A few days ago our new and improved Right Thinking site saw a most raucous and spirited debate involving the safety of some of our most basic freedoms, and whether a individual state court can in effect abrogate constitutionally protected freedoms. I have maintained through out that the Fourth Amendment is still inviolate, unreasonable search and search is still unlawful and the hurdle of probable cause has not been removed in procuring search warrants.
Today, while perusing my local paper, I found a story on the front page that speaks directly to this and provided a timely reminder that bad things happen to cops that violate people’s rights:
Peter Knowles says he still doesn’t know why he was targeted by Benicia police, and he still worries there’s no independent agency to call if a resident believes he or she is being harassed by authorities.
Last week, Knowles and the city of Benicia settled a federal lawsuit in which he contended he was harassed repeatedly by members of the city’s police force between December 2007 and May 2008. He said he was targeted in an attempt to force him to move from Benicia.
In the agreement announced May 13, Knowles, now 26, and his attorneys will receive $620,000 and a promise that the city will help him clear his name.
He had sought $1.7 million.
A little background is in order. I have lived in Benicia for about 25 years, it is a sleepy little residential community on the water. It has the lowest crime rate, highest home values, highest per capita income, best school scores in the county, and is continually voted high on the lists of best town for family life in California. The police dept. is small with few ever staying because there is very little to do crime wise. Now the problem with Mayberry RFD communities like this is that when cops get bored, they tend to go looking for stuff beyond what is healthy, there is the set up.
Back to the story:
Knowles said the problems began Dec. 23, 2007, when he was arrested at his home. According to U.S. District Court transcripts from March of this year, Benicia police Sgt. Frank
Hartig spotted a red Jeep spinning its tires and speeding off from Solano Square. Hartig had stopped another motorist, and as soon as he finished with that stop, he began searching for the Jeep.
When he saw one going the opposite way, he turned around to pursue, but lost sight of the vehicle.
When he found one in a garage on Stuart Court, Hartig parked his patrol car, entered the garage and arrested the driver, identified as Knowles. A test indicated his blood-alcohol level was above the legal driving limit of .08 percent, and Knowles was charged with drunken driving and his license was suspended.
That case later was dismissed when Solano County Superior Court Judge Raymond Weiser said Hartig didn’t have enough probable cause to enter Knowles’s home.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb issued a summary adjudication order, finding that Hartig had violated Knowles’s Fourth Amendment rights during the incident.
Did you get that last part? Constitution-still in effect, Fourth Amendment protections is still the order of the day. Now when arrested, in his place of residence (garages have been determined in prior court rulings to be considered part of a dwelling) he did not physically resist as some would say he had a perfect right to do, and he is now the richer for it.
One of the things that I hate about how stories like this are reported is that I really don’t know exactly what happened, how the events unfolded and what the verbal exchange was between the two. But this does nothing to negate the simple fact that a U.S. District Court judge found that constitutionally protected freedoms were in fact violated, and a reckoning must be brought.
Now I do not agree with Knowles’ initial assertion that he had no place to turn. No where in the article does it mention that he called an on duty supervisor to complain, no alerting the chief of police or the city manager,no mention of him going to the county District Attorney’s office, the state AG office, even the FBI or the press.
The article does paint a sinister example of what appears to be a concerted effort to target this guy by the police. Whether it is all true or even partially true, no matter, $620,000 is a lot of money for a small town to pay out, and a valuable lesson reenforced that we are still a nation of laws, and nobody is above them.