Kevin Hall of Corvallis, OR brought a suit against the city for the unlawful detention he experienced last October.
While walking to his mailbox to retrieve his mail, while also open carrying a firearm, Hall was approached by Corvallis Police Officer James Dodge. When Dodge approached, Hall asked him if he was being detained, Dodge replied no but would like to talk to Hall. Since he wasn’t being detained and wasn’t doing anything wrong Hall started to return to his house when he was stopped by Dodge and told him NOW he was being detained.
I guess, according to Officer Dodge, you are free to leave until you actually try to leave, then you are detained. This is akin to the stories of the good ole boy Sheriffs’ who bash out taillights and then give you a ticket for it.
The Officers defense becomes the theatre of the absurd when he tries to justify his harassment and pat-down of Hall. Dodge says he was initially suspicious because Hall was openly carrying a gun in a high-crime area along the railroad tracks (I’ll get to the tracks in a minute) and he refused to answer his questions.
I think while in a high crime area is a GREAT time to be carrying a firearm. Plus, considering he didn’t do anything wrong and the right to remain silent is a pretty important right, invoking it cannot be means to assuage guilt. If that were true, if you ever take the stand and plead the 5th the trial can end right there because, according to Officer Dodge, you’re confessing your guilt.
All of this culminates to Officer Dodge’s defense that he had reasonable suspicion that Hall had been trespassing on railroad property. That’s where the railroad comes back into play. Since Hall’s house is near the railroad tracks Dodge thought to trump up the trespassing excuse in order to excuse his unlawful actions toward Hall.
There were no calls about someone near the tracks, Hall didn’t fit a description, there were no APB’s; if Dodge was allowed to get away with this he could have done it to ANYONE living ANYWHERE near train tracks.
The Corvallis Police Department claimed that they did an “internal” investigation and found that Officer Dodge acted appropriately.
Police Chief Jon Sassaman said:
“We did conduct the investigation internally. Of course, we sometimes end up with differing opinions based on everybody’s recollection. We didn’t find that the officer did anything wrong. Unfortunately, the federal judge disagreed.”
Fortunately, for liberty and the Constitution, the U.S. District Judge Michael McShane most assuredly disagreed and found that simply getting the mail in front of your yard does not qualify as reasonable suspicion.
In his decision McShane wrote:
“The gravity of the public concern — criminal trespass — was minimal as was the public concern — preventing criminal trespass and ‘transient-related crimes and violations’ — served by the seizure.”
He continued in his decision going straight to the matter writing that because it was an unlawful stop, Dodge also didn’t have the right to pat down Hall. Both actions violated Hall’s Fourth Amendment rights.
It is reassuring that some Judges still put some merit in the ole Fourth Amendment. Though, I did write an article recently about a Federal Judge in Georgia who ruled the polar opposite of McShane and said simply open carrying is reason enough to nullify the Fourth Amendment, so maybe this is headed to the Supreme Court sooner rather than later.
Let’s hope they follow the wisdom of Judge McShane.
And as for Hall, for his troubles he was awarded $5000.