Category Archives: cops

Dash cam exonerates another man; reveals cops’ thuggery

Nothing that I can write will replace the impact of watching this 4 minute video, produced by ABC News 7 of a Bloomfield, NJ police department’s arrest of Marcus Jeter:

Particularly rich were the repeated warnings to stop resisting while subdued by three officers, the allegation that he was going for their gun when his hands were clearly nowhere near them and the completely bizarre ramming of his car by the second police vehicle.

Maybe they forgot that these cameras had video and not just audio or maybe they just figured that they could hide the video and no one would be any wiser.

Two of the officers were indicted and a third already plead guilty, but then there’s this:

Interesting to note, an investigation by Bloomfield PD’s scandal plagued internal affairs division had found no wrongdoing by officers.

Boy do they close ranks quickly. Meanwhile Marcus Jeter may have been spending many years in jail, another man whose claims of innocence would be pooh-poohed by the public and courts, in the interests of finality.

Maybe finally you’re realizing that cops are just as likely to be thugs as the Marcus Jeters of the world.

AQA: A conversation about the Fourth Amendment

Dan Klau – lawyer, blogger and Connecticut resident – and I engaged in a lengthy back and forth conversation last week on the importance of the Fourth Amendment, searches and seizures, the recent CT Supreme Court opinion in State v. Kelly and the mess in Ferguson. This is, we hope, the first in a series of conversations about pressing legal issues.


DAN:  Gideon, on August 12, 2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court officially released its decision in State v. Kelly [PDF].  The defendant challenged his arrest and conviction (on a conditional plea of nolo contendere) for narcotics possession with the argument that his initial arrest violated the Fourth Amendment and its counterpart under the Connecticut Constitution (article first, §§ 7 and 9). A majority of the Court held that the police were entitled to conduct a limited “stop and frisk” of the defendant, also known as a Terry-stop after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 decision of the same name, even though the police did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the defendant had done anything wrong. What they did have was a reasonable, articulable suspicion that another person who was walking down the street with the defendant when they detained him had committed a felony. That suspicion, the Court held, was reason enough to detain the defendant along with the actual suspect.

On twitter, on your blog, and in person, you have repeatedly complained to just about everyone you know about the lack of press coverage this decision has received.  Why do you think this particular case is so important?

GIDEON:  To understand why this case is so important we have to ask ourselves several questions: do I want to be stopped by the police when I’m out on the street, for absolutely no reason? Do I want to give the police that power over me; to seize and detain me, without any reason whatsoever to believe that I have done anything wrong? Is it fair that I should lose my individual right of freedom just because the police might mistakenly suspect my companion of committing a crime?

Frankly, there are also a lot of undertones of privilege. The common response is: “if I haven’t done anything wrong, I have nothing to hide”. So some might say: what’s a minimal incursion on my individual liberty if there’s something greater at stake: stopping crime. And that may be true for you. But it’s not true for thousands of others in our community. It’s not true, particularly, for the less privileged. For them, police intrusion is a repeating and wearying occurrence. For them, police intrusion is a way of subjugation. We have the luxury, from our suburbs or positions of privilege, to say that it isn’t a big deal. But just ask the people of Ferguson, or those stopped and frisked by the hundreds of thousands in NYC.

This case is important because there aren’t two sets of laws: one for the privileged suburban folk and one for the poor minorities. There is one law. This law applies to all of us. There is one Constitution. The right to not have our liberty confiscated without particularized suspicion applies to all of us. That’s why this case is critical.

DAN:  That’s quite a bit to chew on.  Let me try to break it down by asking you a quick follow-up question.  My impression from your twitter and blog comments is that you think the Kelly decision marks a significant change or departure from existing search and seizure precedent.  Is my impression correct? And, if so, in what way do you think Kelly changes the law?

GIDEON:  It is indeed a departure from existing law. The closest analogy is what everyone knows of as a “Terry” stop or a pat down – in other words, a stop and frisk. The law in that regard is that police need “reasonable and articulable suspicion” that a person has committed or is committing a crime in order to minimally detain them and conduct an investigation. Further, if they believe that the person is armed, then they can conduct a “limited” pat-down to search for weapons. So up to now, an individual’s liberty can only be seized if the police have some particular belief with regards to the subject of the seizure.

Kelly has created a whole new category whereby it is not necessary for police to have any belief that the person they want to detain has committed or is committing a crime or is armed. That, to me, is a significant departure.

DAN:  OK.  Let me challenge you on that point.  In my opinion, a critical aspect of the decision—and perhaps a reason why it has not received much press attention—is that the defendant asked the Court to decide whether the Connecticut Constitution afforded him greater protection under the circumstances of the case than the Fourth Amendment.  Why did the defendant ask the Court to consider the state constitution? Because it seemed fairly clear, at least to me, that he had no Fourth Amendment claim under existing precedent.

