Category Archives: Police Misconduct

No More Police Chokeholds

emi koyama (@emikoyama) | Twitter

Excellent article by Melissa Luck of the yaktrinews.com reports that House Bill 1054 would limit law enforcement officers from using controversial police tactics like chokeholds and tear gas.

Study Finds Police Misconduct Leads to Wrongful Convictions

Advocacy group speaks out against wrongful convictions

A recent study finds police misconduct leads to wrongful convictions. The misconducts included witness tampering, violent interrogations and falsifying evidence.

Titled, Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent: The Role of Prosecutors, Police and Other Law Enforcement, researchers from the National Registry of Exonerations studied 2,400 convictions of defendants who were later found innocent over a 30-year period and found that 35% of these cases involved some type of misconduct by police. More than half – 54% – involved misconduct by police or prosecutors.

The study comes as protests over racial injustice and police brutality spread across many cities for several months following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody.

Researchers found that misconduct by police and prosecutors is among the leading causes of disproportionate false conviction of Black defendants. For example, 78% of Black defendants who were wrongly accused of murder were convicted because of some type of misconduct. That number is 64% for white defendants, according to the study. An even wider gap: 87% of Black defendants later found innocent who were sentenced to death were victims of official misconduct vs. 68% for white defendants.

The study found that hiding evidence that is favorable to defendants is the most common type of misconduct.

Researchers cite five murder trials in which prosecutors concealed evidence about the cause of death. In one case, a woman was convicted of killing her boyfriend, but prosecutors did not disclose a medical report that found he had died of suicide.

“In a few rape exonerations, the authorities concealed evidence that the complainants had a history of making false rape allegations . . . And in at least a dozen child sex abuse cases, police, prosecutors and child welfare workers concealed statements by the supposed victims that they had not in fact been molested.” ~National Registry of Exonerations

In some cases – according to the study – police officers falsely claimed they were victims of assaults by defendants. In one such case, police officers from Chattanooga, Tennessee, beat a defendant at a reentry facility because he defended himself. Adam Tatum was sentenced to two years in prison for assaulting officers but was later exonerated after video showed that officers attacked him without provocation. Tatum sued and later settled for $125,000.

Also, police officers were disciplined or convicted of crimes in only 19% of exonerations that involved some type of misconduct, according to the study. That’s a rate five times higher than those for prosecutors, whose misconduct account for 30% of the cases.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and evidence appears to have been withheld. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the best step toward justice. Experienced attorneys regularly file and argue Motions to Compel and/or a Brady Motions; both of which force the Prosecutor to give exculpatory evidence and release discovery that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Police Reform Legislation

House Democrats to propose reforms targeting police misconduct ...U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) kneel with Congressional Democrats during a moment of silence to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and othe

Great article by Jacob Pramuk of CNBC reports that House Democrats unveiled a bill to overhaul police practices as Americans mass daily to protest excessive use of force and systemic racism.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate released the legislation two weeks after the death of George Floyd, the black, unarmed man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing sparked nationwide furor over sustained brutality against black Americans. His death added to a string of recent killings of black men and women that has led to perhaps the biggest reckoning over racism in the U.S. in decades.

Before introducing the bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats will first gather in the Capitol in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time an officer knelt of Floyd’s neck.

The Democratic legislation would make sweeping changes designed both to deter police use of force and hold officers more accountable for abuses. The federal bill comes as changes start at the local level: most of the Minneapolis city council committed to disbanding and replacing the city’s police force Sunday, while New York City will consider a range of law enforcement reforms.

The bill “establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. She said Americans should not have to witness “the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer.” Bass added that the bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in both chambers of Congress.

Here’s some of what congressional Democrats’ bill would do, according to summaries obtained by NBC News and the Associated Press:

  • Reform “qualified immunity” for officers, making it easier for people whose constitutional rights were violated to recover damages
  • Change the federal standard of criminal police behavior from “willful” to acting “knowingly or with reckless disregard,” to address the difficulty of prosecuting officers
  • Start a federal registry of police misconduct and require states to report use of force to the U.S. Justice Department
  • Ban police use of chokeholds and carotid holds, and condition funding for state and local departments on barring the practices
  • Stop the use of “no-knock” search warrants in drug cases in the U.S., while also making state and local money contingent on stopping use of the warrants
  • Give the Justice Department subpoena power to carry out “pattern and practice” investigations into police department conduct
  • Provide state attorneys general with grants to carry out pattern and practice probes and create a process for independent investigations into uses of force
  • Require training on racial bias and implicit bias at the federal level, and condition state and local funding on offering training
  • Curb transfers of military-grade weapons to state and local police
  • Classify lynching as a federal hate crime

