WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

U.S. Supreme Court Case on Cell Phone GPS Data

Today the SCOTUS released a decision pertaining to cell phone GPS data obtained without a warrant.  I wish this case existed back when I was litigating the constitutionality of warrantless GPS trackers on police vehicles, which ultimately was decided against us.

Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection. Whether the Government employs its own surveillance technology as inJones or leverages the technology of a wireless carrier, we hold that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. The location information ob- tained from Carpenter’s wireless carriers was the product of a search.

The opinion describes the nature of what makes such a “search” a violation, and unreasonable:

As with GPS information, the time- stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his “familial, political, professional, reli- gious, and sexual associations.” Id., at 415 (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.). These location records “hold for many Americans the ‘privacies of life.’ ” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 28) (quoting Boyd, 116 U. S., at 630). And like GPS monitoring, cell phone tracking is remarkably easy, cheap, and efficient compared to traditional investigative tools. With just the click of a button, the Government can access each carrier’s deep repository of historical location information at practically no expense.

This essentially mirrors the arguments we made in the Asbury vs. Ritchie County case.

In fact, historical cell-site records present even greater privacy concerns than the GPS monitoring of a vehicle we considered in Jones. Unlike the bugged container inKnotts or the car in Jones, a cell phone—almost a “feature of human anatomy,” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9)—tracks nearly exactly the movements of its owner. While individuals regularly leave their vehicles, they compulsively carry cell phones with them all the time. A cell phone faithfully follows its owner beyond public thor- oughfares and into private residences, doctor’s offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales. See id., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (noting that “nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admit- ting that they even use their phones in the shower”); contrast Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583, 590 (1974) (plurality opinion) (“A car has little capacity for escaping public scrutiny.”). Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.

Justice Alito dissents and argues that such information should be available without a warrant. I am at a loss to understand how a justice alleged to be a strict constitutionalist sides with the government in a dispute about whether a warrant should be obtained?  Shouldn’t someone who respects the original intent of the constitution always side with a warrant over a warrantless search?  After all, warrants are a piece of cake for law enforcement to obtain.  But at the very least, they have to create a paper trail.

 

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Searches and Seizures, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

State trooper we sued in the news yet again

Apparently former State Trooper, Ralph Justus, made the news yet again for being the subject of a sexual assault lawsuit.  Here is my last post about him.

WV state trooper accused of sexual assault in lawsuit

A State Police spokesman said last week that Justus no longer is employed by the State Police. An agency spokesman said Monday that his termination was the product of a completed internal investigation, and that a criminal investigation is underway.

Keep in mind that when we first took this guy on, he had been named State Trooper of the Year by the American Legion.  Sometimes it just takes one victim to take the first step, and other victims come out of the woodwork.  The system did not flush this guy out by themselves.  It took outside lawyers, such as myself, to investigate him and file civil lawsuits.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lawsuit filed against Senator Ojeda

You might have read about this case in the news, as did I, this past week:

Logan Man Fired After Posting Video of Ojeda

Fortunately I was subsequently hired by David Woolsey, the man who lost his job, to get involved.  I worked quickly to draft and file a federal lawsuit on behalf of David Woolsey and against West Virginia Senate member, and congressional candidate, Richard Ojeda.

Here is the video that started it all.

 

 

Here is the response video posted by Sen. Ojeda later that night, and then subsequently deleted:

 

 

The Complaint alleges retaliation by a public official against a private citizen’s First Amendment political expression.

Here is a copy of the Complaint which was filed yesterday:

David Woolsey v. Richard Ojeda, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Civil Action No. 2:18-cv-00745

Media Reports:

My radio interview with The Tom Roten Morning Show

Charleston Gazette-Mail

WV Record.

WOWK TV

Herald-Dispatch

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Elections, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Civil Rights Seminar in Charleston, WV May 8-9.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 8-9, I’ll be co-presenting a civil rights seminar in Charleston, West Virginia on behalf of the National Business Institute.

The seminar is called, The Ultimate Guide to Police Liability Claims.  It is ideally geared towards lawyers, but would be beneficial to anyone related to the business of policing.  The seminar will come with a manual containing probably thousands of hours worth of experience and research into federal civil rights issues, and other information related to the civil liability side of policing.  Attorneys for both sides of the spectrum will be presenting.

Topics include federal constitutional law related to search and seizure, excessive force, and other common issues, as well as information related to police disciplinary issues.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Excessive Force Lawsuit Filed Against Logan County Deputy

The Charleston Gazette-Mail today reported on a lawsuit we filed late last week against a Logan County police officer for the use of excessive force against Mark Messer.

Here is the article:

Lawsuit: Logan deputy’s excessive force led to 17-day coma, long-term injuries

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Mark Messer was never convicted of any crime.  However, during his arrest, his life was changed forever due to having his skull crushed on the asphalt by a Logan County, West Virginia deputy.

When Johnson began to walk Messer to his police vehicle, Messer turned his head and asked Johnson, “Who do you work for, the State Police, or the county?” according to the lawsuit.

The deputy “aggressively” replied, according to Messer’s lawsuit, then tripped Messer and pushed him to the ground. “Witnesses observed Johnson purposefully slamming plaintiff into the ground, in an apparent action in response to plaintiff’s question,” the lawsuit states.

 

With his hands cuffed behind him, Messer fell face-first onto the ground, as witnesses heard his head and face “loudly crack” on the ground and saw him “immediately start bleeding profusely,” according to the lawsuit.

 

Here is a previous post on the plight of Mark Messer, from back when he was still in a coma:

In the news: our client is on life support after use of force during an arrest

Katrina Seabolt says she witnessed a Logan County Sheriff’s deputy throw her brother to the ground about three weeks ago….

Mark Messer, 54, has been on life support in a Charleston hospital ever since an incident on Mud River Road in Logan on Aug. 18.

“It’s under investigation right now,” Logan Chief Deputy Mike Mayes said on Friday. “Whenever it involves use of force, this office investigates it.”….

Messer’s family has hired Monroe County lawyer John Bryan. He said last week that no one from the sheriff’s department has reached out to the family since the incident.

“My goals are to find out what happened,” Bryan said. “I want any documentation from law enforcement about the incident.”

Mark Messer was forced to go through an extended period of rehabilitation.  He had to relearn how to walk; how to talk.  Still, he never received any communications from Logan County.  Not an apology.  Not a conclusion to their “investigation.”  Not compensation for his severe life-long medical injuries.  Fortunately, he has the option of going to the federal courts to seek justice.

April 10, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Several of my Federal Lawsuits Against West Virginia State Police Troopers In the News

A couple of days ago, the Charleston Gazette-Mail did an expose’ story on a series of 4 lawsuits against a West Virginia State Trooper.  3 of those lawsuits were my cases. They are now settled.

Accusations, lawsuits mount against WV State Police trooper

Four men have sued the same West Virginia State Police trooper in federal court over the past 18 months, alleging he beat them and caused broken ribs, concussions and spinal damage.

Senior Trooper Ralph Justus has been on paid administrative leave for a year, as he is the subject of an active internal investigation, according to State Police. No allegations in the lawsuits line up with the March 2017 administrative change.

Two of the men who sued Justus, Aaron Akers and Antonio Tolliver, settled their lawsuits last December for a combined total of nearly $190,000. Justus allegedly beat the two men in the hallway of the State Police detachment in Welch, beyond the range of building security cameras. Their settlements note they are resolutions of disputed claims, and the defendants are not admitting liability.

Another alleged victim of a hallway beating from Justus, Michael Ferguson, signed a settlement agreement for $75,000 earlier this month. A judge still needs to formally dismiss the case.

A funny part of the story, at least in a sad-funny sort of way, is that the defendant trooper was named “Policeman of the Year” by a local American Legion post.  This was for 2017.  According to the article, he was on administrative leave for  9 months of 2017, presumably due to allegations of misconduct.  Low bar, I guess.

