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(Published as VOLUME 2000 NUMBER 325)
Defenses: Qualified Immunity
False Arrest/Imprisonment: Warrant
False Arrest/Imprisonment: No Warrant
Firearms Related: Intentional Use
Negligence: Vehicle Related
Public Protection: Informants
Public Protection: Motorists
Search and Seizure: Vehicle
Index of Cases Cited
Arrestee could not seek to recover damages from arresting officers for his prosecution, conviction and incarceration in a case where his conviction was later overturned based on a finding of illegal search of taxicab; officers' actions did not cause prosecution, conviction or incarceration.
Officers stopped and searched a taxicab after their suspicions became aroused, and found two guns in the vehicle. When one of the men arrested in the cab was searched at the station, he was also found to be in possession of cocaine. An attempt by this arrestee to suppress the guns and drugs on the basis of an illegal search was denied by the trial court, so he pled guilty. His conviction was later overturned by an appeals court which found that there had not been probable cause for the search and seizure of the cab.
Now released from custody, the arrestee filed a lawsuit seeking money damages against the officers involved in his arrest. A federal appeals court ruled that he could not attempt to seek damages resulting from his arrest, conviction and imprisonment. "It is well-settled that the chain of causation between a police officer's unlawful arrest and a subsequent conviction and incarceration is broken by the intervening exercise of independent judgment," at least "in the absence of evidence that the police officer misled or pressured the official who could be expected to exercise independent judgment." He could have sought damages from the officers for any direct injuries caused by the officers' actions, but did not.
The plaintiff's prosecution, conviction and imprisonment, the appeals court ruled, had been caused by the criminal trial court's erroneous denial of his motion to suppress the evidence, not by the officers' actions."
Further, the court noted that "The evil of an unreasonable search or seizure is that it invades privacy, not that it uncovers crime, which is no evil at all. No Fourth Amendment value would be served" if the plaintiff, "who illegally possessed firearms and narcotics, reaps the financial benefit he seeks." His seeking of damages "to compensate him for his conviction and time served, on top of the benefit he enjoys as a result of the suppression" would "vastly overdeter police officers and would result in a wealth transfer that is 'peculiar, if not perverse.'" Townes v. City of New York, #99-2259 & 98-2309, 176 F.3d 138 (2d Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>. [Cross-reference: Search and Seizure: Vehicle].
DEFENSES: QUALIFIED (GOOD-FAITH) IMMUNITY
Officer was not entitled to qualified immunity for arresting store owner based on store customer's statement that she had assaulted him when he failed to conduct a reasonably thorough investigation, ignored exculpatory evidence, and declined to interview the only third party witness who saw the entire incident; no exigent circumstances precluded a more thorough investigation before making an arrest
An African-American female customer of a store got into an altercation with the store owner/manager, during which he accused her of following him and watching him too closely because of his race. In the course of this, the customer allegedly approached the store owner, pushing her roughly, stating that he was not a thief, and calling her a "prejudice bitch" and a "mother fucker." The store owner asked the customer to leave, but the customer refused and then blocked her access to a phone when she attempted to call police. When she tried to push him out of the way, she allegedly inadvertently struck his face with her hand, whereupon the customer struck her with a closed fist. She flew some eight feet through the air, and suffered marked facial bruising.
Security guards from the surrounding shopping mall restrained the customer, removing him to the outside of the store, and called police. A police officer summoned to the scene allegedly spoke to the store owner for only approximately twenty seconds. He allegedly omitted from his report her statement that the customer had hit her. He also allegedly declined to interview a store employee who was the only witness who saw the entire altercation, and did not mention her account in his report. The officer spoke to the customer, his brother, and two of his friends, as well as two shoppers in the store. He then arrested the store owner for simple assault. Charges against her were later dropped.
She filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for false arrest against the officer and the city. The defendant officer argued that he was entitled to qualified immunity. Upholding the trial court's rejection of this defense, a federal appeals court stated that "law enforcement officers have a duty to conduct a reasonably thorough investigation prior to arresting a suspect, at least in the absence of exigent circumstances and so long as 'law enforcement would not [be] unduly hampered [...] if the agents [...] wait to obtain more facts before seeking to arrest.'"