According to NBC News, the legislation offers money for only two components: the requirement to track and report use of force and the investigations by state attorneys general, according to NBC News.  The Democratic plan did not meet many activists’ demands to slash — or entirely cut — police funding.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “in the Senate, Democrats are going to fight like hell” to pass the legislation. He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Senate floor and hold a debate on it “before July.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately comment on whether President Donald Trump would back the legislation. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the president must not stand in the way of justice.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State-Created Danger Doctrine and Domestic Violence Victims

The Chilling Inaction on Domestic Violence in Russia is Endangering Women's  Lives | Human Rights Watch

In Martinez v. City of Clovis, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that police officers investigating a DV crime breached the victim’s Due Process rights by intensifying her peril.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Martinez was a victim of domestic violence. After reporting an incident to police, the investigating officers took her statement in confidence as to physical and sexual abuse by her boyfriend Mr. Pennington in a hotel and then repeated the substance in the presence of the abuser. That night or the next day, Pennington again attacked Martinez, this time resulting in his arrest. Consequently, Ms. Martinez recanted her accusations out of fear that she would again be attacked. Later, Ms. Martinez sued the investigating officers and the Clovis Police Department.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether Ms. Martinez can recover damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from the law enforcement officers who allegedly placed her at greater risk of future abuse.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the State-Created Danger Doctrine applies because actions of the police put Martinez in greater jeopardy than if they had not arrived. It reasoned that officer Hershberger told Mr. Pennington about Martinez’s testimony relating to his prior abuse, and also stated that Martinez was not ‘the right girl’ for him.

“A reasonable jury could find that Hershberger’s disclosure provoked Pennington, and that her disparaging comments emboldened Pennington to believe that he could further abuse Martinez, including by retaliating against her for her testimony, with impunity,” said the Court. “The causal link between Hershberger’s affirmative conduct and the abuse Martinez suffered that night is supported by Martinez’s testimony that Pennington asked Martinez what she had told the officer while he was hitting her.”

“A reasonable jury could find that Pennington felt emboldened to continue his abuse with impunity.”

The Court further reasoned that the State-Created Danger Doctrine applies when an officer praises an abuser in the abuser’s presence after the abuser has been protected from arrest, in a manner that communicates to the abuser that the abuser may continue abusing the victim with impunity.

Nevertheless, the Court also decided the officers were entitled to Qualified Immunity because the law with respect to state-created danger doctrine was not clearly established. He added: “Going forward, the law in this circuit will be clearly established that such conduct is unconstitutional.”

Good opinion. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal Domestic Violence allegations. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Seattle Police Accountability Report: More Use of Force Against African Americans

Excellent article by of the Seattle Times reports that Seattle police are using force at low levels but still can’t fully explain why it is used against African Americans at disproportionately higher rates, according to the department’s annual report submitted to the federal judge overseeing court-ordered reforms.

The Seattle Police Department last week filed its 2019 Use of Force report, which shows that the use of force by officers remained “extraordinarily low” last year.

Officers reported using force at a rate of less than one quarter of 1 percent out of the nearly 400,000 incidents to which they responded, the report said. That’s in line with the rate reported a year earlier.

According to Miletich, the report is part of a series to show whether federally-mandated police reforms are being sustained, with an ultimate goal of terminating a court-ordered agreement by 2020. The updates are being provided to U.S. District Judge James Robart, who last year found the city in full compliance with the main terms of a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.

Judge Robart’s ruling triggered a two-year period in which the city must demonstrate that it is maintaining reforms to address allegations of excessive force and issues of biased policing. The city took the lead role in carrying out a self-analysis, although the Justice Department and the court’s monitor, Merrick Bobb, scrutinize the progress.

The police department’s use-of-force reports follow Bobb’s key finding in April 2017 that the department had made a dramatic turnaround. He concluded that overall use of force was down, and that when officers used it, it was largely handled in a reasonable way consistent with department policies.

