Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"And How Does This Relate to Our Discussion of the Uses of Irony?"

Pardon the Ferris Bueller reference, but I received this case in a media update from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and it made me laugh:
On December 15, 2009, while on duty, Appellants stopped and frisked men they believed were engaged in an illegal drug transaction. One of the men they frisked, Keyshawn Artis, accused Appellants of stealing money from him. Appellants denied the accusation, and told Artis to ―move along.

When Appellants returned to headquarters, a superior officer, Sergeant Salvatore Fede, ordered them into his office. After informing Appellants that a complaint about their behavior had been made to the Internal Affairs Bureau, Sergeant Fede took Appellants to Captain Melvin Singleton’s office. Appellants did not feel free to leave because they had been ―ordered to be in the captain’s office.‖ App. 285. After waiting fifteen to twenty minutes, Appellants and Sergeant Fede were joined by Captain Singleton, then-Sergeant Patrick Kelly, and Lieutenant Frank Palumbo.

Appellants were instructed to stay in Captain Singleton’s office until officers from the Internal Affairs Bureau arrived. While Appellants waited, Captain Singleton offered them water and told them that they could watch television, but instructed them not to use their cell phones. Appellants then were questioned about their interaction with Artis, including whether they had taken money from him. In that regard, Appellants were asked to remove their jackets and Gwynn was asked to remove his outer vest. Appellants also were told to pull out their pockets, pull up their pant legs and pull down their socks, and open their wallets. Finally, Appellants were told that cooperation would be in their ―best interest insofar as it could demonstrate to Internal Affairs that they did not have Artis’s money when they returned from their patrol. During the hour or so they spent in Captain Singleton’s office while awaiting the arrival of Internal Affairs officers, Appellants did as they were told because the orders came from their ―superiors and supervisors, and they feared ―discipline and possible loss of employment‖ if they disobeyed. App. 241.

Upon their arrival at Captain Singleton’s office, two Internal Affairs officers questioned Appellants for about fifteen to twenty minutes and then left briefly to talk to Artis, the complainant. Appellants were told to stay put until the Internal Affairs officers returned after speaking with Artis. As Appellants waited, Gwynn asked for permission to call his wife to arrange for her to pick up their son, and then-Sergeant Kelly granted permission. The Internal Affairs officers returned, stated that they believed Artis, and told Appellants that they were not needed for anything further that day. Appellants left Captain Singleton’s office around 8:15 p.m. and when they opened their lockers that evening, it appeared as though they had been searched.
For those not fluent in legalese, two Philadelphia police officers stopped and frisked two civilians who were not found to have any contraband, one of the civilians said one of the cops took his money, the cops told him to get lost, and the police superiors (to my surprise! Especially in Philly.) put the officers in an office, told them to empty their pockets and turn out their clothes to prove they didn't take the man's money. The ordeal at the station lasted about an hour.

They sued the department and their fellow officers for violating their 4th Amendment rights and false imprisonment because the department superiors kept them in an office and had them, to borrow a term from the anti-immigration folks, "self-frisk"...after they stopped and frisked two guys on the street. (Bonus chutzpah: they also sued for overtime.)

Thankfully, CA3 was unpersuaded by their case. You can read the opinion here.

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