AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
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A jury found state
troopers not liable for the death of a motorcyclist struck by another motorcycle
at a roadblock that had been created to stop speeding motorcycles. The
appeals court upheld this verdict and rejected the argument that the jury
should have received instructions concerning the use of deadly force and
what justifies its use. There was no indication that the troopers used
any force likely to have deadly effects, so such an instruction would have
been improper. A traffic stop of cars to prevent speeding motorcycles from
racing down a highway is not the equivalent of firing a gun at a person.
A general instruction about excessive force, with no mention of deadly
force or its requirements was adequate. Terranova v. State of New York,
#09-5025, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 7587 (2nd Cir.).
After a non-Indian motorist was stopped and cited at a roadblock on a state highway crossing a Native American reservation, he sued the tribal police officers engaged in the roadblock, as well as the tribal police chief who allegedly ordered it. A federal appeals court noted that the officers were empowered to enforce tribal and state law, but not federal law. Under tribal law, the officers could conduct a roadblock to check for sobriety, drivers' licenses, vehicle registration, and possession of alcohol. The motorist refused to produce his drivers' license or state his name, claiming that the stop was unlawful. He was cited for violation of two Arizona state statutes--for failure to provide a driver's license or other proof of identity, and failure to comply with an officer's lawful order. A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not restrict actions by tribal governments, so that, to the extent that the officers were acting under color of tribal law, the motorist could not proceed with federal civil rights claims. The officers, however, did not have any inherent power to arrest and book non-Indian violators of state law on a state highway running through the reservation. The officers could only stop motorists at their roadblock on a suspicionless basis for a limited time to determine whether or not they are Indians and could deliver non-Indian motorists committing "obvious" violations to state officers. "But inquiry going beyond Indian or non-Indian status, or including searches for evidence of crime, are not authorized on purely tribal authority in the case of non-Indians." To the extent that the roadblock functioned as an "instrument for the enforcement of state law" against a non-Indian motorist, the officers were not entitled to summary judgment. Bressi v. Ford, #07-15931, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 17272 (9th Cir.).
D.C. resident motorists were denied entry into an area at a neighborhood checkpoint because of their refusal to provide requested information to the police concerning where they were going. A federal appeals court overturned a trial court's denial of the motorists' request for a preliminary injunction against the police checkpoint program, intended to establish a "neighborhood safety zone" following violence in the area. The motorists were stopped, the court reasoned, based on a possibility, without individualized suspicion, that they might possibly perpetrate undetected, perhaps uncommitted, crimes. Setting up such checkpoints simply based on a general interest in crime prevention violates the Fourth Amendment, according to the court. The plaintiff motorists had the right to drive on public streets in the absence of a constitutional reason to restrict their access. Mills v. District of Columbia, #08-7127, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 15324 (D.C. Cir.).
A checkpoint safety program instituted by police after a number of violent crimes were committed in a neighborhood was a reasonable effort to reduce such crimes, which were often aided by the use of a vehicle. The program was narrowly tailored to do so and "minimally intrusive." At the checkpoints, drivers of vehicles entering the neighborhood were asked to show identification and state a reason for traveling through the area. Those refusing to do so were not detained, but allowed to leave or to park their car and enter the neighborhood on foot. The court denied a request for an injunction against the program. Mills v. District of Columbia, Civil Case No. 08-1061, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 87825 (D.D.C.).
Factual dispute between police officer, who claimed he used no force at all against motorist he stopped at road block, and motorist, who claimed that he grabbed her and repeatedly "slammed" her against a car made summary judgment in her excessive force lawsuit inappropriate. Murry v. Barnes, No. 04-1545, 122 Fed. Appx. 853 (7th Cir. 2004). [N/R]
Officer did not use excessive force in positioning his truck directly in front of motorist's truck, drawing his gun, and physically removing motorist from vehicle after motorist had allegedly been involved in two hit-and-run accidents and had failed to stop after a roadblock with marked police vehicles, three stop stick attempts, or after all his tires had deflated. Harrell v. Purcell, 236 F. Supp. 2d 526 (M.D.N.C. 2002). [N/R]
305:72 Officers did not act unreasonably in pursuing motorist believed to be intoxicated, or in using roadblock to stop him; motorist's appearance and actions gave them grounds to believe he might be a danger to himself or others. Latta v. Keryte, 118 F.3d 693 (10th Cir. 1997).
275:167 Officer was entitled to qualified immunity for arresting passenger in van stopped at border patrol checkpoint who refused to identify himself; federal appeals court finds no "clearly established" right under either the First or Fourth Amendment to refuse to identify oneself during a lawful investigatory stop Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531 (10th Cir. 1995).
275:174 Federal trial court refuses to dismiss suit against city by residents of African-American neighborhood complaining that unannounced roadblocks blocking access to area on certain afternoons and evenings, intended to deter gang activity, violated Fourth Amendment rights of residents, businesspeople, and visitors engaged in lawful activity; court suggests that obtaining of an "area warrant" would be appropriate, and distinguishes roadblocks in question from fixed permanent border patrol checkpoints upheld by U.S. Supreme Court Shankle v. Texas City, 885 F.Supp. 996 (S.D.Tex. 1995).
269:72 Alabama Supreme Court reinstates lawsuit by estate of motorist killed in collision with vehicle pursued by officer; summary judgment was improper when there was an issue of fact as to whether officer had discontinued pursuit once he was notified that a roadblock was in place to intercept the pursued vehicle Seals v. City of Columbia, 641 So.2d 1247 (Ala 1994)
Sheriff's deputies could be sued for injuries to motorist from unmarked concealed roadblock and high-speed chase of his car Reed v. Allegan County, 688 F.Supp. 1239 (WD Mich 1988).
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