Still, as in the 2018 report, the new figures show a disparity in the use of force against African Americans. Black males represented 32 percent of cases involving males, up from 25 percent a year earlier. Cases involving black females surged to represent 22 percent of incidents where force was used against females, compared with 5 percent in 2017. African Americans make up about 7 percent of Seattle’s population.

Racial disparity is a “significant ongoing concern” requiring further discussion and analysis within the limited role of law enforcement, the report said.

Yet current sociological and criminal-justice research has not found proven reliable methodology for accounting for all the “multitude of recognized factors” that may combine to result in the disparity, including education, socioeconomic status and family structure, the report said.

“In other words, while numbers can identify a disparity, they cannot explain the disparity,” the report said. At any rate, the police department said it would continue to consult academic experts to learn more, including the possible effects of implicit bias.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member had a negative experience which police which turned inappropriately violent. Although police officers have difficult jobs, police misconduct still exists.

I-940 Passed By Voters

Initiative 940, modifying law regulating police use of deadly force, passes  with strong support | The Seattle Times

Excellent article from Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich informs us that Initiative 940,  the measure that would remove a 32-year-old barrier in state law that has made it virtually impossible to bring criminal charges against police officers believed to have wrongfully used deadly force, has passed with strong support.

Passage of the measure means that prosecutors will no longer have to prove law-enforcement officers acted with “evil intent” — or so-called “malice” — when considering whether to file criminal charges such as manslaughter. Washington is the only state with such restrictive language.

The measure passed with 60 percent of the vote statewide. In King County, support exceeded 70 percent.

According to Miletich, a spokesperson for the I-940 campaign said the win means “Washington becomes the first state in the nation to pass a police training and accountability measure in response to a national conversation about use of force and relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

I-940 requires proof that a reasonable officer would have used deadly force in the same circumstance and sincerely believed the use of deadly force was warranted. I-940 also requires de-escalation and mental-health training for police; requires officers to administer first aid to a victim of deadly force; and requires independent investigations into the use of deadly force.

At one point, state legislators passed a compromise bill earlier this year that addressed concerns raised by some law-enforcement organizations about certain wording in the initiative.

I-940 proponents accepted the bill, agreeing to keep the initiative off the ballot. But the state Supreme Court agreed with a challenger that the initiative couldn’t be modified by the Legislature and must be presented to the voters in its original form.

My opinion? Excellent. It’s about time. All of us want to ensure our families, communities and law enforcement officers as safe. But last year, more people were killed in encounters with law enforcement than in 45 other states, and almost a third of those killed were experiencing a mental health crisis. No officer wants to find themselves in this situation, but right now officers in Washington aren’t provided with enough training to help them de-escalate a potentially deadly encounter.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Outrageous Police Misconduct

3 men get 20 years for robbery, abduction using fake Craigslist ad ...

In State v. Solomon, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly dismissed a charge of attempted rape of a child for outrageous police misconduct, where an officer, posing as a fictional 14-year-old girl sent the defendant nearly 100 messages laden with graphic, sexualized language and innuendo and persistently solicited the defendant to engage in a sexual encounter with the fictional minor, notwithstanding that he had rejected her solicitations seven times over the court of four days.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In this matter, a law enforcement officer anonymously published an advertisement on an online Craigslist classifieds platform reserved for those over the age of 18 and indicated that she was “a young female” seeking an individual interested in a casual sexual encounter. The defendant Mr. Solomon responded to the advertisement. Thereafter, the police officer assumed the guise of a fictional 14-year-old girl and sent Solomon nearly 100 messages laden with graphic, sexualized language and innuendo and persistently solicited him to engage in a sexual encounter with the fictional minor, notwithstanding that he had rejected her solicitations seven times over the course of four days.

Mr. Solomon was charged with one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes, one count of commercial sex abuse of a minor, and one count of attempted rape of a child in the third degree.

Before trial, Solomon moved to dismiss the charges against him, arguing that the State had engaged in outrageous governmental misconduct in violation of his due process right to fundamental fairness.

The trial court herein found that the actions of the law enforcement officer constituted outrageous misconduct in violation of Solomon’s right to due process and dismissed the charges against him. The State appealed.

ISSUE

Whether the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing the case due to outrageous conduct of the investigating law enforcement officer.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

As precedent, the Court of Appeals applied the State v. Lively “totality of the circumstances evaluation,” which identifies five factors to be considered by a trial court deciding issues of whether law enforcement engaged outrageous conduct: (1) whether the police conduct instigated a crime or merely infiltrated ongoing criminal activity, (2) whether the defendant’s reluctance to commit a crime was overcome by pleas of sympathy, promises of
excessive profits, or persistent solicitation, (3) whether the government controls the criminal activity or simply allows for the criminal activity to occur (4) whether the police motive was to prevent crime or protect the public, and (5) whether the government conduct itself amounted to criminal activity or conduct repugnant to a sense of justice.

Here, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s analysis that Solomon’s reluctance to commit the crime was manifested by his repeated—seven times—attempts to discontinue the conversation. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals agreed that the State had engaged in persistent solicitation of Solomon, given that the detective continued to solicit Mr. Solomon each of the seven times that he sought to withdraw and, in addition, sent the majority of the over 200 messages exchanged between the two parties.

Additionally, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the investigating law enforcement detective controlled the criminal conduct both by initiating the interaction between her and Solomon and by stringing him along over the course of the four days of exchanges.

“In this way, the court determined that the detective’s use of graphic and highly sexualized language amounted to a manipulation of Solomon that was repugnant to a sense of justice.”

“In ruling to dismiss the charges, the trial court did not adopt a view that no reasonable judge would take,” said the Court of Appeals. “Given the court’s finding that law enforcement had initiated and controlled the criminal activity, persistently solicited Solomon to commit the crimes so initiated, and acted in a manner (through the use of
language and otherwise) repugnant to the trial judge’s view of the community’s
sense of justice, the trial court’s determination was tenable.

“Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering that the charges against Solomon be dismissed. There was no error.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Solomon’s charges.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or loved one face criminal charges which are stemmed by questionably actions of law enforcement officers. It’s extremely important to hire competent defense counsel who willing to argue compelling motions to dismiss similar to defense counsel’s motion in this case.

Excessive Force?

Image result for gun at head

In Thompson v. Copeland, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a police officer uses excessive force when he points a gun at a suspect’s head and threatens to kill the suspect after the suspect, who was arrested for a felony, has already been searched, is calm and compliant, and is being watched over by a second armed deputy.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In December, 2011, Pete Copeland, a deputy in the King County Sheriff’s Office (“KCSO”), was on patrol in the City of Burien, Washington. After watching Lawrence Thompson commit “multiple traffic violations,” Copeland pulled him over. Thompson apologized to Copeland but failed to provide a driver’s license, although he did offer up some mail addressed in his name.

When Copeland ran Thompson’s identifying information, he discovered that Thompson had a suspended license for an unpaid ticket, that Thompson was a convicted felon, and that his most recent felony conviction was for possessing a firearm. Copeland decided to arrest Thompson for driving with a suspended license, and to impound Thompson’s car, as required by a City of Burien ordinance.

Copeland had Thompson exit the vehicle and patted him down for weapons. Finding none, Copeland radioed for backup, and had Thompson sit on the bumper of Copeland’s patrol car. Copeland then conducted an inventory search of Thompson’s vehicle. During his search, Copeland saw a loaded revolver sitting in an open garbage bag on the rear passenger-side floorboard. After seeing the gun, Copeland decided to arrest Thompson for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm.

Thompson continued to sit on the bumper of Copeland’s police cruiser, watched over by another deputy who had arrived for backup on the scene. Thompson was about 10–15 feet from the gun in the backseat of his car, and was not handcuffed. Copeland signaled to the deputy watching over Thompson, then drew his gun.

What happened next is disputed by the parties. Copeland claims he unholstered his firearm and assumed a low-ready position, with his gun clearly displayed but not pointed directly at Thompson. By contrast, Thompson claims that Copeland pointed his gun at Thompson’s head, demanded Thompson surrender, and threatened to kill him if he did not.

Copeland directed Thompson to get on the ground, facedown, so that he could be handcuffed. Thompson complied and was cuffed without incident. Copeland arrested Thompson for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The State of Washington charged Thompson with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. However, the charges were dismissed after determining that the evidence against Thompson had been gathered in violation of the Washington State Constitution.

Thompson sued Officer Copeland and King County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, Thompson alleged that Officer Copeland used excessive force in pointing his gun at Thompson and threatening to kill him.