In this case, the appeals court found that the officer ignored "plainly exculpatory evidence that negated the intent required for simple assault." The store owner explained to him that she pushed the customer out of the way so that she could telephone the police, and he observed a sizable bruise over her left eye. The officer was also informed that the store owner had asked the customer to leave and that the customer hit the store owner with considerable force. He also ignored a store employee's efforts to retract her statement that the store owner had slapped the customer, and his report made no mention of this retraction. He refused to interview the store employee who was the only third-party witness to the entire incident. Kuehl v. Burtis, #98-1774, 173 F.3d 646 (8th Cir. 1999).
Full Text: <http://www.wulaw.wustl.edu/8th.cir>.
[Cross-reference: False Arrest/Imprisonment: No Warrant]
UPDATE: New York judge sets aside $15 million jury award against city in emotional distress lawsuit brought by mother who claimed post-traumatic stress from finding photo of her missing son in book of unidentified corpses in city morgue after officers allegedly delayed in allowing her to file a missing person's report after he was gone for two days.
The mother of a man was awarded $15 million against the city of New York for emotional distress allegedly caused by police officers' refusal to file a missing person's report for her adult son after he was gone for two days. She had argued with the officers that she should be allowed to file such a report, despite her son being an adult, because he had particular medical problems, including a susceptibility to blackouts, that might make it impossible for him to communicate. Green v. City of New York, No. 3714/92 (April 29, 1998, Sup. Ct., Kings Co., N.Y.), The National Law Journal, p. A11 (June 22, 1998), reported in Liability Reporter No. 308, page 121 (August 1998).
She later learned of his death by coming across his picture in a book of unidentified corpses in city morgue one month later. He had died, allegedly of a cocaine overdose on the first day he disappeared, and his body had been in the morgue for a month. She complained that the advanced state of decay of the body prevented an open coffin funeral.
Ruling on the defendant city's motion to set aside the jury verdict, the trial judge ruled that the city was not liable for the exercise of discretion in refusing to file a missing persons report. The judge found that the filing of such a report would not have been mandatory under the circumstances. Because the officers had discretion under state law as to whether or not to file the report, their failure to do so could not be viewed as causing the mother's emotional distress. "It is clear that in a city the size of New York, the Police Department has set up guidelines for taking Missing Persons Reports so that the Police Department is not inundated with unnecessary" investigations, the judge stated. "It is left to the police officer, using his or her professional expertise and ability to judge the credibility of a complaint, to determine whether a Missing Persons Report should be filed."
In so ruling, the judge set aside the jury's answer to a special interrogatory finding that the taking of a missing person report is "ministerial," and set aside the entirety of the $15 million damage award. Green v. City of New York, No. 3714/92 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co., N.Y.), reported in The National Law Journal, p. B17 (August 2, 1999).
FALSE ARREST/IMPRISONMENT: WARRANT
Officers acted reasonably in entering home to make an arrest based on ten-year-old bench warrant for welfare fraud, even though they also arrested suspect for alleged involvement in an assault in a tavern; additional evidence also showed consent for entry, which would have justified warrantless arrest.
The victim of an assault in a tavern supplied police with the name and address of her alleged assailant. The officers conducted an investigation to confirm that the suspect was indeed the other participant in the tavern fight, and also discovered an outstanding ten-year-old bench warrant for welfare fraud for a woman with the same name generally fitting the description of the suspect. While the date of birth in the warrant was off by a decade from that in the motor vehicle records for the suspect, the officers also had information that the person named in the warrant had used an alias and a false date of birth.
Without first obtaining an arrest warrant for any charge arising out of the tavern fight, and without the original or a copy of the bench warrant, officers went to the suspect's home late one night, and arrested her. She objected that her name had not been the same as the name on the warrant ten years earlier.
She subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that the officer's actions violated the rule of Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), holding that absent consent to the entry by law enforcement officers, a routine felony arrest in the home must be authorized by a warrant or exigent circumstances.
