Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Alabama man files federal lawsuit after officers and police dog attack him on his own porch, in a case reminiscent of my violent "arrest for blogging" in 2013

Cops and a police dog attack Marvin Long

An Alabama man has filed a federal lawsuit over a 2021 incident where cops tackled him on the porch of his home, sicced a police dog on him (inflicting a number of injuries), and then arrested him -- all without apparent probable cause to even be on his property, much less initiating violence against him. (See video at this link.) From an article at al.com (dated 6/26/23) by reporter Paul Gattis:

A north Alabama man filed a federal lawsuit this week against 10 police officers, as well as the city of Sheffield, after a police dog attacked him on his front porch two years ago.

The federal complaint asserts that police had no reason to be on Marvin Long’s property nor to suspect him of a crime. The dog bit Long’s leg after police took him to the ground, according to the lawsuit. Body camera footage released by his attorneys shows Long on the ground as an officer shouts, “Bite him! Bite him!”

This is reminiscent of my "arrest for blogging," which made national and international news in 2013-14. Heck, it even was the subject of coverage and commentary in Russia. Much of the news coverage, including a letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, focused on the unlawfulness of jailing a journalist for engaging in constitutionally protected speech. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that Shelby County Judge Claud Neilson engaged in a "censorship violation" by ordering my arrest.The CPJ's Sara Rafsky conducted an interview with plaintiff Rob Riley, catching him in at least one whopper of a falsehood, plus statements of apparent obfuscation. Rafsky created one of the most insightful articles about the case, and I highly recommend it as must reading for anyone who wants to understand the issues involved. Also, a University of Virginia center that promotes free-speech rights gave Neilson a "Jefferson Muzzles Award" for engaging in one of the year's "more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression." A CPJ survey in 2019 found Neilson's actions put Alabama in a class with Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Russia, Egypt, and other rogue states.

Receiving less attention were the numerous unlawful acts of the officers who engaged in my arrest, including the cop, Chris Blevins, who actually entered our home after being told to stay out and beat me up in my own garage. Blevins did this without stating he had a warrant, showing me a warrant, stating his purpose for being on the premises, and engaging in multiple acts of excessive force -- including dousing me with pepper spray -- all of which were unlawful.

Most reporting on police misconduct focuses on improper (and often deadly) use of firearms, beatings (often of individuals who have not been found guilty of any crime), and other forms of excessive force. My experience and the Marvin Long incident go to a different issue: Many law-enforcement officers are ignorant of the laws they are sworn to uphold. That certainly was the case with Chris Blevins, and it appears to be the case with officers who led the attack on Marvin Long -- even though they have access to the Alabama Sheriffs' Handbook, which apparently is designed to explain the law and describe a deputy sheriff's duties on the job.

As for Chris Blevins, he will not be beating up any more innocent citizens because he died on July 25, 2022.  The cause of Blevins' death has not been reported in the press, but I have received reports from a number of sources that Blevins had troubles on several fronts, both personally and professionally, in the weeks and months leading to his demise. That raises this question: Did state or county authorities intentionally sic Blevins on me, knowing he was a troubled and dangerous individual who likely would do most anything that might help save his job? We intend to address that question, and other issues related to Chris Blevins in upcoming posts.

For now let's return to the story of Marvin Long because there are many similarities between what happened to him and what happened to me. This is from the al.com story about Marvin Long's lawsuit:

The lawsuit said the encounter with police began when Long, who is Black, stepped outside his home in Sheffield – a small northwest Alabama town that is part of the Shoals region – because of a large police presence on his street on June 21, 2021.

Police arrested Long on charges of resisting arrest and obstruction. A judge in Sheffield City Court found him not guilty of the obstruction charge, court records show. He faces trial on the misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

After he was released from jail, Long went to the hospital for treatment of the dog bite wound on his left leg, a knot on his head and back pain, according to the lawsuit. The suit says Long suffered the head and back injuries when police took him to the ground.