Frank Cooley, a member of the post, spearheaded efforts to find a state trooper to award. He said while he did not remember Justus by name, the post generally makes its picks by calling a branch’s commandeer, asking for recommendations and voting on the shortlist internally. Two lawsuits had been filed against Justus months before the post issued its award.

Frank, you had ONE JOB.

 

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2nd Place Finish at Chocolate Thunder II Strongman Contest

I was fortunate enough to place 2nd Place in the Men’s Open Heavyweight Division at Chocolate Thunder II, in Lewisburg, West Virginia – a sanctioned United States Strongman Nationals Qualifying Event.

IMG_2336

March 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New excessive force lawsuit in the news

We recently filed a federal lawsuit against two West Virginia State Police officers for use of excessive force on a man they were interrogating.  Our client is Bruce Bird.  The defendant officers are Trooper Bass and Trooper Young out of Clay County, West Virginia.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail recently published a story on the case:

The lawsuit alleges Bird, 30, was subjected to excessive force by the troopers and that the troopers withheld medical treatment to Bird, whose spleen was ruptured as a result of the alleged beating. Bird is represented by Monroe County lawyer John Bryan.

Bird was arrested, his lawsuit states, without incident on Feb. 13, 2015, and charged with robbing two gas stations. He was taken the State Police detachment in Big Otter and led to an interrogation room by Young and Bass.

As Bird was escorted to the chair he was to sit in, Bass, who was behind him, allegedly told him, “you know what we want you to say  the first word that you say that we don’t like, I’m cracking you in the ear,” the complaint filed Feb. 9 in federal court in Charleston states.

Bird’s complaint states that he wanted to say, “I don’t [expletive] know nothing,” but as he began to say the expletive, Young and Bass allegedly began beating him.

“The defendants were punching [Bird] with their fists, kicking him, stomping him,” the complaint states. “The officers struck him mostly in the back of the head and the ribs.”

. . .

After more alleged kicking and hitting, Bird said, “alright, alright, I’ll do whatever you want me to do, just quit kicking me,” his lawsuit claims. “I think you done broke my ribs anyway,” he said, according to the complaint.

“No, I know when ribs break,” Young allegedly responded. Young then “delivered one final blow which seriously injured [Bird].”

. . .

The medical unit at the jail immediately sent Bird to Braxton Community Hospital. While there, he passed out on the floor and was taken by helicopter to Charleston Area Medical Center General Hospital.

At CAMC, doctors told Bird his spleen had ruptured and that he might not live another hour without emergency surgery, according to the lawsuit.

Bird told the nurses, his lawsuit alleges, that “if I die, I want you to write this down, it was state trooper Young and state trooper Bass who did this to me. I want this out there so it doesn’t happen to somebody else.”

– See more at: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-cops-and-courts/20170219/lawsuit-claims-troopers-beat-robbery-suspect#sthash.xe9yAAJN.dpuf

February 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gun Law CLE 2017

Along with several other lawyers, including Ian Masters, I am co-presenting a legal seminar on gun laws in West Virginia on April 25, 2017 in Charleston, West Virginia.

The topics include West Virginia laws related to the concealed carry of firearms, relevant state and federal statutes pertaining to firearms, liability concerns, and more.

Although the seminar is geared towards lawyers, the information is necessary for all people who value, and who want to protect, Second Amendment rights.

Here’s a photo of me hard-at-work preparing my lecture:

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Here is a link to the agenda and signup information.

February 16, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bumgarner excessive force lawsuit in the news

Today the Charleston Gazette-Mail published an article about the retired West Virginia state trooper we represent in a federal police brutality lawsuit.

Retired trooper John E. Bumgarner filed a lawsuit against the town of Alderson last July in which he accuses three of its officers of excessive force. Monroe County lawyer John Bryan, who represents Bumgarner, told the Gazette-Mail that he’s been contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in Charleston, and officials with the Department of Justice, in Washington.

“They have requested the video footage and documents, which we are providing,” Bryan said Wednesday.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-cops-and-courts/20161228/feds-look-into-retired-wv-troopers-beating-claims#sthash.fDa5lseT.dpuf

 

December 29, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment