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Police Officer Lawsuits

On Sunday afternoon I received an alert from my Baltimore Sun subscription that advised that Freddie Gray, injured during arrest, has died.(story) I previously didn’t know anything about this story until I read about this young man who was arrested by Baltimore police last week. According to their report, he was arrested, placed into a van and was transported to the district station.

During the arrest, the police report indicates that he suffered trauma injuries that included a broken neck and that he lapsed into a coma. Seven days later he died. The family does not yet know what happened.

Unfortunately, It seems that we are regularly seeing news stories like this. Are police officers overracting? Are they doing their job correctly and just protecting themselves. Well, we know on a few occassions that there has been questionable conduct that erodes public confidence. That includes the recent police officer in South Carolina who shot and killed an unarmed man.

This leads me to the following two news stories about lawsuits that have been recently filed against law enforcement. When I see these, I think that it would probably be difficult to empanel a jury without bias or prejudice.

From The Cinninnati Enquirer,  a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a girl who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy as she was leaving a party in Boone County, Ohio. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in federal court in Covington by the girl’s parents. It names a deputy from Boone County and a Boone County sheriff as defendants.

According to the lawsuit, the 19-year-old girl was leaving a field party in her car when the deputy jumped on to the hood of her car.Without warning the Deputy jumped on her hood and demanded that she stop the car. “As she was stopping the car, the Defendant Brockman fired his weapon four times through the windshield”. He killed driver Samantha Ramsey and “terrorized her three passengers”. For this lawsuit, we now know that there are at least 3 witnesses that don’t sound favorable for the Deputy.

From the Indianapolis Star, a story of a lawsuit being brought against an Indiana police officer. This Indiana resident  claims he was harassed and threatened by police officers. The lawsuit describes events that occurred in January at a Buffalo Wild Wings.

Three officers have admitted to harrassing and threatening plaintiff  Timothy Vander Plaat after he texted the fiance of one of the officers and asked for her phone number. According to the lawsuit as well as information that has been received by the investigation of the officers’ internal affairs department, they wanted to send the message about what happens when you mess with an officer’s family.

The officer left the message for the plaintiff and on the recording , the officer states, “I’m going to (curse word) kill you. And it’s not going to be awesome. I mean, it’s going to be like little body parts in a fireplace kind of death”.

Yes…. probably not a good lawsuit ending for these officers.

We live in difficult days for law enforcement.

And for pic o’ day…. the line is testing this lady’s patience because it does not seem to be moving!



Bad Idea in a Patrol Car

On the way home from South Carolina, we saw two speeding police cars go past us. We were creeping along the road in Charlotte. We knew that we would probably be creeping a little longer because the problem was obviously more than just morning traffic.

When the police cars raced by, someone mentioned that it sure looked odd to see them driving so close. In fact, it almost looked like one officer was chasing the other.   That leads me to what happens when a Deputy crashes his own patrol car. reports that a Louisiana Deputy did just that. 911 had been called to report that a police car had hit a tree.

When we start our representation of a client, we usually mail a letter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get a copy of all the 911 calls. I wonder if the Louisiana call sounded something like, “This is Deputy Hyer. I’d like to report a single-car accident involving a drunk driver”.  (911 operator): “Deputy, would you go to the scene?” (Deputy): “I am the scene”.

According to the story, the Deputy has resigned. I guess if that tree had not jumped out in front of the Deputy, there would be no story. This story ends with its own wisdom. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drink and drive in a police car. Yes, watch out for moving trees. And then there’s that.

For pic o’ day, how about some computer advice!

Speed Laws and Traps

    Some areas are known for their strawberries; Others for their peaches; I always thought that Emporia was known for one crop…. that ever popular speeding ticket.

 Whenever I drive through Emporia, I am always reminded to slow it down. Years ago, I would represent clients for traffic tickets. On occasion, that would take me to the Emporia Courthouse. Sure enough, there was always a crowd in Court, for speeding tickets.  

     It made me wonder if there was any real defense against a “speed trap”. Since I don’t specialize in the representation of Emporia speeding, you’ve guessed correctly, if you guessed that I have no special secret for a speeding defense.

                                        There is one state that has outlawed the “speed trap”. California’s Vehicle Code Sections 40800-40808     which includes the following language:

               No police officer or other person shall use a speed trap in
               arresting, or participating or assisting in the arrest of, any person
               for any alleged violation of this code nor shall any speed trap be
               used in securing evidence as to the speed of any vehicle for the
               purpose of an arrest or prosecution under this code.

     Our only real Virginia defense is to know that we better drive the speed limit. There are websites that share “speed trap” information. I’m not sure that the Judge would be interested in hearing, “But your Honor, Yes I was going too fast; but I was told that there wasn’t going to be any police and radar at that location”.  

     Is there any real defense to a traffic ticket. Well, at least understand the penalties before you just pay the ticket and send it in. Go to the DMV website and look up the 3, 4 and 6 point violations. This describes the speed and severity of penalty.

     If you are trying to decide if there is value in hiring a lawyer to fight the ticket, then you might want to compare the cost of the lawyer to the cost of a potential increase in your insurance premium. Call your insurance agent or company and ask them how a traffic ticket of 3, 4 or 6 points could effect your insurance premium. Companies treat points differently.

     Is there any way of avoiding a ticket? Before the officer says, “Press hard, three copies”, I guess you could try something like, “Officer, if you were me, what would you say to the police officer, to try to talk him out of giving  a ticket?” Probably would work better in the movies.

     We have had some former police officers come work at the firm. The tell me some amazing stories about what people have said, after they were stopped.  Remember, many officers write down in their field notes, the statements that the person makes at the scene.

     If the defense lawyer tries to get the officer to agree to a plea reduction to present to the Judge, how a person acts at the scene could be important.

     Maybe the lawyer will be trying to get the speeding charge reduced, or a plea to defective equipment or some other non-moving violation. It’s probably not helpful to have the officer read his notes and remember that the person said something like, “I bet you feel real powerful in that uniform”. Or, “Don’t  you know who  I am?” He might laugh, though, if you say “Officer, I have to get to Dunkin Donuts; I’m making the donuts”. 

     I wish that this blog could be your magic bean. You can’t toss the officer a $100 bill and tell him that you promise to stay in your house for 10 days. Won’t work!  That will just get you a mattress and 3 square meals.  Instead, just enjoy the ride.

     Pic O’ Day is a reminder to be careful out there


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