Rejecting this claim, a federal trial court found that, as a matter of law, the officer had both probable cause to believe that the plaintiff had committed a felony, and also acted in an objectively reasonable fashion in forming the belief that the decade-old bench warrant was issued for her. Further, even if the bench warrant had been issued for someone else (a factual issue not resolved in the case), "it is well settled that police officers may make mistakes without violating the Fourth Amendment," and they "may violate the Fourth Amendment without incurring civil liability where a reasonable police officer would not have known she was committing such a violation."
While the court found that the existence of the bench warrant satisfied Payton, there was also evidence in the record that the plaintiff's mother admitted the officers into the home, consenting to their entry and making a warrantless arrest inside the home permissible. Greer v. Anne Arundel County, Md., 46 F. Supp. 2d 416 (D. Md. 1999). [Cross-reference: False Arrest/Imprisonment: No Warrant].
Officers were not liable for arresting a man pursuant to a warrant which actually sought his son; father and son had the same name except for the term "Jr.," a fact that the officers were unaware of and which the father did not bring to their attention.
Officers went to a residence to serve an arrest warrant on a named individual. When they arrived at the address, "515" on a particular street, they were informed that the person sought had moved next door to "517." One of the officers crossed out the second "5" on the street address on the warrant and wrote in a "7." The officers then went next door and arrested a man who admitted that his name was the same as that on the warrant.
Unknown to the officers, the warrant was actually for the arrestee's son, who had the same name, with the addition of "Jr." The warrant did not contain the designation "Jr." for the suspect sought. The arrestee later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers. The plaintiff argued that the officers should have known that he was not the person sought in the warrant, since he was approximately thirty years older than the birthdate listed on the warrant as well as approximately three inches shorter, and had a different driver's license number.
Granting summary judgment to the defendant officers, a federal trial court initially noted that an officer's alteration of a non-identifying fact on the warrant, the street address, did not "call into question his motives" and did not invalidate the warrant. The address written in was correct, and had "nothing to do with the mistake in identity between plaintiff and his son."
The court further noted that the "mere fact" that the officers "made a mistake is not enough to subject them to liability," and that officers "are afforded wide latitude under circumstances similar to those present in this case." An allegedly careless failure to notice that the person arrested did not match the description in the warrant was insufficient to impose federal civil rights liability. The officers had a facially valid arrest warrant and the plaintiff verbally verified his identity, so that the "physical description on the warrant became much less important, if at all." Joye v. Richland County Sheriff's Dept., 47 F. Supp. 2d 663 (D.S.C. 1999).
FALSE ARREST/IMPRISONMENT: NO WARRANT
Officer's observation of vehicle stopped the night before, in which occupants had been minors smoking marijuana, combined with observation of occupant returning to vehicle from liquor store with large bag, provided him with reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify stop; finding liquor within gave him grounds to arrest minor occupants; officer was entitled to qualified immunity for overnight detention of 17-year-old minor held in jail because police officer father declined to accept custody of son.
Five minors were smoking marijuana in a vehicle. Officers stopped the car and investigated, arresting only the female driver. The next night, one of the officers observed the same vehicle driven by the same driver, and decided to follow it, believing that the driver and occupants were about to purchase more drugs. He observed the car stop at a liquor store and one of the passengers go into the store and return to the car carrying a large paper bag.
Based on his knowledge and experience, and his belief that none of the car's occupants were of legal drinking age, the officer believed that the occupants were in illegal possession of alcohol, and he was concerned because it was snowing steadily and road conditions were becoming worse. He then stopped the car and the occupants showed him beer and whiskey in response to his questioning. All the minors were taken to the police station and released to their parents' custody, with the exception of one minor, the son of a police officer. This father declined to take custody, "because he insisted that his son remain in jail overnight." The son was released the next morning.
The son filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that the arresting officer falsely arrested him and subjected him to unreasonable seizure. The trial court found that the arresting officer was, "at a minimum," entitled to qualified immunity, and granting summary judgment for the defendant.