In recommending dismissal of this claim, the federal Magistrate Judge  found that the degree of force used on Thompson was reasonable given that Officer Copeland was conducting a felony arrest of a suspect who was not secured, who was in relatively close proximity to a weapon, who was taller and heavier than him, and who had a prior felony conviction for unlawfully possessing a firearm. The Magistrate Judge concluded that Officer Copeland’s minimal use-of-force in effectuating Thompson’s arrest was objectively reasonable, and did not violate Thompson’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The Magistrate Judge also granted Copeland’s motion to dismiss under summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Later, The federal district court adopted the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, and dismissed Thompson’s claims with prejudice. Thompson appealed.

ISSUE

In the course of a felony arrest, may a police officer point a loaded gun at an unarmed suspect’s head, where that suspect had already been searched, was calm and compliant, was watched over by a second armed deputy, and was seated on the bumper of a police cruiser 10–15 feet away from a gun found in the suspect’s car? And if not, was the police officer entitled to qualified immunity from future lawsuits for police misconduct?

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Ninth Circuit held that pointing a loaded gun at the suspect’s head in these circumstances constitutes excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, but that the officers here are entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established at the time of the traffic stop.

“Our analysis involves two distinct steps,” said the Court of Appeals. “Police officers are not entitled to qualified immunity if (1) the facts taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury show that the officers’ conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.”

  1. Violation of a Constitutional Right.

The Court reasoned that Officer Copeland’s use of force in arresting Thompson was not objectively reasonable. Officer Copeland pointed the gun at Thompson’s head and threatened to kill him if he did not surrender. This type and amount of force can hardly be characterized as minor, reasoned the Court. Furthermore, Thompson had no weapon and had already been searched. He was sitting on the bumper of a squad car, watched over by an armed deputy. He was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight.

“Reviewing the totality of the circumstances, the force used against Thompson was excessive when balanced against the government’s need for such force. In the end, pointing guns at persons who are compliant and present no danger is a constitutional violation.”

         2. No Clearly Established Right.

Here, the Court reasoned that although the use of excessive force violated Thompson’s constitutional rights, Officer Copeland is entitled to qualified immunity because Thompson’s right not to have a gun pointed at him under the circumstances here was not clearly established at the time the events took place.

“Looking to the particular setup here, we cannot say that every reasonable officer in Copeland’s position would have known that he was violating the constitution by pointing a gun at Thompson,” said the Court of Appeals. “Thompson’s nighttime, felony arrest arising from an automobile stop, in which a gun was found, coupled with a fluid, dangerous situation, distinguishes this case from our earlier precedent.”

The Court reasoned that, more specifically, Copeland was conducting a felony arrest at night of a suspect who was not handcuffed, stood six feet tall and weighed two hundred and sixty-five pounds, was taller and heavier than Copeland, and had a prior felony conviction for unlawfully possessing a firearm. “Although Thompson was cooperative, the situation was still critical in terms of potential danger to the officers, especially given that a loaded gun was only 10–15 feet away,” said the Court. “Copeland did not violate a “clearly established” right as that concept has been elucidated by the Supreme Court in the excessive force context.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that because the law was not clearly established within the parameters dictated by the Supreme Court, Officer Copeland was entitled to qualified immunity. Therefore, the lower district court’s grant of summary judgment was AFFIRMED.

   3. Dissenting Opinion.

My opinion? Respectfully, I disagree with the Court of Appeals’ majority decision and agree with Justice Christen’s dissenting opinion.

“This decision squarely conflicts with the clear directive our court issued in Robinson v. Solano County, a case involving facts that, if distinguishable at all, posed a greater threat to officer safety,” said Justice Christen. Ultimately, she reasoned that Robinson recognized the critical distinction between pointing a gun at someone’s head and holding it in the “low ready” position.

“Deputy Copeland was justified in displaying some degree of force, but accepting the allegations in the complaint as true, he unquestionably used excessive force when he aimed his gun at Thompson’s head and threatened that if Thompson moved, he’d be dead.,” said Justice Christen. “Because that rule was clearly established long before Thompson was arrested, I respectfully dissent.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member believe police used excessive force in any given situation. Police officers have difficult tasks. In recent years, however, the use of force by police officers making traffic stops has flared into a national debate of renewed importance. It’s imperative to seek legal counsel with knowledge and competence in this debate, and who may recover damages from the police officer’s liability.

