DC disorderly conduct arrests were no good
Case: WESBY v. COLUMBIA (D.D.C. 1-18-2012)
What happened: There was a party at a vacant house. The party-goers thought they had legitimate permission to be there. The police inquired and found out the owner did not want the party there, but that he also had not made this message clear to the party-goers in any way prior to the arrival of the police on the scene. The reason the party-goers thought they had a right to be there was that a tenant of the house (who was not present at the party) told police, by telephone, that she gave the party-goers her permission. Instead of merely breaking up the party, the policemen at the scene just arrested everyone for unlawful entry. At the station, a watch commander figured out that the unlawful entry arrests were not appropriate. However, the watch commander, upon advice of the District Attorney, decided to change all the arrests to disorderly conduct, in an apparent attempt to head off later false arrest claims. This strategy did not work and 16 party-goers sued the police for false arrest.
Decision: There was no probable cause for unlawful entry and no probable cause for DOC. No qi for the police here.
Comment: I always thought it was pretty much impossible to negate probable cause on a DOC. This case happily indicates otherwise. It appears that tension between the watch commander and the officers at the scene worked in the plaintiffs’ favor here.