Here’s why:  As you know all too well, the protections of the Fourth Amendment, i.e., the need for a warrant based on probable cause and signed by a judge and the requirement that any search or seizure be “reasonable” even in the absence of a warrant (like in a Terry-stop case) only come into play if the conduct of the police rises to the level of a “search” or “seizure.”  The decision in Kelly cites U.S. Supreme Court case law for the proposition that when police tell a person to “stop” so that the officer can question him/or, that verbal command does not constitute a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes unless the person actually submits to the officer’s request.

Why is that important in this case?  Because when the police told the defendant and his companion to “stop,” they did not submit to the request.  Thus, there was no seizure of either the defendant or his companion at that point under the Fourth Amendment.   The defendant and his companion then both ran away from the police officer.  While running, the defendant dropped a bag of cocaine. That gave the police officer a constitutionally justifiable basis to detain him.

In short, at least as far as Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is concerned, the decision does not seem like a departure from existing law.  I’m not saying I like the current state of Fourth Amendment law.  For the reasons you mention, I think it affords the police far too much discretion to stop people without a truly legitimate justification.  I’m just not sure the decision represents a significant change in federal law.

GIDEON:  Well, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the bare-minimum of rights that are given to citizens. States are free to provide greater protections – and in Connecticut we have. In our state, our freedom is “seized” under the state constitution when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.

The argument in this claim of a constitutional violation is based on a violation of the Connecticut Constitution, which provides greater protections to our residents than does the federal constitution. So talking about the federal constitution is irrelevant in this circumstance.   All the parties – the prosecution, the trial judge, the defense attorney, the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court – agree on two things: 1) that Kelly was seized under the state constitution when he was first told to stop and, 2) more importantly, that the police had absolutely no reasonable or articulable suspicion to seize him when they did.

In other words, they had absolutely no basis to stop him and yet they did. And the Supreme Court justified that by saying that people who, as far as the police know, are completely innocent and have not given any indicia of criminal activity can still have their freedom curtailed because of officer safety.  I’m not the only one who thinks this is wrong and quite problematic: two justices wrote a blistering dissent from the Court’s opinion.

DAN:  So now we are getting to the nub of the case.  I agree with everything you just said. I just think it is important for readers of the decision to understand that the Fourth Amendment was irrelevant in this case because, under federal law, the police did not “seize” the defendant when they told him and his companion to “stop.” That command, however, was a seizure under the state constitution.

So now let me ask you this hypothetical, which I admit right up front is different from the facts of the Kelly case: Suppose the police have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that person A has committed a violent felony and they locate that person walking down the street with a companion, person B.  The police ask person A to stop.  He does, as does person B.  The police want to conduct a stop and frisk of A.  What should they do about B, who is hanging around?  They could tell him to move along.  What if he doesn’t?

GIDEON: Yes, it’s critical to remember that our state constitution in this case provides more protection than the federal government and that’s a good thing.

In your scenario, I think the police should do nothing. B is legally on the street; he isn’t harassing them and they don’t suspect him of committing a crime. He has every right to be there and should be allowed to. If, of course, he starts interfering with them then they can determine if he needs to be detained.

But your question raises a very important point: imagine if B is a reporter, or just a citizen photographer. Shouldn’t he be allowed to be on the street to observe their stop-and-frisk of A? Don’t we want citizens to have the ability to observe and record our constabulary? If we start saying that hey, if B doesn’t scoot, the police should have the ability to arrest him, we open ourselves up to all sorts of abuses: why wouldn’t they just simply banish all press and photographers from scenes of arrest so there’ll be no record of their violence?

DAN:  I think you’ve touched on a key point about the opinion, and one that has bothered me since I first read it.  As you state, the Connecticut Supreme Court has interpreted the Connecticut Constitution as providing more protection against searches and seizures than does the Fourth Amendment.

One of the ways in which our state constitution provides greater protection is by “triggering” the constitutional protections against searches and seizures (i.e., warrants, probable cause, reasonableness, etc.) at an earlier point in the police/suspect interaction. To briefly reiterate, whereas a seizure does not occur under the Fourth Amendment when the police demand that a person “stop” until and unless the person actually submits to the stop, under the state constitution the seizure occurs when the police officer makes the demand to stop, period.  Since the demand to stop itself is the seizure, it must be supported by at least a reasonable, articulable suspicion to pass state constitutional muster.

The problem I have with the Kelly opinion is that what the Court giveth with one hand it taketh away with the other.  Having provided state constitutional protection at the “demand to stop” stage, the Court then says that it is ok to stop a person as to whom the police have no reasonable suspicion whatsoever, simply because he happens to be in the company of someone who they do have justification to temporarily detain.

To me, the decision is inconsistent with the notion that the state constitution provides greater protection than the Fourth Amendment.  Which is why, I suspect, Justices Eveleigh and McDonald dissented.

GIDEON:  I think you’ve hit it spot on, Dan. And in order to demonstrate the ills of permitting police such unchecked power, we need look no further than the events of the last week. Ferguson is showing us exactly why we need greater protections for individuals and less power in the hands of law enforcement. The reports coming out of Ferguson of “walking protests only” and the arrests of journalists represent a worst-case scenario for the abuse of the ‘detention of companions’ policy endorsed in Kelly.

