Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Philadelphia Officer Rochelle Bilal fails to id herself and makes illegal left

with 3 comments

Case: HAGAN v. BILAL (E.D.Pa. 7-20-2012)

What happened:

Mrs. Hagan saw a traffic sign prohibiting left turns as she prepared to turn left on Girard Avenue. A woman, later identified as the defendant police officer Rochelle Bilal (“Officer Bilal”), pulled alongside the right side of Mrs. Hagan’s car. Officer Bilal yelled at or told Mrs. Hagan not to make a left turn. Mrs. Hagan shook her head to acknowledge that she could not turn, but because of Officer Bilal’s car, Mrs. Hagan could not continue straight on Broad Street. Officer Bilal was dressed in civilian clothes and was not driving a police car. Officer Bilal yelled at Mrs. Hagan to roll her window down “because she was a police officer.” Mrs. Hagan rolled her window down and asked for Officer Bilal’s identification. Officer Bilal responded that she was off duty, that she did not have to show Mrs. Hagan identification, and that she would give Mrs. Hagan a ticket if she completed the turn. Mrs. Hagan told Officer Bilal to give her a ticket, turned her hazard lights on and completed the left turn onto Girard Avenue to get out of traffic.

Officer Bilal also turned left and followed Mrs. Hagan to her destination, St. Joe’s Prep’s parking lot. Mrs. Hagan pulled into a parking space, and Officer Bilal placed her car behind Mrs. Hagan’s and blocked her so she could not pull out. Officer Bilal then exited her vehicle and approached Mrs. Hagan’s driver’s side window. Officer Bilal told Mrs. Hagan that she was not permitted to make the turn and that she was a police officer. At some point, Mrs. Hagan again asked Officer Bilal for identification, which Officer Bilal said she did not have to give. As Officer Bilal approached the car, Mrs. Hagan was talking to her husband on her cell phone. Mrs. Hagan told Officer Bilal that her husband is a State Trooper, and he spoke to Officer Bilal. Mrs. Hagan’s husband told her to call 9-1-1 because they did not know who the woman — that is, Officer Bilal — was. Mrs. Hagan then exited the car with her daughter, went inside the school and called 9-1-1. Mrs. Hagan waited inside the school with her daughter for the police to arrive. Officer Bilal remained parked behind Mrs. Hagan’s car and blocked her from leaving until police arrived.

When the police sirens were audible, Officer Bilal drove her car from behind Mrs. Hagan’s car, removing it from the parking lot and driving onto the street. Two police officers on bicycles arrived, and Mrs. Hagan went outside and told them that she had called 9-1-1. Two police cars arrived and then Sergeant John McDonald arrived. The officers issued a verbal warning to Mrs. Hagan.

On October 9, 2009, Mrs. Hagan filed a Citizen’s Complaint against Officer Bilal. The Internal Affairs Division (“IAD”) investigated the incident, and Chief Inspector Jerrold Bates of the IAD determined that Officer Bilal acted in an unprofessional manner by following and stopping Mrs. Hagan. When the matter was heard before the Police Board of Inquiry (“PBI”) to determine the resulting action, the PBI members unanimously found and recommended Officer Bilal not guilty of the charge. The PBI recommendation was reviewed by two Deputy Police Commissioners, who also recommended a finding of not guilty. The highest ranking PBI member notified Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey of the PBI recommended finding; Commissioner Ramsey reviewed the case and found generally that Officer Bilal was not guilty as to the charge of “Neglect of Duty, Failure to Comply with a Commissioner’s Orders, Directives, Regulations, etc., or any oral or written orders of superiors.”

Decision:  Officer Bilal did not violate the Fourth Amendment because she did not detain the regcit, who was free to leave at all times.

Comment:  As  a Constitutional matter this seems like a close case, and the opinion seems to acknowledge as much.  However, the Philadelphia Police Department, Officer Bilal’s employer, failed to discipline Officer Bilal, and this part is disappointing.  Police officers should not be encouraged to fail to id themselves upon regcit request, especially when off duty and out of uniform.  Such a practice is dangerous and frightening.

Comment: I believe Officer Bilal also should have been ticketed for her illegal left turn. The regcit’s left turn was excusable as she was being accosted by an unknown party. Nothing excuses Officer Bilal’s illegal left, and the Philadelphia P.D. should have realized that.

Written by Burgers Allday

July 24, 2012 at 4:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. There is a Police Directive on “Off Duty” actions and they are NOT to take action when observing “minor incidents” ie; summary traffic violations. The correct action would have been for her to identify herself as Police then for her to call 911 and meet the “On Duty Officer”. She would then ask the “On Duty Officer” to file a TVR report with Bilal being a witness to the infraction. All Bilal needed was the PA registration Plate and a description of the driver. Done.


    August 24, 2012 at 8:19 am

  2. […] District court opinion discussed here. […]

  3. Ofc. Bilal, does not know the rules of her present job. How can she be qualified take on another position, in a different county? GREED!
    She could loose her pension……..

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