Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Use of deadly excessive force is not the only problem with policing in America; too many cops also are ignorant of the laws they are supposed to enforce

Chris Blevins  


As we foresaw in a post last Friday, the horrific beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has brought police brutality crashing back to a front-row position in our collective conscience, generating wall-to-wall coverage in all forms of media. As I write this, eight articles about the Nichols beating top the lead story on the front page at CNN; a search on "Tyre Nichols" at the Web site of Associated Press (AP), produces eight stories.

Many of the stories, understandably, focus on the mind-numbingly brutal nature of the cops' actions.  But the use of vicious and cruel tactics against citizens -- who, by law, are innocent until proven guilty -- is not the only form of police misconduct that has surfaced since the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. To be sure, the use of excessive force has become an alarming, and seemingly entrenched, trend among officers who are sworn to "serve and protect the public." Much of the reporting has focused on law-enforcement officers' (LEOs) use of excessive force, which Americans have come to learn can be a violation of criminal and civil-rights laws. That was the case in Minnesota with the 2020 death of George Floyd -- perhaps the most widely covered fatality at the hands of police in American history -- and that courtroom issue likely will repeat itself in the Nichols case.

Tyre Nichols
The tendency for some cops to act like common street thugs, rather than professional officers of the law -- often while repeatedly using the "f-word" in all its forms -- is not the only trait caught on video when cameras are present during episodes of police misconduct. In some cases, officers do not even know the law they are supposed to enforce. You might think that would be a minimum requirement for the job -- but you would be wrong.

Consider Alabama, a state not known for forward thinking. Even in "The Heart of Dixie," sheriff's deputies have access to information about the law via the Alabama Sheriff's Handbook -- and if anyone is expected to follow the directives in that trusty guide, it should be deputy sheriffs. After all, the main purpose of the document apparently is to describe a deputy's duties on the job. Firsthand experience, however, has taught us that Alabama deputies tend to have no clue what the handbook says -- or they simply ignore the law and generally suffer no consequences for it. One can only imagine what it must be like in state's that might not offer such a handbook.

Here is a description of Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins' actions when he broke into our home and "arrested me for blogging" on October 23, 2013. This is from an April 2015 post titled "Actions of Alabama deputy, including use of pepper spray, constitute unlawful arrest and excessive force":

It has been just more than a year since my five-month incarceration for blogging ended in Shelby County, Alabama. We already have shown that the arrest was unlawful on at least three grounds, but the list of abnormalities in the case seems to keep growing.

That's because the actions of Deputy Chris Blevins in "effectuating" my arrest so clearly fall outside the boundaries of the law. Blevins' unlawful actions fall into at least four categories: (1) His failure to state his purpose for being at our home; (2) His failure to state his mission before entering our home; (3) His use of excessive force, as defined by law; (4) His use of pepper spray in a situation where the law does not support it.

Here is another description of Blevins actions' that night, from a post dated April 29, 2015:

Chris Blevins, of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, entered the garage underneath our house on October 23, 2013, and knocked me to a concrete floor three times and directed pepper spray into my face--all without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or stating his purpose for being on our property. This all resulted from my alleged civil contempt, having nothing to with a crime.

Do either of these descriptions fall in line with law outlined in the Alabama Sheriff's Handbook? Not even close. Consider this language from page 89 of the handbook. (Note: the handbook is available online in a PDF format, but recent browser issues prevent me from providing a link.)

An officer may make a warrantless arrest when the officer has actual knowledge that an arrest warrant has been issued for the defendant's commission of a felony or misdemeanor. The officer does not need to have the warrant in his or her possession to arrest the individual; the officer must, however, inform the person arrested of the offense charged and of the fact that a warrant has been issued for the person’s arrest. Ala. Code § 15-10-3(a)(6).

Did Blevins follow Alabama law, as spelled out in his own handbook? The answer is no. What made Blevins think he could enter our home that evening? If he took the handbook seriously, he would have known he could not. From page 90:

A law officer cannot enter a person's dwelling to make a routine felony arrest. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1959). Although Alabama law provides that an officer making a warrantless arrest may forcibly enter a dwelling if the officer is refused admittance, Ala. Code § 15- 10-4, the United States Supreme Court has held that such an act violates the defendant's constitutional rights, unless the officer can show a compelling necessity for immediate action. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1959).

Did Chris Blevins violate our constitutional rights by entering our home where there were zero allegations of a crime, much less a felony? There is no question he did.

It turns out that Blevins hardly is alone in being ignorant about the Alabama Sheriff's Handbook. We know of one former sheriff himself, along with an infamous Shelby County attorney, who have proven they also are dense on a subject they should know a little about. As we have shown numerous times on this blog, it's not unusual for Alabamians to learn in court -- or after they have been to court -- that even judges do not know the law. In fact, our first post at Legal Schnauzer, on June 3, 2007, focused on that very issue. The title of that post? "Is 'Your Honor' Really Honorable?"

By the way, Chris Blevins will not be violating any more laws or roughing up more citizens who are not even accused of a crime. He died on July 25, 2022, at age 48. The circumstances surrounding his death have not been made public.


Anonymous said...

I’m sorry this happened to you. The pendulum always swings the other way as being demonstrated by the whole Alabama power saga. But those waiting for it to fully swing are left with ptsd and awful memories of the injustice they experienced

legalschnauzer said...

Thank you for a thoughtful comment, @2:23. My wife, Carol, and I have been diagnosed with complex PTSD. That's part of the fallout from our encounters with a dysfunctional "justice system" -- judges, lawyers, cops and so on. I'm sure not everyone in the system is crooked, and we have come to know some very fine people who are lawyers, but enough deceitful people are embedded in the system that it turns out way too many cases of injustice, not justice.