Imagine a scene where an officer is arresting a person for whom he has suspicion. His companion starts recording the encounter. The officer, applying Kelly, detains the companion for officer safety and thus: 1) shuts down the recording, or 2) arrests the companion for interfering with an officer if he keeps recording.  Is this what we want?

And of course, we still haven’t touched on the fact that the court failed to define just what a companion is.

DAN:  I don’t want that!  I’ll let you have the last word this time.  I look forward to our next conversation!

The consequences of a “confrontation” with cops

maherThat’s Mark Maher, a resident of Windsor, CT. Well, that’s him after Enfield Police Officer Matthew Worden got done teaching him a lesson. Naturally, Maher was then charged with interfering with an officer, because his face got in the way of the officer’s energetic fist-bumps with the ground. I guess Officer Worden learned from the Sunil Dutta school of policing, whose core philosophy is ‘Obey me at all costs or I will break your face’.

Lucky for Maher, there were dashcams. Two of them. I can’t embed them because screw you Hartford Courant. But here’s dashcam one, which shows you just how annoyingly Maher kept getting in the way of Worden’s colloquial greeting to the pavement and here’s dashcam two, which prominently features “stop resisting”, today’s version of “stop hitting yourself”.

Ferguson: the no-Constitution zone

[The following is my latest column for the CT Law Tribune, to be published this week.]

To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment.

Until the Fourth Amendment, which is closely allied with the Fifth, is rewritten, the person and the effects of the individual are beyond the reach of all government agencies until there are reasonable grounds to believe (probable cause) that a criminal venture has been launched or is about to be launched.

Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can “seize” and “search” him in their discretion, we enter a new regime.

So concluded Mr. Justice Douglas in his dissent – the lone dissent – to Terry v. Ohio, perhaps with greater prescience than even he would have envisioned. Today, some 46 years later, the fruits of that unwise policy have ripened and come to bear in America, presenting us with a country that seems unrecognizable.

Impossibility is not a defense

The law, you will have guessed by now, is not concerned much with the English language and its precise definitions. A fall-back answer that’s almost always right, when it comes to the law, is that everything “depends”.

Even something as simple as ‘impossibility’. When you, laypersons, think about the word “impossible”, you usually think of something that’s not possible. But the law isn’t that easy.

There are different categories of impossibility, each with its own definition and applicability: mistake of law, mistake of fact, legal impossibility and factual impossibility. Legal impossibility is where, no matter how evil your intentions are, your acts do not constitute a crime. Factual impossibility is where it is impossible for you to have committed a crime because you misunderstood the facts. A classic example used in law school hypotheticals is that of Sydney Barringer, the guy who died in a most tragic fashion.

But none of this takes into account the law’s stubborn desire to extract a conviction from just about anyone who wanders into its field of vision, despite the apparent physical impossibility of that person to have committed the crime.

This is how we come to meet Tyree Threatt, 21 years old, facing charges of mugging a woman on June 27. They didn’t arrest him that day, of course, but she gave a description of the mugger. A few weeks later, officers saw Threatt and determined he matched the description. Then they put his photo in a lineup and she picked him out.

Things from Ferguson that even you can’t ignore (updated)

first-amendment-area

A picture of Officer Friendly in Ferguson:

officer-friendly-ferguson

My, what a big gun you have. Now here’s what happens if you want to record Officer Friendly:

rifle

(via @rdevro) What happens to people who try to record the police in Ferguson, like Intercept reporter Ryan Deveraux? He gets detained, for no reason, held overnight and then released in the morning. I know some of you find paying attention hard, so here’s the relevant portion:

 

rdevro-detention

But certainly they must allow press and protests, right? I mean, it’s the most well-known part of the First Amendment! It’s not like the law allows them to detain anyone without reas-oh. And within designated areas? And only walking protests? Oh.

walking-protest

But what about that unprecedented action by Amnesty International to send independent observers? That certainly made sure that police were on their best behavi-oh:

amnesty

Via.

Well, this is the America you got when you decided not to give a crap about what didn’t happen in your cocoon. I blame you. Because for a large percentage of the population, this shit doesn’t end. It is constant and ever-lasting. Please, read this and get your head out of the sand.

protest-again

 

 

The BS PC project

Spurred by the latest happenings in America vis-a-vis police officers and the stunning amounts of statism on display, I was reminded that we in the field know that officers are full of crap and most of the people in the world think officers are the second coming of Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar”.

One of the many ways in which officers’ BS is on display is in their reports and their claims of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The classic “furtive movement” or “clutching the waistband”.

So I figured why not just collect these nonsense pretexts and put them on display for the world to see? So send me screencaps of the reports that you find – with identifying information redacted, of course – and I’ll post them over at bspcproject.tumblr.com (there’s nothing there yet).