Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Court rules traffic stop no justification for forced entry

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Another court battle required to determine what should already have been rather obvious: A minor traffic stop does not give police license to break into your home (and much less brutalize its residents). From TheNewspaper.Com:

A police officer has no right to pursue a minor traffic stop into a home, according to a ruling handed down Wednesday by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. A three-judge panel considered what happened after police in Sulphur, Oklahoma saw a suspect allegedly driving with faulty taillights on July 23, 2007.

Murray County Deputy Sheriff Craig A. Billings signaled seventeen-year-old Joshua Burchett, who was driving the car, to pull over. Burchett continued on for two blocks, parked in the driveway of his parents' three-bedroom home, ran inside and hid in the bathroom. Billings called for backup and Sulphur Police Officers Steve Watkins and Tony Simpson arrived at the scene.

Billings began kicking the door, which woke the parents, Jose and Christina Mascorro. Jose Mascorro opened the door and Billings pointed a gun at his head, yelling, "On your knees [expletive]. Where is he? Where is he?" When Christina Mascorro asked whether Billings had a warrant, she was blasted in the mouth with pepper spray. Billings then sprayed the other residents, including Mascorro's 14-year-old son. Christina Mascorro retreated to a back bedroom and called 911. Officer Watkins pulled her outside while Deputy Billings kicked in the door to the bathroom, gun drawn, to retrieve Burchett.

Jose and Christina Mascorro, after being treated at the hospital, were arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duty. The district court judge described the state of their home as "ransacked" after the officers left.

The Mascorros sued. The court ruled that the cops’ claim to qualified immunity didn’t apply here, given that their excuse of being in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect did not justify their actions of forcing entry (and, presumably, the whole “pepper-spraying a non-aggressive mother and 14-year-old boy” thing), especially given the nature of the offense, a small traffic misdemeanor by a minor.

It’s rare to see courts actually standing up for citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights these days, which is what makes cases like this all the more refreshing. If only we didn’t need lawsuits to make it clear that a misdemeanor is no justification for breaking & entering with added assault.

(via The Agitator)