The facts of the case showed that the officer had reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify an investigatory stop of the vehicle, and that a reasonable officer could have concluded that he had probable cause to arrest the car's occupants. Based on the city's policy of holding sixteen and seventeen year-old minors for court if a parent or guardian is unable or unwilling to take custody of them, the court found that reasonable officers would also have believed that the arresting officer acted "in accord with existing law" in detaining the plaintiff overnight. Trzaskos v. St. Jacques, 39 F. Supp. 2d 177 (D. Conn. 1999). [Cross-reference: Defenses: Qualified (Good-Faith) Immunity; Search and Seizure: Vehicle].
FIREARMS RELATED: INTENTIONAL USE
Officers acted reasonably in shooting to try to stop motorist who had already used his vehicle to injure one officer and had almost hit a second.
An officer attempted to stop a vehicle which did not have a registered license plate, but the driver failed to stop. His driver's license had been revoked for several convictions of Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The officer called for assistance, and several vehicles joined in the pursuit, until the suspect's vehicle was forced into a parking lot and surrounded by police vehicles. Instead of exiting his vehicle, the driver shifted into reverse and began backing up, injuring one officer and almost hitting another. The injured officer screamed as his leg was trapped between his patrol car and the driver's moving truck.
Two officers subsequently fired their weapons at the driver's vehicle, aiming at the driver's side door and the tires. One of the officers who fired shots was the injured officer, while the second officer who fired shots was standing in front of the suspect's vehicle, which had been moving towards him shortly before. The driver was later apprehended, and pled guilty to driving on the wrong side of the road, attempting to elude a police officer, assault in the third degree, driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving with a revoked license.
He then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that the officers had improperly used deadly force against him and that the city improperly trained and supervised them in the use of deadly force. Granting summary judgment for the defendants, a federal trial court found that the use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances. The plaintiff had already injured one officer with his vehicle, and nearly injured another. Therefore, even if the plaintiff "had no intent to injure the officer, and was merely trying to escape, it was not objectively unreasonable for the officers to believe that they were responding to an aggravated assault against a police officer," a felony under Alabama state law. Parris v. Town of Alexander City, 45 F. Supp. 2d 1295 (M.D. Ala. 1999).
New York jury awards $41.02 million to 17-year-old male rendered paraplegic by police bullet; off-duty officer fired at plaintiff after plaintiff had shot at another man who had hit him; officer asserted that plaintiff was pointing weapon at him when he fired.
A 17-year-old male standing on a street corner with his girlfriend became involved in an altercation with another man who hit him in the mouth. The youth obtained a gun from his girlfriend and fired a shot in the direction of the other man and two friends accompanying him. While this shot did not hit anyone, an off-duty police officer arrived on the scene after hearing the sound.
The officer approached the 17-year-old, who was still holding the weapon, a 9 mm automatic. The officer asked the suspect to drop the weapon and to get on the ground. According to the officer, the suspect did not obey repeated commands to do so, but instead lifted his weapon and pointed it at the officer's head, at which time the officer shot. According to the youth, he did respond to the commands by dropping and kneeling.
Two shots fired by the officer rendered the 17-year-old a paraplegic "unable to move from the midchest down." A lawsuit against the city claimed that the officer used excessive force, and a New York state court jury awarded the plaintiff a total of $41.02 million in damages. An appeal of the award is expected, including an appeal of evidentiary rulings that kept out of evidence assertions by the city that the plaintiff was a gang member and drug dealer. Rodriguez v. City of New York, No. 17422/96 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co., New York), Sept. 30, 1999, reported in The National Law Journal p. A11, November 22, 1999. [Cross- reference: Off-Duty/Color of Law]
GOVERNMENTAL LIABILITY: POLICY/CUSTOM
Arrestee could not seek to impose liability on city for alleged policy of failure to supervise and discipline officers for misuse of pepper spray when the evidence showed that city trained officers in its use, required them to report its use in a form reviewed by supervisors, and plaintiff himself failed to file any complaint with the department about its use against him.
Police officers became involved in an altercation with a motorist whose car was parked after driving across a grassy area and then the wrong way on a one-way street. The motorist claimed that he had done so to avoid robbery by a group of males who were going from car to car to hold up people caught in a traffic jam. The motorist asserted that the officers demanded that he get out of his vehicle, and that one officer grabbed him while the other sprayed both him and a female companion with pepper spray. He also claimed, in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city which employed them, that one of the officers again sprayed him in the face with pepper spray after he was handcuffed and face down on the grass.
The officers asserted that the plaintiff had engaged in threats, name-calling and profanity against them, and got louder as a crowd gathered, and that it was necessary to subdue him and arrest him for disorderly conduct.
The claim against the city for deliberate indifference was not based on any failure to train, but instead on an alleged failure to supervise and discipline officers who have improperly utilized pepper spray. Specifically, the plaintiff stated that the defendant city has a policy of never questioning persons subjected to the spray and that supervisors customarily do not speak with officers about their use of it.
In response, the city pointed out that the plaintiff never filed a citizen's complaint with the department alleging injuries as a result of the use of the spray, and stated that such a complaint would have "automatically sparked an investigation, requiring interviews" with the plaintiff and his female friend. "If such a complaint were filed, then the city would have engaged in the oversight, supervision, and potential disciplinary action which plaintiff now claims is lacking."
The city also argued that the record showed the opposite of "deliberate indifference" to citizen's rights, since officer are required to attend training on the use of chemical spray, and to report any use of it on a specified form which is reviewed by supervisors. In light of this, the trial court found that the defendant city "has satisfied its burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the municipality was 'deliberately indifferent' to a substantial risk of serious harm."
The court also found no "direct causal link" between any municipal policy or custom and the alleged violation of the plaintiff's rights, especially in light of the fact that the "plaintiff did nothing following the incident to apprise the officers' supervisors and/or others in the department of the alleged severity of his injuries." The court also noted, that there was nothing "more than his own deposition testimony to substantiate his allegation that he suffered severe injuries as a direct result of the application of chemical spray." Horrington v. City of Detroit, 49 F. Supp. 2d 1022 (E.D. Mich. 1999). [Cross-reference: Administrative Liability: Supervision; Assault and Battery: Chemical].
Detectives who allegedly continued to question criminal suspects after they invoked the right to remain silent and asked for an attorney could be sued for violation of the constitutional right against self-incrimination; alleged training that statements elicited through such questioning may be used at trial for impeachment purposes did not entitle detectives to qualified immunity.
Can law enforcement officers who continue to question criminal suspects after a request to see an attorney be sued for damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. "Yes," according to a federal appeals court. The decision came in a lawsuit brought by an organization of California criminal defense attorneys and two criminal suspects questioned by officers in two cities.
The lawsuit alleged that officers in those cities had received training indicating that they should keep questioning criminal suspects even after they requested an attorney and said they wanted to remain silent. Statements made by suspects in response to such questioning are not admissible as evidence in the prosecution's main case, but can be used for purposes of impeachment of the testimony of a defendant if they do testify on their own behalf at trial. See Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714 (1975); Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971). Officers questioning suspects pursuant to this alleged policy told those being questioned that the statements they make can not be used against them in court.
The lawsuit named as defendants the two cities, their police chiefs, and a number of individual detectives involved in questioning the two suspects. The suspects included one man convicted for murder, whose statements were not used for purposes of impeachment, but rather in his sentencing hearing, as well as another man, also convicted of murder, whose elicited statements were used to impeach his testimony at trial. The individual detectives asserted that they should be entitled to qualified immunity.
Upholding the rejection of this defense, a federal appeals court ruled that what the detectives did violated the suspects' rights against self-incrimination. "There is no constitutional right to the Miranda warnings themselves. But Miranda rights are brigaded with the right against self-incrimination and supply 'practical reinforcement' for the Fifth Amendment right.'" The court cited its prior decision in Cooper v. Dupnik, 963 F.2d 1220 (9th Cir. 1992) for the proposition that going forward to interrogate a suspect despite his request for an attorney "was coercive" and violated constitutional rights, even if the statements induced were never introduced against the suspect at trial, and that such "wrongdoing was complete at the moment" the suspect was "forced" to speak.
The appeals court rejected the argument that the detectives could defend themselves on the basis of the content of the training they had received from their cities. "The fact that Los Angeles and Santa Monica may have training their police to violate the rights of individuals does not provide any defense for these officers. Their policy contradicts the safeguards provided by Miranda, and, at the very least, is in direct conflict with Cooper." Further, "training officers that inadmissible statements may nevertheless be used for impeachment purposes hardly sanctions this tactic of routinely and intentionally ignoring requests to speak to an attorney."
Reasonable police officers "should have known that this conduct was improper and violated the rights" of the suspects, "whether or not the conduct was endorsed by training materials. Moreover, these officers had discretion over their interrogation methods. Their training did not require officers to interrogate 'outside Miranda.' They acted at their own election." California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, Nos. 97-56499 & 97-56510, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 29309, 1999 WL 1005103 (9th Cir. Nov. 8, 1999).
Text: <http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/opinions>. [Cross-reference: Defenses: Qualified (Good- Faith) Immunity)].
NEGLIGENCE: VEHICLE RELATED
Officer was not entitled to immunity from liability for death of child he struck with his vehicle while driving towards scene where officers had been attacked; conflicting evidence would allow jury to decide that the emergency was over at the time of the accident, based on radio exchange between dispatcher and officer on the scene.
A police officer heard an emergency call over the radio from other officers who had been attacked in another beat area. He left his beat and proceeded towards the location. Along the way, he heard over his radio that the suspect had been chased into a hallway and was cornered. The radio dispatcher then had an exchange with the officers at the scene in which they stated that they were getting enough help, although this officer later stated that he did not hear that.
As he continued towards the scene of the emergency, he drove eastbound in a westbound lane, because traffic was stopped in the eastbound lane. The officer's vehicle struck and killed a young girl being walked to school by her mother. The mother brought a lawsuit for negligence against the officer and the city. The trial judge directed a verdict for the defendants on the negligence claim, and the jury found for the defendants on a claim for willful and wanton misconduct also made in the lawsuit.
The trial court ruled that the officer's actions were immunized under state law because he was engaged in responding to an emergency. Overturning this decision, and ordering further proceedings on the negligence claim, an intermediate Illinois appeals court found that there was some evidence that the "emergency" was over "and that a responding officer no longer had the right to disregard traffic rules," based on statements concerning the exchange between the dispatcher and officers on the scene, which occurred "about one minute prior to the accident."
The court ruled that a jury could find that "with the emergency over" the defendant officer "was merely cruising around in his car at the time of the accident." While the defendant officer argued that he never heard the dispatcher ask officers on the scene whether they needed more assistance, and that a "slow down" was broadcast after the accident, there was also "contrary evidence" which raised "questions of fact inappropriate for resolution by summary judgment." A jury could find that the officer "was engaged in routine patrol at the time of the accident, which is a type of conduct that has been held not to involve the execution of enforcement or any law nd, thus, not to fall within" immunity under state law. Sanders v. City of Chicago, 714 N.E.2d 547 (Ill. App. 1999).
Former prisoner could not sue New York for alleged wrongful dissemination of his conviction record to his employer, causing his firing; fact of conviction was a public record, available to all, and there is no right to bring a lawsuit for damages under a state statute protecting privacy in individual information.
A former prisoner in a New York state correctional facility brought a lawsuit against the State for negligently allowing the "wrongful dissemination" of information concerning his criminal record stored in the Department of Corrections computer file. He claimed that dissemination of the information was wrongful under a state statute protecting personal privacy, and that the release of the information to his employer led to him being fired.
The Court of Claims of New York ruled that the statute in question, McKinney's Public Officers Law Sec. 97, does not create a private right to bring a lawsuit for damages under state law. While it prohibits the disclosure by state agencies of personal information gathered on individuals except under specified circumstances, the remedy for violation of the law is a review of agency action and the awarding of attorneys' fees, rather than awards of money damages. Further, the court also noted that the state has a policy of open access to public records, including criminal convictions. Since the information about his prior conviction was also available in public records, there could be no claim for damages in this instance even if there had been a right to bring the lawsuit. Lawrence v. State, 688 N.Y.S.2d 392 (Ct. Cl. 1999).
