Between emerging legislation and courtroom decisions, state and federal laws are everchanging. Meanwhile, police officers are expected to not only keep up with those changes, but to effectively enforce these laws in their communities. Falling behind can result in procedural mistakes, costly lawsuits, lengthy trials, inadmissible evidence, and poor reputations.
The following cases from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and from the Iowa Court of Appeals demonstrate missteps by law enforcement and emphasize the importance of staying updated on current laws.
Wheeler v. City of Searcy, Arkansas: Insufficient Probable Cause For Arrest Warrant
September 29, 2021
Plaintiff: Brandon Lee Wheeler
Defendants: Searcy Police Department officers
Issue in question
Whether police officers who signed a misleading warrant affidavit that led to an unconstitutional arrest would be entitled to qualified immunity where the prosecutor had reviewed and approved the affidavit and a judge had signed the warrant.
During a missing person investigation, Searcy police submitted a misleading and incomplete affidavit for Brandon Wheeler's arrest for capital murder and abuse of a corpse. The affidavit included a key-witness statement that had been recanted. It also incorrectly implied that the victim’s body had been recovered.
After his arrest (and eventual release), Wheeler filed a civil lawsuit, claiming officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by knowingly or recklessly omitting material facts from the warrant affidavit.
In 2020, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found that after removing the misleading statements from the affidavit, the affidavit was insufficient to establish probable cause to arrest Wheeler. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in 2021.
Without the misleading information in the affidavit, there was no probable cause to arrest Wheeler for capital murder or abuse of a corpse.
Under normal circumstances, a prosecutor’s and judge’s review and approval of the affidavit and warrant would be enough to show that the officers acted in good faith in executing the warrant. However, where the officers misled the prosecutor and judge by omitting important facts and overstating the evidence, the officers had to know the warrant was improper.
Because the officers' reliance on the warrant was not in good faith, they were not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions in executing the warrant. The plaintiff’s lawsuit against them was allowed to proceed.
Source Wheeler v. City of Searcy, 14 F.4th 843 (8th Cir. 2021).
Haynes v. Minnehan (Des Moines): Handcuffing Without a Valid Threat
September 21, 2021
Plaintiff: Dejuan Haynes
Defendant: Officer Brian Minnehan
Issue in question
Whether or not the initially lawful Terry stop ultimately violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights, as the officers had fair notice that they could not handcuff the plaintiff without an objective safety concern.