Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Non-dramatic, but poignant, drug war casualty

with one comment

Case: SPIES v. CITY OF SCOTTSDALE, No. CV12-1020 PHX DGC (D. Arizona, April 1, 2013)

What happened:

Plaintiff alleges that after working at her catering job from 5:00 a.m. on May 16, 2010, to approximately 1:00 a.m. the next day, she was extremely fatigued and, while driving home, began to fall asleep, causing her vehicle to stray. Scottsdale Police Officer David Stanley stopped Plaintiff, who confirmed that she had been falling asleep and unknowingly weaving between traffic lanes.

Plaintiff alleges that she had been serving wine on her job but had not been drinking, that she told Officer Stanley she had not been drinking, but that he accused her of lying because he could smell alcohol. Officer Stanley also asked Plaintiff if she was carrying a firearm, and she told him she had a handgun in the glove box for which she had a concealed weapon permit. Id., Officer Stanley ordered Plaintiff to exit the vehicle and confiscated the handgun.
Plaintiff alleges that, without warning, Officer Stanley shone a bright light into her eyes in order to conduct a horizontal gaze nystagmus (“HGN”) test, and screamed at her, demanding to know how much she had been drinking. Plaintiff alleges that she felt immediate pain and the onset of a migraine due to the bright light. Officer Stanley asked her if she was taking any medications, to which she responded that she was a cancer patient and took migraine medications. Officer Stanley attempted to conduct a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test, but Plaintiff refused these tests and requested to have her blood drawn instead.

Plaintiff alleges that Officer Stanley demanded to know why she would not take the field tests. He then grabbed her upper arm with enough pressure to leave pattern bruises, twisted her arms behind her back, and applied handcuffs with such force that she lost feeling in her hands. A second patrol officer arrived and placed Plaintiff in the back seat of Officer Stanley’s car while Officer Stanley searched Plaintiff’s vehicle. When Officer Stanley returned to the car, Plaintiff complained that the handcuffs were cutting into her wrists and asked that he loosen them. Officer Stanley forced a finger between one cuff and the interior tissue of Plaintiff’s wrist, scraping several layers of skin, to show her it was not too tight. Plaintiff then asked to take the breathalyzer test in the presence of the second officer, but Officer Stanley refused and continued to yell at her.

Officer Stanley transported Plaintiff to Scottsdale Health North where a female phlebotomist drew her blood. Id., Plaintiff told the phlebotomist that she was a breast cancer patient, that her oncologist had instructed her that blood be taken only from her right arm, and she showed her scars, all in the presence of Officer Stanley. After the blood draw, Plaintiff was permitted to use the restroom, but Officer Stanley insisted she leave the door open, and he stood at the door where he could watch her through her reflection in the mirror.

Plaintiff was taken to the police station where she was searched and booked. Officer Stanley inventoried her purse and found a mixture of prescription medications, including Oxycodone and Topiramate, in an Excedrine Migraine bottle rather than in original prescription bottles. Plaintiff was given a traffic ticket and complaint charging her with possession of prescription-only drugs, two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”), and failure to drive in a single lane. The Crime Laboratory of the Scottsdale Police Department sent Officer Stanley the results of Plaintiff’s blood alcohol tests the next day showing that Plaintiff had 0% alcohol in her system.

Plaintiff was later prosecuted by the City of Scottsdale. The City dropped the DUI charges when Plaintiff’s retained-counsel obtained and furnished the results of her blood alcohol test. The City also agreed to drop the drug charges upon receipt of Plaintiff’s prescriptions showing that the drugs in the Excedrine bottle had been prescribed for her. The City made this agreement on October 4, 2010, pending the results of a toxicology report and in exchange for a guilty plea on a charge of unsafe lane change.

On February 7, 2011, the State of Arizona filed felony drug charges against Plaintiff stemming from the same incident. Id., ¶ 37. Plaintiff furnished copies of the City of Scottdale’s dismissal and her prescriptions to Deputy County Attorney Jeffrey Pitts, but Mr. Pitts refused to drop the charges, claiming Plaintiff’s prescriptions were outdated. The State made repeated offers to Plaintiff to plead guilty to a lesser felony charge which Plaintiff, acting through court-appointed counsel, refused.

The case was assigned to Maricopa County Superior Court and a new prosecutor, Deputy County Attorney Suzanne J. Reed, made Plaintiff an identical plea offer, which she again refused. Deputy County Attorney Kalon Metz prepared to take the case to trial, but the State filed a motion to dismiss the charges without prejudice and the final pretrial conference and trial date were vacated on September 13, 2011. Plaintiff alleges that she was laid off from her primary employment in September, 2010, and was prejudiced in her search for work while the State’s felony drug charges were pending against her because the charges were a matter of public record that came up during routine background checks and kept her from being hired by potential employers.

Plaintiff alleges that even after the State dismissed its charges, she was and continues to be harmed through the inability to have her name cleared because the State’s dismissal was without prejudice, giving it until May 17, 2017 to re-file the charges, and the State will neither clear her record nor re-file the charges to allow her to exonerate herself.

Decision: QI for the policemen and the government on almost all counts.

Comment: Not cool.

Written by Burgers Allday

April 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Does it ever dawn of these people that when the system effectively immunizes itself from peaceful redress of grievance that it guarantees alternative remedies. Violent, somewhat indiscriminate, very bloody, alternative remedies?

    J. Eric Andreasen

    April 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

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