Civil Rights Violations in Ferguson and Austin
A Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was arrested August 13, 2014 for “trespassing” in a McDonald’s.
This isn’t just any McDonald’s. No, this particular McDonald’s is where reporters who cover the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of a young African American man commonly gather.
Mr. Lowery’s offense was allegedly trespassing, but the reason he was arrested was that he was reporting on, among other things, police conduct. Shortly after he was arrested, he was slammed into a soda machine, then taken to jail.
Which of Mr. Lowery’s constitutional rights were violated? His 1st and 4th Amendment rights, for starters.
His 1st Amendment rights, because he had a right to peaceably assemble in the McDonald’s.
His 4th Amendment rights, because he was arrested without probable cause.
The Fourth Amendment provides that
“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The issue isn’t that Mr. Lowery was arrested without a warrant, because circumstances sometimes arise in which an officer can’t get a warrant timely. The issue is that the officers must have probable cause whether they are arresting with or without a warrant.
The officers have no excuse for arresting without probable cause.
Standing in a McDonald’s doing your job isn’t trespassing. There’s no indication that the proprietor wanted Mr. Lowery gone. There’s every indication the Ferguson police wanted him and his colleagues to stop doing their jobs.
You might think this sort of thing couldn’t happen in sweet, keepin’ it weird, Austin, Texas.
If you think that, you’re mistaken.
Because it already has.
Antonio Buehler has taken to recording with a cell phone, at a respectful distance, what the Austin Police Department officers do. And some APD officers don’t like it. So they order him away and arrest him.
Mr. Buehler got tired of it and filed a lawsuit for civil rights violations. The City of Austin said he failed to state a claim. The U.S. Magistrate deciding the matter decided that, well, with a couple of exceptions, Mr. Buehler did in fact state a claim.
Here’s the opinion.
The fight isn’t over, of course. Now that Mr. Buehler and his attorneys have stated a claim, they have to prove it. But the City of Austin won’t dodge this fight as easily as they’d like.
Click here to download the PDF document filed 07/24/14; ANTONIO FRANCIS BUEHLER V. CITY OF AUSTIN/AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT; AUSTIN POLICE CHIEF ART ACEVEDO; AUSTIN POLICE OFFICER PATRICK OBORSKI; AUSTIN POLICE OFFICER ROBERT SNIDER; AUSTIN POLICE OFFICER JUSTIN BERRY; SERGEANT ADAM JOHNSON; AND JOHN DOES A–Z WHO ARE UNKNOWN TO THE PLAINTIFF AT THIS TIME BUT ARE IN THE CHAIN OF COMMAND FOR THE AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT