Vathekan v. Prince George’s County (4th Cir. 1998).

Repeatedly over the years, the Court has held generally that the use of serious or violent force, i.e., disproportionate force) in arresting or seizing an individual that has surrendered, or who is not actively resisting or attempting to flee, and who does not present a danger to others, is an unreasonable excessive force violation. 

The 7th Circuit has denied qualified immunity to a police officer where he failed to call off a police dog that was mauling a “non-resisting (or at least passively resisting) suspect.” Becker v. Elfreich (7th Cir. 2016). That Court also denied qualified immunity to an officer who commanded a dog to attack a suspect who was already complying with orders, and where there were multiple backup officers present. Alicea v. Thomas (7th Cir. 2016).

The Fourth Circuit cited that last case in 2017 as providing “fair warning” to police officers that they will lose qualified immunity where an officer deploys a police dog against a suspect was was “not in active flight at the time he was discovered,” but was “standing still, arms raised….” Booker v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr. (4th Cir. 2017). The Court also cited a 6th Circuit case where officers deployed a police dog to apprehend a suspect that had given police no indication that he presented a danger to others, and was not actively resisting but “lying face down with his arms at his side.” Campbell v. City of Springboro (6th Cir. 2012).

The Fourth Circuit has also cited an 11th Circuit case denying qualified immunity where the officer ordered his K9 to attack a suspect that had previously surrendered and complied with the officer’s order to lie on the ground. Priester v. City of Riviera (11th Cir. 2000).

Generally speaking: Where K9s are deployed, a warning should be given, along with an opportunity to surrender, where possible. Deploying K9s on suspects who have been already subdued, surrounded, or who are not actively resisting or evading arrest, is also likely excessive force, with or without a warning. Deploying K9s on suspects who pose no immediate threat is generally going to be unreasonable. K9s should only be deployed where there exists a serious immediate safety threat in a tense, fast-moving situation, where there’s some actual reason for doing so. 

Raw version of body cam:

Sargent v. Bish – Officer Depositions – Part 1

Melvin’s wife filmed his arrest. A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed. Here’s part 1 of the video deposition of the primary defendant police officer.

Officer depositions – Part 1:

Here’s the original video:

Here’s the federal section 1983 lawsuit:

WV Deputy Arrested & Indicted by Feds – County Refused My FOIA for Body Cam

A West Virginia Deputy has been indicted by the feds. It just hit the news a few days ago. I figured there must be body cam footage of the incident, so I sent a FOIA request to the employer. I was holding off on discussing the case until I saw the footage. I’ve now received a response, and you’re not going to like it. Here’s what we know right now. Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Lance Kuretza has been indicted in federal court for a felony civil rights violation after allegedly punching and pepper spraying a handcuffed suspect, as well as for attempting to cover-it-up by filing a false police report. 

The DOJ issued a press release. I went ahead and pulled the unsealed indictment off pacer. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain much in the way of details. I rightfully assumed there must be body cam footage. That has now been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, who gave a media interview explaining that there was indeed body cam footage of this incident, and that it was key to their decision to indict the defendant officer. He gave some additional details that weren’t in the indictment:

“Once we saw the evidence and interviewed the witnesses we knew this case had to be charged.”

He also noted that the Monongalia County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to pursue state charges.

So, that means the body cam footage must be good – or rather, bad. In fact, he said, “The video really speaks for itself, there’s a lot of it and that’s why body cams are so important…” And if that’s the case, why did the state-level county prosecutor not file charges? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. As you’ll see, the county is now attempting to stop me from sharing this body cam footage with the public. They can give it to the feds, but not the citizens they represent.

As soon as I heard about the initial indictment, and saw the DOJ press release, I sent a FOIA request to the sheriff’s department. As of this morning, they responded, denying my request on the grounds that there’s a federal prosecution taking place. The problem is however, I didn’t FOIA the feds, but rather the county, who has decided not to prosecute. There’s an exception in our state FOIA statute where there’s still an open criminal investigation. But they don’t have one. 

What’s happening here is that the county – Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office – is attempting to prevent the public from seeing the video, even though the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the federal indictment just discussed it on the radio. Here’s more of what he said:

Deputy Kuretza and six others responded to a disturbance at the Residence Inn Jan. 20, 2018. An investigation at the scene determined none of the suspects broke laws or would be arrested, but management asked they be escorted from the property. 

As the group exited the floor, Kuretza ordered one of the guests to open the door to a nearby room where he found a man sleeping. Kuretza then allegedly began to shake the man and hit his feet to wake him up. When the guest explained he was sleeping, Kuretza threw him off the bed and beat him, investigators said. As the contact escalated, Kuretza restrained the guest as the six other officers were in the room.

“This particular victim had a flashlight in his face and thought it was his friends just messing around with him,” Ihlenfeld said. “It turned out it was a sheriff’s deputy and from there it really got out of control.”

Kuretza battered and used pepper spray on the victim while handcuffed. While the suspect was being taken out of the property Kuretza allegedly continued to use unnecessary force.

“The report that was filed after this did not indicate the pepper spray had been deployed after handcuffs were used, in fact it said pepper spray was deployed before handcuffs were used – which was not consistent with the video evidence we have.”

So I already responded to their denial of my FOIA request and am threatening to sue them for illegally denying my request. The public has a right to see this footage. The sheriff’s department can’t just suppress footage owned by the public. I will get the footage, and now I really want to see it. I pulled the actual indictment and I’ll post it up on the blog if you want to see it. Here’s what it charges: 

The indictment contains two counts. The first is deprivation of rights under color of law. This alleges that Lance Kuretza, a Deputy Sheriff with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, while acting under color of law, deprived the victim of his Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in an unreasonable, i.e., excessive, i.e., unnecessary and unjustified, use of force. Specifically, he punched the victim in the face, striking him, spraying him with pepper spray at a time after the victim had been handcuffed. It’s also alleged that he kneed the victim while escorting him. The indictment specifically alleges that this offense included the use of a dangerous weapon and resulted in bodily injury to the victim. Why was that last part alleged? As we’ve discussed before in these glorious cases, where those elements are present, the charge of deprivations under color of law transforms from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Count two alleges that, the following day, on January 21, 2018, Deputy Kuretza knowingly falsified and made a false entry in a record and document with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence an investigation into his actions. Specifically, it alleges that Kuretza made false entries into a use of force report by falsely stating that he sprayed the victim with pepper spray before the victim was handcuffed, as well as by omitting that he sprayed the victim with pepper spray after the victim was handcuffed, and also omitting that he struck the victim after he was handcuffed.

If convicted, Kuretza faces up to 10 years in prison for the civil rights violation and up to 20 years in prison for falsifying the report.

There’s quite a bit of case law placing police officers on notice that it’s unreasonable excessive force to use tasers and pepper spray on handcuffed arrestees. The Fourth Amendment bars police officers from using excessive force to effectuate a seizure. Courts evaluate a claim of excessive force based on an “objective reasonableness” standard, taking into account “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. These are known as the Graham Factors. The Courts also look at the circumstances as of the moment force was deployed, with an eye toward the proportionality of the force in light of all the circumstances.

There’s already binding legal precedent in the Fourth Circuit, which is where West Virginia is located, that pepper spraying suspects in response to minimal, non-violent resistance is a Fourth Amendment violation. See Park v. Shiflett (4th Circ. 2001). There’s quite a bit of case law denying correctional officers qualified immunity for using pepper spray unnecessarily, for the purpose of causing pain, or for retaliation, as well as for using it excessively. 

There’s a big difference between pepper spraying an arrestee who is handcuffed and one who is not handcuffed. There’s also a difference between the use of pepper spray in a jail or prison context, and use against non-incarcerated individuals, where it’s much more likely to be considered excessive force by the Courts. Unfortunately, I can’t show you the body cam footage. But we now have confirmation that it exists. I may have to sue for it. But I’ll get it one way or the other. I’ll post the documents I have so far up on the blog at thecivilrightslawyer.com. I look forward to following this one and seeing what happens. 

Cops at Your Door: What They Don’t Want You to Know

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. 

Former Logan PD Officer Sentenced to 9 Years for Civil Rights Violations

About 7 months ago, I posted a video about a West Virginia police officer, Everette Maynard, formerly of the Logan, WV Police Department who was found guilty by a federal jury of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force. This was caught on video. This is the one where the officer was caught by a surveillance camera flipping the bird to the camera. 

Today I talked to one of the investigators involved with that prosecution and thought I would give you an update video about what ended up happening to Officer Maynard. The DOJ recently issued another press release on the case, announcing that former-Officer Everette Maynard has been sentenced to 9 years of prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release due to his conviction of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force against him.

In the video I posted late last year, I showed you the actual photos presented to the jury during the trial, and I went over the actual jury instructions used in that case. Here’s the video:

This is a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the most important way. He received almost a decade in prison for his actions. The U.S. Department of Justice had this to say about the sentencing of Maynard: 

“This defendant’s abuse of law enforcement authority inside a police station was egregious and caused serious injuries,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Police misconduct undermines community trust in law enforcement, and impedes effective policing. This sentence confirms that law enforcement officers who use excessive force against arrestees will be held accountable.”

Title 18, United States Code, Section 242 makes it a crime to deprive any person of his civil rights under color of law.  For a jury to find the defendant guilty, the federal prosecutors must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt at trial:

1. The defendant acted under color of law;

2. The defendant deprived the victim of a right secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States – here, the right of an arrestee to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer; 

3. The defendant acted willfully; and

4. The defendant’s acts resulted in bodily injury to the arrestee. 

(NOTE: elements 1 and 2 are by themselves a misdemeanor; when elements 3 and 4 are present, it rises to the level of a felony.)

On Nov. 17, 2021, a federal jury convicted Maynard of using excessive force against an arrestee while Maynard was a police officer with the Logan Police Department in West Virginia. At trial, the jury heard evidence that Maynard assaulted the victim in the bathroom of the Logan Police Department before dragging him into an adjoining room, hauling him across the room, and ramming his head against a doorframe.

The assault initially rendered the victim unconscious and left him with a broken shoulder, a broken nose, and a cut to his head that required staples to close. While the defendant assaulted the victim, the defendant berated the victim for “making demands” of him by, among other things, asking to go to the bathroom. After the assault left the victim unconscious in a pool of his own blood, the defendant bragged about his use of force.

It’s important to note that, in this actual case, the jury was instructed that a police officer “may not use force merely because an arrestee questions an officer’s authority, insults the officer, uses profanity, or otherwise engages in verbal provocation – unless the force was otherwise objectively reasonable at the time it was used. Additionally, the jurors were instructed that an officer may not use force solely to punish, retaliate against, or seek retribution against another person. 

These sorts of unnecessary uses of violent force against arrestees, if true, can never be reasonable. 

How did the jurors know that it happened this way? Because it was captured on video, which is by-far the most important tool available to us for constitutional accountability. The police certainly like to use video evidence against the public in their prosecutions. But they don’t like it when it happens to them. In this case however, I’m told that it was actually a law enforcement officer who originally blew the whistle on this guy to federal investigators. Good for that individual. There needs to be more of this. And I have reason to believe that there will be more of this in West Virginia. 

Greenbrier County First Amendment Audit Video

My email inbox blew up this weekend after a nationally-known First Amendment auditor on Youtube, Long Island Audit, posted a video of his interaction at a courthouse that is local to me, in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Here’s the video:

People have been asking for my take on this video. Given the fact that I have an office a stone’s throw away from where this was filmed, I’ve been in that courthouse many times. In fact, I was first sworn in to practice in West Virginia circuit courts in that very courthouse.

As you see in the video, here are the relevant facts. The auditor enters the courthouse. You do have to go through security to get in. You don’t get ID’d, but you go through a metal detector, and mind you, they’re filming you as you walk in as well. He goes into the county clerk’s records room, which is where they keep the property deeds, surveys, etc., and was asked to leave. A courthouse security officer then approaches and says he’s not allowed to film there. Then he makes his way eventually to the county commission room, where he speaks with the actual elected sheriff and an attorney. He explains what he’s doing, but declines to give his full name. At that point he’s asked to leave. On the way down the stairs, the deputy escorting him gets in his face, and at one point asks where he’s from. Once outside, that deputy then says that he has decided to demand his ID, because he’s now undertaking an investigation of a suspicious person who was making people in the courthouse “uneasy.”

Let’s sort through the legal issues here….

Courthouses in West Virginia have some confusing legal authorities presiding over them. There’s really three separate governmental authority figures: the court, the sheriff, and the county commission. There is one West Virginia Supreme Court case discussing this, which is State ex rel. Farley v. Spaulding (WV 1998). It notes that Article 8, Section 6 of the WV Constitution provides that, subject to the approval of the State Supreme Court, the local circuit court has the “authority and power” to establish local rules to govern that particular court, including administratively.

However, at the same time, Article 9, Section 11 of the WV Constitution provides that the local county commission possesses the police powers in their county, including at courthouses. Additionally, State Code (WV Code 7-3-2) mades that the county commission is responsible for providing a “suitable courthouse” at their expense, also possessing the authority and obligation to provide for courthouse security via the local elected sheriff.

Thus, the county sheriff is responsible for courthouse security. However, the court is ultimately in control of its courtrooms, generally speaking.

West Virginia State Trial Court Rule 8 provides that permission of the court is required “in and around the courtrooms” during judicial proceedings, which is granted at the discretion of the presiding judge. Trial Court Rule 8.05 provides that coverage of nonjudicial meetings “in the courtrooms” is also subject to permission, with the “concurrence of the sponsoring group.”

As for the ID laws in West Virginia, there is no state law requiring pedestrians to produce their ID. If there were, generally speaking, it would constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment where reasonable suspicion was absent. The Fourth Circuit has previously denounced police officers seizing individuals based on non-particularized, general assumptions about suspects, which may be based on irrational, speculative, or otherwise improper fears, biases or falsehoods. (US v. Black 4th Cir. 2013).

Even with reasonable suspicion, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has held that in a non-traffic investigative detention, that refusal to identify oneself to a law enforcement officer does not, standing alone form the basis for a charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer. (State v. Snrsky WV 2003). “The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke (WV 2003).

On the charge of allegedly obstructing an officer, in violation of WV Code § 61-5-17(a), the plain language of the statute establishes that a person is guilty of obstruction when he, “by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs or attempts to hinder or obstruct a law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity.”

The 4th Circuit recently held that in West Virginia, “lawful conduct is not sufficient to establish the statutory offense” of obstruction. They noted that West Virginia courts have held that “when done in an orderly manner, merely questioning or remonstrating with an officer while he or she is performing his or her duty, does not ordinarily constitute the offense of obstructing an officer.” (Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook 4th Cir. 2019).

Regarding the right to record, the federal district court in the very jurisdiction where this occurred held on July 13 of this month that there is a clearly established First Amendment right for a citizen record police, noting that federal circuits around the country have found a protected First Amendment right to film matters of public interest, including recording police officers conducting official duties in public. (Gibson v. Goldston SDWV 2022).

Ultimately, a citizen does have a First Amendment right to record their in-person public records request at a county courthouse, so long as they are otherwise engaging in lawful conduct. Doing so cannot be used to detain and forcibly ID the individual based on subjective irrational fears of law enforcement who decide to then conduct an “investigation” of the individual as a “suspicious” person. 

A forcible detainment and ID of the individual would be a Fourth Amendment seizure that would be unreasonable, and therefore unlawful. 

Moreover, there can be little question that a First Amendment auditor in the process of filming his interactions with public officials is engaging in First Amendment protected activity. To prohibit him from continuing to do so, unless he provides identification, is interference with his First Amendment rights. Subsequently demanding his identification, under threat of arrest for obstruction, as a result of his protected activity is very likely First Amendment retaliation. 

Update on My Creepy Cops Search Case of Putnam County WV

I get asked all the time for an update on the Creepy Cops Search case out of Putnam County, West Virginia, where plain-clothes police officers from the sheriff’s department’s “Special Enforcement Unit” were caught on hidden camera literally breaking into my client’s home, sneaking in through the window, searching the inside of the house for non-existent drugs. To see footage of police officers secretly inside someone’s home, where there’s no criminal investigation, or even charges, and where there’s no legal justification, is scary.

This was actually my first Youtube video, uploaded January 15, 2020. The footage shows the drug task force officers searching Dustin Elswick’s house, including examining the ashes of his deceased friend, brilliantly believing them to be drugs. They also ran those ashes through field drug test kits, disabled an exterior surveillance camera, pulled Dustin’s guns out of storage for photographs, and generally ransacked and searched the place.

Until I uploaded the video two and a half years ago, they had no idea they had been caught on video. I first provided the video to federal prosecutors, who in turn provided the video to the FBI for investigation. I didn’t know this at the time, but the FBI agent tasked with the investigation didn’t investigate, but rather just tipped off the officers that I had a video showing them in Dustin’s house. I only found this out much later, after a lawsuit was filed and discovery was exchanged.

A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on August 20, 2021 against the individual officers, as well as against the county for creating and allowing this drug task force to operate in the first place. The federal court denied Putnam County’s motion to dismiss the pattern and practice (Monell) claim, issuing a memorandum opinion explaining the basis for liability.

Right now the case is set for jury trial in federal court in Huntington, West Virginia on February 22, 2023. There were also two companion case lawsuits filed, on behalf of other plaintiffs, the Johnson family, as well as Mason Dillon, which are also currently pending and set for trial. However, this is the only one that was caught on video. The Dillon case is set for trial on January 18, 2023. The Johnson case is set for trial on January 31, 2023. As of right now they have not been consolidated with the Elswick case.

Discovery has been exchanged, so we now know a lot more. However, depositions have not yet occurred, having been delayed several times due to the defendants’ concerns over a renewed FBI investigation, following the disclosure that the initial FBI investigation was more of a locker room pat on the butt, than an investigation. I suspect that the current FBI investigation could be actually an investigation of the initial FBI investigation, but I have no idea as of right now. What I do know is that we are finally set for depositions of the officers to take place at the end of this month. It will be interesting to find out whether the officers will plead the Fifth Amendment. I honestly hope that they don’t. But either way, I already have their statements from the still-confidential internal investigation. So if they don’t want to answer questions, there are mechanisms in place for me to utilize their prior statements.

What I can tell you is that there is no good explanation here. There are some excuses and some finger-pointing. But there is no great defense here. I believe that it will be determined that some of the officers are more culpable than others. Which is why I hope that at least those officers will be willing to tell the story. It’s an interesting tale that resulted in the end of the Special Enforcement Unit, but not the end of the officers’ employment. Though there’s more to the story that isn’t out yet.

Remember, your home is your castle, and is the most protected place there is under the Fourth Amendment. Any search or seizure by the government that takes place in the home is automatically unconstitutional, by default, unless the government can prove otherwise, in the form of a valid warrant, or valid exception to the warrant requirement. There are only two exceptions recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court: consent and exigent circumstances. Consent must be voluntary. Exigent circumstances require something akin to an emergency situation.

Also, when it comes to consent, as I’ve explained previously, a landlord cannot authorize the government to search the residence of a tenant, as per the Supreme Court in the 1961 case of Chapman v. United States. This also extends to apartments, rented rooms within a house, and hotel rooms so that a landlord may not give the police consent to a warrantless search of a rented apartment or room.

These cases tend to speed up towards the very end, which is where we are now. So there will likely be a big update, or updates, very soon. We have a mediation scheduled in August, which is an opportunity for both sides to discuss potential settlement resolutions. In this case, which is a civil rights lawsuit, the potential remedy available to a plaintiff is money. So that’s where money will be discussed, for the most part. If that falls through, we’ll sort it all out at trial.