Posts Tagged ‘the rutherford institute’

Marine veteran Brandon Raub is not the first veteran to be targeted for speaking out against the government. However, his case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting military veterans for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state. Hopefully, by holding officials accountable, we can ensure that Brandon is the last to suffer in this way.

That’s why attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have just filed a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement and other government officials on behalf of   Raub. Last August, Raub was arrested by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. The complaint, filed in federal court in Richmond, alleges that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government. Institute attorneys allege that the attempt to label Raub as “mentally ill” and his involuntary commitment was a pretext designed to silence Raub’s speech critical of the government and that the defendants violated Raub’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

Since coming to Raub’s defense, The Rutherford Institute has been contacted by military veterans across the country recounting similar incidents. In filing a civil suit against government officials, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to take issue with the manner in which Virginia’s civil commitment statutes are being used to silence individuals engaged in lawfully exercising their free speech rights.

On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. While Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice ordered Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment.

In coming to Raub’s aid, Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” In asking the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to acknowledge the harm done to Raub and to rectify the violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Institute attorneys are requesting that Raub be awarded damages for the harm caused by the deprivation of his constitutional rights.

To support the Institute’s efforts on this and other cases, donate online at https://www.rutherford.org/donate/.

Yet another sign of the insanity in our public schools today: a second-grade teacher was suspended and charged with possessing, carrying, storing or using a weapon after he displayed garden-variety tools such as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers in his classroom as part of his second grade teaching curriculum that required a “tool discussion.”

Incredibly, despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach, school officials at Washington Irving Elementary School informed Doug Bartlett, a 17-year veteran in the classroom, that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students. Bartlett was subsequently penalized with a four-day suspension without pay.

In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and there is no threat whatsoever posed to any member of the school community.

This school district’s gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration on basic tools such as wrenches and pliers underscores exactly what is wrong with our nation’s schools. Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense, especially when it comes to their zealous misapplication of misguided zero tolerance policies. However, what makes this case stand out from the rest is that this latest victim of zero tolerance policies run amok happens to be a veteran school teacher.

Doug Bartlett teaches second graders at Washington Irving Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. On August 8, 2011, Bartlett displayed several garden-variety tools he used around the classroom, including wrenches, screwdrivers, a box cutter, a 2.25” pocketknife, and pliers, as visual aids for a “tool discussion” which is required by the teaching curriculum. It is common for teachers to use such visual aids to help students retain their lessons. As he displayed the box cutter and pocketknife in particular, Bartlett specifically described the proper uses of these tools. None of the tools were made accessible to the students. When not in use, the tools were secured in a toolbox on a high shelf out of reach of the students.

On August 19, 2011, Bartlett received notice that he was under investigation for, among other things, “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon,” and for negligently supervising children.  Bartlett subsequently received a four-day suspension without pay.

In coming to Bartlett’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of such disciplinary action against Bartlett as a direct violation of Bartlett’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Institute attorneys also point out that Bartlett had no intent to use the tools as weapons, nor did he ever receive notice that using such tools in an educational manner could even be construed as using a weapon.

UPDATE [4-8-13]: In response to First Amendment arguments raised by The Rutherford Institute, a state district court has dismissed charges against a Michigan cattle farmer who was cited and fined for displaying political banners critical of the Obama administration on a farming truck parked on his private 40-acre lot. The banners mounted by Vern Verduin on his farm truck proclaim “Marxism/Socialism = Hunger and Poverty” and “Obama’s ‘Mission Accomplished,’ 8% Unemployment, 16 Trillion Debt.” In censuring Verduin, Gaines Township officials alleged that his political banners violate the township’s sign ordinance, which allows only business-related signs on vehicles, restricts the size to no more than 20 square feet, and limits the time period for displaying political signs from 45 days before an election to ten days past an election. Upon review, Judge Steven Servaas of the 63rd District Court found the sign ordinance for the Gaines Township to be unconstitutional, agreeing with The Rutherford Institute’s arguments that the ordinance violated the First Amendment because it treated commercial speech and advertising more favorably than political speech. Read more here.