Forced & Warrantless Entry

Property118 | Police damage to rental property - Property118

In Bonivert v. City of Clarkston, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that police officers responding to a “physical domestic” call violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the locked house without a warrant after the suspect, who was the lone occupant of the home by the time the police arrived, refused repeated requests to come to the door. Under the facts of the case, the forced entry could not be upheld under consent, emergency doctrine or exigent circumstances.

BACKGROUND FACTS

This case starts with a domestic dispute call to the police from the home of Ryan Bonivert. During an evening gathering with friends, Bonivert reportedly argued with his girlfriend, Jessie Ausman, when she attempted to leave with the couple’s nine-month old daughter. By the time police arrived, the disturbance was over: Ausman, the baby, and the guests had safely departed the home, leaving Bonivert alone inside. At that point, there was no indication that Bonivert had a weapon or posed a danger to himself or others. Nor does the record suggest that Ausman intended to reenter the house or otherwise asked police to accompany her inside. When Bonivert failed to respond to repeated requests to come to the door, the officers decided they needed to enter the house. No attempt was made to obtain a search warrant.

Though Bonivert locked the door to his house and refused police entreaties to talk with them, the police broke a window to unlock and partially enter the back door. Even then, Bonivert tried to shut the door, albeit unsuccessfully. Although Ausman consented to the officers entering the house, Bonivert’s actions were express—stay out.

Nevertheless, the officers forced their way in, throwing Bonivert to the ground, and then drive-stunned him with a taser several times, handcuffed him, and arrested him. Bonivert was arrested for assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and domestic violence assault in the fourth degree.

Bonivert brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, the County, Combs, Purcell, Gary Synder, and Joseph Synder, alleging warrantless entry and excessive force in violation of Bonivert’s constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the basis of qualified immunity.

For those who don’t know, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights. It only allows suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. When determining whether or not a right was “clearly established,” courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the warrantless entry into Bonivert’s home violated the Fourth Amendment as none of the lawful exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. The officers are not entitled to qualified immunity.

The Police Officers Were Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity.

The Court reasoned that police officers are not entitled to qualified immunity if (1) the facts taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury show that the defendants’ conduct violated a constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

In other words, the question is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.

Fourth Amendment

The Court of Appeals explained that the Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“It has long been recognized that the physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed,” reasoned the Court. “This special protection of the home as the center of the private lives of our people reflects an ardent belief in the ancient adage that a man’s house is his castle to the point that the poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.” Consequently, the Court reasoned it is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that warrantless searches of the home or the curtilage surrounding the home are presumptively unreasonable.

“Taken in the light most favorable to Bonivert,  . . . the facts demonstrate that the officers violated Bonivert’s constitutional right because no exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement justified the officers’ entry into Bonivert’s home.”

Warrantless Entry: Officer are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Consent” Exception.

The Court explained that although the consent exception ordinarily permits warrantless entry where officers have obtained consent to enter from a third party who has common authority over the premises, Georgia v. Randolph held that an occupant’s consent to a warrantless search of a residence is unreasonable as to a co-occupant who is physically present and objects to the search.

“Such is the situation here,” said the Court of Appeals. “Even though the officers secured
Ausman’s (his girlfriend’s) consent, Bonivert was physically present inside and expressly refused to permit the officers to enter on two different occasions.”

The court explained that Bonivert expressly refused entry when he locked the side door to his house. During the initial “knock and talk,” Combs and Purcell knocked and attempted to open the front and back doors to the house, but found them to be locked. As the officers circled the house to approach the side door, Bonivert realized it was unlocked and locked it as Combs was approaching. Combs heard the door lock and informed Purcell.

Bonivert also expressly refused entry when he attempted to close the back door on the officers after Combs broke in. Once the officers decided to enter the home by force, Combs used his flashlight to shatter a window pane in the back door, reached through the opening, and unlocked the door. At that point, Bonivert partially opened the door and confronted the officers, which prompted the officers to fire their tasers in dart mode. All parties agree that after the darts failed to make contact, Bonivert tried to shut the door, placing it between himself and the officers, but ultimately was prevented from doing so when Officer Combs rushed through with such force that he threw Bonivert to the other side of the room.

“Based on the foregoing, we hold that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity under the consent exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Simply put, a reasonable officer would have understood that no means no.”

Warrantless Entry: Officers Are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Emergency” Exception.

