and evidence we've seen so far suggests that was the case--they acted contrary to a landmark U.S. Supreme case on the subject of searches and seizures in private dwellings.
In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; and other locales following the police-related deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner--plus the body-slamming assault on Indian grandfather Sureshbhai Patel in Madison, Alabama; the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina; and the unexplained death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore--citizens are questioning the actions of law-enforcement officials in public settings.
My experience shows that citizens also should take a critical look at officers when they are in a private setting--inside someone's home, perhaps yours.
We have addressed this issue several times in recent weeks. (See here and here.) But it is so important--especially in an age where law-enforcement officers seem to routinely violate the rights of citizens--that we would like to drive home a few more points.
Many Americans probably are familiar with language in the Fourth Amendment--that we are to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures." The nation's high court, in Payton v. New York 445 U.S. 573 (1980), found that warrantless entry into a private home automatically runs afoul of that notion. From the Payton opinion:
It is a "basic principle of Fourth Amendment law" that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable. . . . It is one thing to seize without a warrant property resting in an open area or seizable by levy without an intrusion into privacy, and it is quite another thing to effect a warrantless seizure of property, even that owned by a corporation, situated on private premises to which access is not otherwise available for the seizing officer.
The court then turned its attention to situations where people, not things, are being seized:
As the late Judge Leventhal recognized, this distinction has equal force when the seizure of a person is involved. Writing on the constitutional issue now before us for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sitting en banc, Dorman v. United States, 140 U.S.App.D.C. 313, 435 F.2d 385 (1970), Judge Leventhal first noted the settled rule that warrantless arrests in public places are valid. He immediately recognized, however, that "a greater burden is placed . . . on officials who enter a home or dwelling without consent. Freedom from intrusion into the home or dwelling is the archetype of the privacy protection secured by the Fourth Amendment."
I was snatched from home, had pepper spray directed into my face, and hauled off for a five-month stay in jail (contrary to 200 years worth of First Amendment law) by an officer who never showed a warrant and never told me he had a warrant. To make matters even more dicey for law enforcement, prosecutor Tonya Willingham was ordered in court to turn over any warrants related to my case, and she said she didn't have any.
Tragically, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sureshbhai Patel, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and others were not safe from police officers while in public places. I was "fortunate" to only be roughed up and not killed. But I was not safe from a police officer while I was inside my own home--and substantial evidence suggests Officer Chris Blevins had no lawful grounds to be there.
|Alabama deputy Chris Blevins|
We can't blame Officer Blevins for the actions of an incompetent or corrupt judge on the bench. But we can wonder why neither Officer Blevins nor Ms. Willingham could produce a warrant--when they had multiple opportunities to do so.
Blevins should know the findings in a landmark constitutional case such as Payton. And he certainly should know that Alabama statutory and case law prohibit an officer from entering a dwelling without stating his purpose for being there. (See Livingston v. Browder, 285 So. 2d 923, Ala. Civ. App., 1973). Video of my arrest, played in open court, shows that is exactly what Blevins did.
Blevins had every reason to know the constitutional protections of individuals inside their homes--and yet he plainly violated them.
Americans are right to be outraged by what happened in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; Madison, Alabama; North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; and so on. But they would be wrong to think that unlawful police force cannot be used against them. I know, for a fact, that it can be used against you--even when you are inside your own home.
We invite you take a look at the photo of Chris Blevins above. That's the face of police thuggery in Alabama.