PUBLIC PROTECTION: INFORMANTS
D.C. and four D.C. officers liable for $98 million for failure to protect informant from being murdered while going to purchase additional crack from house; lawsuit asserted that officers should have constantly monitored informant as he faced dangerous situation.
District of Columbia police were investigating a triple murder that had occurred at a Starbucks coffee shop. A waiter at a restaurant in the area agreed to help the officers after he reported that he overheard some people talking about the killings while buying crack cocaine at a house.
The officers then arranged to have him purchase more drugs at the house, for the purpose of obtaining a search warrant. They supplied him with money and gave him a ride to the house at night. He was then robbed, attacked, and killed after he was turned away at the door to the house. Officers were allegedly too far away to see the attack, and did not find his body until forty minutes after his death, when someone in the neighborhood called 911. The closest officer was parked approximately a block away. Three men were later convicted of killing him.
A lawsuit against the officers and the District of Columbia by the decedent's mother asserted that the officers should have provided better protection for the informant, and should have constantly monitored him when making the dangerous attempt to return to the house to purchase more drugs. Failure to do so, the plaintiff argued, was negligence.
Testimony in the case also indicated that the officers involved in the operation did not alert the department about their plan or write it up before the incident. Additionally, a visit to the house by officers the night before the informant went there made his visit there to buy more drugs unlikely to gain him admittance.
A jury awarded a total of $98 million in damages to the plaintiff, made up of $70.5 million in compensatory damages and $27.5 million in punitive damages against four officers involved in the operation and the District of Columbia police department. The award was reportedly the largest ever returned against the D.C. government. Butera v. District of Columbia, U.S. Dist. Ct., D.C., reported in The Washington Post, page A.1 (October 21, 1999).
PUBLIC PROTECTION: MOTORISTS
State of Alaska found liable for $3.9 million to family of couple and their 2-year-old grandson who died of hypothermia while walking eight miles to town from disabled vehicle; state troopers were allegedly informed of abandoned vehicle and a "help" message carved in the snow, but took no action for over two days.
A married couple and their 2-year-old grandson were riding in a vehicle on a highway in Alaska on which there is allegedly no road maintenance between October and May. Their car got stuck twice, and finally disabled, after which they spent one night in the vehicle. They then walked to find shelter in a neighboring town, which was eight miles away. They all collapsed and fell, dying of hypothermia in the sub-zero weather, and their bodies were not found until two days had elapsed.
Their surviving family sued the state, arguing that it was liable for wrongful death because state troopers had failed to investigate a report that two hunters had made of finding the decedent's abandoned vehicle, and a "help" message that the decedents had stamped out in the snow. The plaintiffs' attorney argued that the troopers should have taken immediate action, "but nothing happened. They waited 2-1/2 days before doing anything." A jury found damages of $7.75 million, but reduced the amount of liability against the state to $3.9 million based on a finding that the decedents were themselves 49% at fault for their deaths. Further reductions in the amount of the award are being sought by the state. Kiokum v. State of Alaska, 4BC-97- 00274CI (Alaska Super. Ct., Bethel, Alaska), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A15 (November 15, 1999).
SEARCH AND SEIZURE: VEHICLE
Officers acted reasonably in stopping vehicle, ordering occupants out at gunpoint, handcuffing occupants, and placing them in the back of police vehicle, based on radioed reports that gave them reasonable suspicion that occupants had been involved in the possible shooting of a security guard or police officer during a fight in a tavern parking lot; detention for 30 minutes to an hour did not change investigatory stop into an arrest.
Sheriff's deputies investigating a theft call at a tavern saw numerous fights break out in the parking lot outside as the business closed. When they tried to stop the fight, they were attacked with rocks and bottles, and they later found a security guard, bleeding profusely from the head, who they believed had been shot. One deputy could not find his partner, and therefore believed that his partner may also have been shot. He radioed in a report, requesting further assistance, and stating that a vehicle containing a suspect in the incident was heading in a particular direction on a specified road, giving a description of the vehicle.
