Sunday, February 23, 2014

Police Chief apparently admits to false arrest by officers in controversial case in Austin, Texas

One of my students sent me some links to a story out of Austin, Texas that illustrates a number of interesting points, including why a client should not address the media before talking to his lawyer.  The case is very similar to Enright v. Groves, a case that you probably read in law school on the basic principles of the tort of false arrest.  You may have heard the story, which apparently has been going around the internet for a few days, but here it is just in case.

According to the news stories I have read, it sounds to me the police set out to catch (and ticket) jaywalkers at a certain intersection.  They detained and issued a number of citations before a young lady came by jogging while listening to music through earphones and did not stop for the "do not walk signal."  After she crossed the street, an officer told her to stop but she didn't.  The officer then chased her down and detained her.  Exactly how that happened is subject to debate but the fact is she was pulled by the arm, detained, handcuffed and was taken to a police car.  Some of this was caught on tape and photos. Later, in response to the reaction to the story, the Chief of Police declared that the woman was arrested for "failure to identify" not for "resisting arrest."  He also said that she went to jail because she failed to answer a question she was legally obligated to answer.

Here is the problem: the Chief is wrong.  According to the law, the police can't arrest someone for failing to produce an ID on demand.  They also can't arrest you for refusing to identify yourself at their request.  The statute in question states that "a person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information."  In other words, the offense is only committed if the person refuses to identify herself after they have been lawfully arrested.  Arresting someone for failing to identify herself, without more, is not a lawful arrest.  Bottom line, the woman had no duty to answer the question and the police had no legal authority to put her under arrest for it.

If the police had arrested the woman for something else (like jaywalking or resisting arrest) with probable cause, then she could be charged under the failure to identify statute.  But the Chief admitted publicly and in camera that that is not what happened.  In the televised press conference, he clearly stated (more than once) that the woman was arrested for failing to identify herself, and that "that" is why she spent time in jail.

Well, Chief, you just handed her a claim for false arrest (at least) on a silver platter!

To read more about the story go here, here and here.

Thanks to Michael Wojciak for the links.

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