Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

SUSSMAN v. DALTON ALICE SUSSMAN, Case No. 11-13247 (E.D. Michigan, November 20, 2012)

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I found this case interesting from both a factual perspective and from a legal perspective.

First, the factual perspective. A woman left her wallet at the laundromat, which laundromat had multiple security cameras. Someone took the money from the wallet, but left the wallet back where it had been accidentally left behind. The laundromat owner watched a portion of the security video recordings and decided that he knew who had taken the wallet. A policeman named Keith Dalton reviewed the small portion of the videos, decided that the portion he watched gave “probable cause” against the plaintiff, and proceeded to interview plaintiff (who denied that she had touched anyone’s wallet but her own) and to seek an arrest warrant. Eventually, plaintiff was arrested and booked. When the prosecutor got around to watching the full video set, it became clear that another person took the money from the wallet, and plaintiff was only shown, in the recordings, looking in her own wallet. Charges were dropped at that point. Plaintiff sued civilly for false arrest type claims.

Now, the legal perspectives — two interesting points:

The case is interesting legally because it places a great deal of importance on the distinction between civil “negligence” and civil “recklessness.” Because of the way 4aqi law is written, police officers, like Officer Keith Dalton, are on the hook for recklessness that leads to false arrest, but not negligence that leads to false arrest. Was it “reckless” of Officer Dalton to neglect to watch the full set of videos, or was it merely “negligent.” The court decided that a jury would have to decide that — not surprisingly, because it is a tough decision to make on the facts of this case. Of course, it might be better if qi law were changed to make police officers liable for their negligent acts (just like private citizens are).

Another interesting legal aspect of this case is how much, we as a society, want to allow policemen to ignore “exculpatory evidence.” Can a policeman, like Officer Dalton, watch only the part of the video that make plaintiff look guilty and then stop there before he sees something that might undermine his prospective arrest? Civil law can help tell policemen that they need to search for the truth, and not merely the most convenient “probable cause.” Officer Dalton messed up on this basic tenet. My guess is that his case will settle before trial on undisclosed terms. Personally, I would rather see the guy on the stand, telling the public why he arrested the wrong person. It would probably be good for his development as policeman.

Written by Burgers Allday

November 27, 2012 at 6:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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