Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Jones County jailers strip arrestee and then chill him

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Case:  WAMBLE v. COUNTY OF JONE [sic, JONES] (S.D.Miss. 6-8-2012)

What happened:  

On June 19, 2008, at approximately 7:50 p.m., Wamble was pulled over by Defendant Merrill, who was an MHSP officer, for speeding on Interstate Highway 59 in Jones County. Merrill ordered Wamble to step out of his vehicle, which Wamble did. Wamble alleges that Merrill then “commanded him without any reasonable basis to lean against the car and spread his legs[.]” He further alleges that “[w]ithout reasonable suspicion or cause, Officer Merrill aggressively cuffed [him] and proceeded to conduct an unlawful search of his vehicle[.]” Merrill put Wamble in his squad car and transported him to the Jones County adult [ed: sic, Adult] Detention Center. Wamble alleges that Merrill informed him that he was being arrested merely for speeding and having an expired license. However, the Booking Sheet shows he was charged with speeding,disorderly conduct, driving with an expired driver licenses and simple assault on a police officer.

During the booking process, Wamble was walked to the medical room where he was to undergo a search. Wamble allegedly refused to comply with requests of the deputies or to assist with the search. Wamble asserts that “[u]pon his refusal to consent to the invasive body cavity search, five officers, including Officer Merrill, assembled around [him] and informed him that the search would occur and that such searches were conducted on everyone who came to the jail regardless of the charges or cause for arrest.” At that point, all of his clothes were removed by the deputies, and at some point, Wamble stood up, then fell back to the floor, catching himself right before impact.

Subsequently, Wamble “was [allegedly] commanded to get up, but upon being unable to do so because of his pain, the officers rolled him onto a sheet and dragged him dressed solely in his underwear to a chill room.” It appears that Wamble does not allege that Merrill was involved in moving him to the chill room. Once in the “chill room,” Wamble was allegedly “provided with neither clothing … or with blankets or bedding[.]”

Wamble asserts that he then requested an ambulance, but that he was “subjected to the conditions of the chill room for four hours before any ambulance personnel were summoned.” Paramedics came to the jail and transported Wamble to the local hospital. After an hour or two stay, he was released. Once back at the jail Wamble walked on his own to the booking area. Shortly thereafter, at approximately 4:45 a.m., he bonded out.

Wamble contends that on June 24, 2008, he met with Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge, “to discuss the defendants’ policy, custom and practice of strip searches[.]” According to Wamble, Sheriff Hodge “admitted that the policy, custom and practice of strip searches was applied to all pre-arraignment detainees, regardless of the nature of the charges and without regard to consideration of whether there is a reasonable suspicion that the detainee may have weapons or contraband.” Wamble claims that Sheriff Hodge is “personally responsible for the promulgation and continuation of the strip search policy, practice and custom[.]”

Wamble alleges that the “defendants” have a “policy, practice and custom of subjecting pre-arraignment detainees … to strip and visual body cavity searches without having … a reasonable suspicion that the search will be productive of contraband or weapons.” He also avers that “defendants have a policy, practice and custom of utilizing confinement in chill rooms as punishment for non-violent, non-suicidal, and non-destructive detainees who are dubbed ‘non-compliant.'”
. . .
Wamble also claims that Jones County has a policy or practice of putting inmates into a “chill room”, [ed.: which claim] is not supported by the record. There is no such written policy and Hodge has steadfastly denied any [ed.:  such] practice. When asked about this in his deposition, Hodge testified that the entire jail stays pretty cold. He explained that “just like the hospital or the emergency room or any — you know, most of them stay cold for purposes of air-borne pathogens. You know, the temperature is generally going to stay pretty cool.” He went on to explain that contrary to the assertion that one room is kept cooler than others, the entire jail is set a uniform temperature. There is not one room that is warmer or colder than the other ones. The temperature of the entire facility — kitchen, cells, booking — is uniformly set.

Decision:  Qualified immunity for the police and jailers.  Apparently the alleged conduct might just be okay under 4A at least in the Southern District of Mississippi.

Burgers comments:   This decision makes it seem like Bell v. Wolfish (1979, IIRC) has been entirely overruled by subsequent cases.  Also, it is not clear why plaintiff’s allegations did not establish an issue of fact as to whether all the rooms at the jail were set at the same temperature.  Also, the disorderly conduct charge seems really suspect — I thought there had to be onlookers (other than the policeman) for that.  It would have been nice if the  MHSP car had a dashcam so that we could know if there really was a scuffle at the site of the arrest. Finally, even if the entire jail was chilly, it still doesn’t explain why Wamble was not given a blanket or three.

Written by Burgers Allday

June 12, 2012 at 6:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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