Deputies who heard the radio report pursued and stopped a vehicle, ordering the driver and his passenger at gunpoint to get out of the car. The two men were detained for approximately 30 minutes to an hour. They were subsequently released when no further information implicated them, and when it was learned that no shooting had actually occurred. (The security guard had evidently been hit by a bottle, and no evidence tied the occupants of this vehicle to the assault).
The vehicle occupants sued the officers, claiming that both the stop of their vehicle and their subsequent detention violated their Fourth Amendment rights. Upholding the rejection of these claims, a federal appeals court found that the deputies had a reasonable belief that a crime occurred at the bar, and had a reasonable, although apparently mistaken, suspicion that the occupants of the stopped vehicle were involved in it, justifying an investigatory stop.
The officer who acted on the radioed report evidently also "misunderstood" the first deputy's "car-counting method," believing that it indicated the number of vehicles between the suspect's car and the intersection, instead of the number of vehicles between the pursuing deputy's vehicle and the suspect's vehicle. While this was "unfortunate," the court did not "believe that car-counting itself is so inherently unreliable as to preclude the possibility that the deputies reasonably suspected the car's occupants of a crime."
The car in question was not stopped because of a "hunch," but based on "reasonable and articulable facts" and inferences, even if mistaken. The appeals court also rejected the claim that the investigatory stop ripened into an arrest requiring probable cause. Under the circumstances, the officers acted reasonably in drawing their guns, ordering the suspects out of the car, handcuffing the suspects, and placing them in the back of a police vehicle. Given the nature of the suspected crime--a shooting--precautions by the officers for their safety during the investigation were justified.
The court noted that there is no absolute or rigid time limit for
an investigatory stop. "When an officer's initial queries do not dispel
the suspicion that warranted the stop, further detention and questioning
are appropriate." Houston v. Clark County Sheriff Deputy John Does,
#97-3911, 174 F.3d 809 (6th Cir. 1999). Full Text: <http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions/main.php>.
[Cross-reference: False Arrest/Imprisonment: No Warrant].
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
Butera v. District of Columbia, U.S. Dist. Ct., D.C.,
reported in The Washington Post, page A.1 (October 21, 1999).[12-13]
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, Nos. 97-56499 & 97-56510,
1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 29309, 1999 WL 1005103 (9th Cir. Nov. 8, 1999).[10-11]
Green v. City of New York, No. 3714/92 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co., N.Y.),
reported in The National Law Journal, p. B17 (August 2, 1999).[4-5]
Greer v. Anne Arundel County, Md., 46 F. Supp. 2d 416 (D. Md. 1999).[5-6]
Horrington v. City of Detroit, 49 F. Supp. 2d 1022 (E.D. Mich. 1999).[9-10]
Houston v. Clark County Sheriff Deputy John Does, #97-3911, 174 F.3d 809 (6th Cir. 1999).[14-15]
Joye v. Richland County Sheriff's Dept., 47 F. Supp. 2d 663 (D.S.C. 1999).[6-7]
Kiokum v. State of Alaska, 4BC-97-00274CI (Alaska Super. Ct., Bethel, Alaska),
reported in The National Law Journal, p. A15 (November 15, 1999).[13-14]
Kuehl v. Burtis, #98-1774, 173 F.3d 646 (8th Cir. 1999).[3-4]
Lawrence v. State, 688 N.Y.S.2d 392 (Ct. Cl. 1999).
Parris v. Town of Alexander City, 45 F. Supp. 2d 1295 (M.D. Ala. 1999).
Rodriguez v. City of New York, No. 17422/96 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co., New York),
Sept. 30, 1999, reported in The National Law Journal p. A11, November 22, 1999.[8-9]
Sanders v. City of Chicago, 714 N.E.2d 547 (Ill. App. 1999).[11-12]
Townes v. City of New York, #99-2259 & 98-2309, 176 F.3d 138 (2d Cir. 1999).
Trzaskos v. St. Jacques, 39 F. Supp. 2d 177 (D. Conn. 1999).
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
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