“It’s sickening,” Long attorney Harry Daniels said in a press release Monday announcing the lawsuit. “We expect to see this kind of brutality on old news reels or hear stories about it from our parents or grandparents. But here it is, in 2023. Apparently not much has changed in Alabama in 60 years.”

According to the lawsuit, Long walked into the street “out of concern” after noticing the police presence in his neighborhood. Long walked near a law-enforcement vehicle but never touched it, the lawsuit said. An officer told Long to get away from the car or he would be charged with obstruction. Long walked away from the vehicle before questioning the deputy’s order, according to the lawsuit and body-camera footage his lawyers obtained and released to the press earlier this month.

Officers then unleashed foul and disrespectful language at Long:

Another deputy, then cursed at Long, telling him to “kick rocks motherf-----” and referred to him by another profane term, according to the lawsuit.

Long continued walking away, the lawsuit said, and eventually reached his front porch. After arresting two of Long’s neighbors in connection with a drug raid, the deputies and police officers approached Long as he stood on the porch. Long repeatedly told law-enforcement officers to leave his property, the lawsuit said, and they refused. Long then turned to go inside his house, the lawsuit said, and “without legal cause or just provocation,” the law-enforcement officers “brutally grabbed” Long to prevent him from entering the house.

“As a result, (Long) instantly collapsed to the ground in pain while being violently slammed and aggressively wrestled  to the ground as he was grabbing onto the porch railing and screaming for “Help! Help!”

Law-enforcement officials then began to frisk Long “without probable cause or Long’s consent,” the lawsuit said.

“Further, without legal justification while (Long) was lying on the ground helpless and in severe pain, an officer released a police K-9 that viciously attacked and mauled (Long),” the lawsuit said. “The officer Nick Risner yelled over and over to the police K-9, ‘bite him! bite him! get him! good!’

Long's attorneys were appalled by what they saw on the video:

Atlanta-based attorney Harry Daniels and Birmingham lawyer Roderick Van Daniel filed the lawsuit on Long’s behalf. “These officers weren’t satisfied with violating Mr. Long’s civil rights and siccing their police dog on him while he was unarmed, defenseless and crying for help. They made up circumstances so they could charge him with a crime,” Van Daniel said in the press release. “If we let criminal cops assault an innocent man and then charge him for the crime, none of us are safe.”

The issue of probable cause, or lack thereof, was addressed in an earlier al.com article (dated 5/6/23):

“This gang of officers didn’t have the right to even walk onto Mr. Long’s property, much less attack him with a police dog,” attorney Harry Daniels said in a press release. “The video is clear. These men aren’t protecting the public or enforcing the law. They’re attacking an unarmed Black man for no reason and they’re enjoying it.”

Long is scheduled to go on trial this summer for resisting arrest. A judge in Sheffield City Court found him not guilty on an obstruction charge, court records show.

The attorneys, Daniels and Roderick Van Daniel, say the body-cam footage backs up Long’s claims that the Sheffield officers assaulted him and arrested him without probable cause. Van Daniel argued that the resisting arrest charge is invalid because Long had not committed any crime.

“How can you charge a man with resisting arrest when there wasn’t a lawful arrest in the first place?” said Van Daniel. “For two years, they’ve done everything they can to keep this video from coming out. Now it’s out and the people can see the truth with their own eyes.”

We are left with a number of questions: (1) How and why did cops in north Alabama attack and abuse Marvin Long, when video shows he committed no crime; (2) How and why did deputies in Shelby County attack and abuse me, when there wasn't even an allegation that I had committed a crime; it was a totally civil matter where a compromised or incompetent judge found I had violated a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction, which have long been found to be unlawful prior restraints that violate the First Amendment. (See Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 (1931); (3) What was going on with Chris Blevins at the time of my arrest, and did county and state officials designate him to arrest me because they knew he was troubled and dangerous and could cause serious harm to another human being?

We will examine those questions and more in upcoming posts. We invite you to stay tuned.

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