The Court reasoned that the emergency aid exception permits law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.  An entry pursuant to the emergency aid exception is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer’s state of mind, as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify the action. However, the police bear a heavy burden when attempting to demonstrate an urgent need that might justify warrantless searches or arrests, because the emergency exception is narrow and rigorously guarded.

“Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Bonivert, there were simply no circumstances pointing to an actual or imminent injury inside the home,” said the Court. By the time the officers arrived, both Ausman and the child were safely outside, surrounded by four other adults intent on protecting them from harm. During the entire time that the officers spoke to the witnesses, circled and attempted to enter the home from various points, and called on Deputies Gary and Joseph Snyder for backup, the house was silent. Ausman further assured the officers that there were no weapons in the house and that Bonivert did not pose a danger to himself. Consequently, the Court rejected arguments that an emergency existed which allowed warrantless entry into the house.

Warrantless Entry: Officers Are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Exigent Circumstances” Exception.

The Court explained that the exigency exception permits warrantless entry where officers have both probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed and a reasonable belief that their entry is necessary to prevent the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Here, the Court reasoned that Bonivert, who was inside his home when the alleged domestic assault occurred and remained there even after the officers broke into his back door, was never a “fleeing suspect.” The officers never articulated any other legitimate law enforcement justification for entry under the exigency exception.

The Lower Court Improperly Denied Bonivart’s Excessive Force Claims.

Taken in the light most favorable to Bonivert, the evidence reflects that Bonivert remained inside the home at all times; that Bonivert did not threaten or advance toward the officers; that Bonivert posed no immediate threat to the officers; that Combs threw Bonivert across the back room; that Bonivert did not resist arrest; and that Combs tasered Bonivert several times in drive-stun mode notwithstanding Bonivert’s compliance. The evidence does not justify the district court’s conclusion that “no reasonable jury could find the use of force within the home excessive.

With that, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds on the Fourth Amendment claims for unlawful entry
and excessive force.

Excellent decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecutors Use Body Camera Evidence

Image result for police body camera evidence

Interesting feature from  a correspondent for NPR who covers law enforcement and privacy issues. In this feature, he discusses how police body cameras are becoming key tools for prosecutors.

This year, police body cameras made the transition from experimental tech to standard equipment. Sales exploded after the 2014 Ferguson protests as police departments scrambled to refute claims of abuse. Now the cameras have become routine, but they’re not making a significant dent in the number of people shot and killed by police.

In this feauture from Weekend Edition Sunday, Kaste described how body cameras have become a standard piece of equipment for the criminal justice system.

“Prosecutors now use them far more often than – for police accountability, prosecutors are using it to make cases against defendants, against members of the public who are charged with crimes,” said Kaste. He also described how a survey last year conducted by George Mason University showed that prosecutors were far more likely to have used video to prosecute a member of the public than to use the video to prosecute a police officer.

“What we have really is technology that quickly became sort of required for prosecution in general,” said Mr. Kaste. “Juries now expect it, and the police in the field kind of feel the pressure to get video of themselves finding evidence.”

Kaste answered questions on whether citizens can use body camera video to support their own claims of police abuse.

“There’s no national standard on that, and that’s becoming more and more of a bone of contention,” he said. “In a lot of places, it’s considered a public record and you can request it. But a lot of cases, you don’t get to see the video because the case is under investigation, and that kind of puts it in limbo. Or, in places like California, Police departments have cited officer privacy. They kind of almost view it as a personnel record or something, and it takes a lot to get the video out,” said Mr. Kaste.

” . . . it’s gotten to the point where at least one academic I talked to this year said we should rethink the whole system and start giving the video to a third party to control, not to the police department.”

My opinion? Ultimately body-worn cameras (BWC’s) are a good thing. They provide non-objective evidence of what really happened instead of forcing us to rely on people’s stories. However, I agree with Mr. Kaste in his argument that obtaining the video is oftentimes difficult. It makes no sense that BWC evidence is released by the very same police departments that it’s made to scrutinize. This is the fox guarding the hen house. Consequently, attorneys must be incredibly careful, diligent and consistent on arguing public disclosure requests and motions to obtain pretrial discovery of this evidence.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member faces criminal charges involving BWC evidence. Although it might work in a defendant’s favor, the evidence can be suppressed if it’s unfairly prejudicial against defendants under the rules of evidence.