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The latest news from The Rutherford Institute

Attorneys for the Rutherford Institute have come to the defense of a Michigan cattle farmer who was cited and fined for displaying political banners critical of the Obama administration on a farming truck parked on his private 40-acre lot.

The banners mounted by Vern Verduin on his farm truck proclaim “Marxism/Socialism = Hunger and Poverty” and “Obama’s ‘Mission Accomplished,’ 8% Unemployment, 16 Trillion Debt.” In censuring Verduin, Gaines Township officials insist that his political banners violate the township’s sign ordinance, which allows only business-related signs on vehicles, restricts the size to no more than 20 square feet, and limits the time period for displaying political signs from 45 days before an election to ten days past an election. Rutherford Institute attorneys will appear in state district court on Friday, March 22, to challenge the township’s actions and sign ordinance as an unconstitutional violation of Verduin’s right to free speech, free expression and equal treatment under the law.

“Americans have a clear First Amendment right to freedom of political expression, whether that ‘expression’ takes place at a podium, on a t-shirt, a billboard, a picket sign, or on the side of a farm truck parked on private property as in the case of Vern Verduin,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “By denying this farmer the right to freely express his political views on his own property, no less, city officials have essentially done away with one of the key ingredients in a democracy such as ours, which is the right to freely speak our minds to and about those who represent us. It is our hope the courts will recognize and rectify this wrong.”

In September 2012, Gaines Township officials ordered Vern Verduin, who owns and operates a 40-acre cattle farm, to take down two political banners displayed on one of his farming trucks, which was parked on his private property. The banners proclaimed, “Marxism/Socialism = Hunger and Poverty” and “Obama’s ‘Mission Accomplished,’ 8% Unemployment, 16 Trillion Debt.”

City officials justified their demand by pointing to the city’s sign ordinance, which permits business-related signs on vehicles, restricts political signs of more than 20 square feet, and limits the time period for displaying political signs to a time spanning 45 days before an election until ten days past an election.

Standing firm in his free speech rights and insisting that politics is a year-round discussion, Verduin continued to display the political banners and signs on his private property. At the same time, the cattle farmer called on city officials to amend the ordinance in order to better respect the rights of individuals wishing to exercise their free speech rights on private property by displaying political signs. City officials refused to accommodate Verduin’s request, and in January 2013 cited him for violating the sign ordinance, which levies a $50 fine.

In coming to Verduin’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging the city’s actions and its ordinance as a clear violation of Verduin’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Institute attorneys will appear in the 63rd District Court in Kent County, Michigan at 9:45 am on Friday, March 22, to request that the charges against Verduin be dismissed.

In its ruling in Millbrook v. United States, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that the U.S. government may be held liable for abuses intentionally carried out by law enforcement officers in the course of their employment. The Court’s ruling dovetails with arguments put forward by The Rutherford Institute in its amicus brief, which urged the Court to enforce the plain meaning of federal statutes allowing citizens to sue the government for injuries intentionally inflicted by law enforcement officers.

In striking down lower court rulings, the justices held that the courts had erred in dismissing a prisoner’s lawsuit alleging that three prison guards had brutally and sexually assaulted him. The lower courts justified their ruling under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows individuals to sue the government for misconduct by law enforcement officials only if the injury inflicted occurs while the officers are in the course of making an arrest or seizure, or executing a search. In their amicus brief, Rutherford Institute attorneys asked the Supreme Court to protect citizens from government brutality by eliminating the restriction on government liability.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Millbrook will send a strong message to the government’s various law enforcement agencies that they need to do a better job of policing their employees—whether they’re police officers or prison guards—and holding them accountable to respecting citizens’ rights, especially while on the job. At a time when the courts are increasingly giving deference to the police and prioritizing security over civil liberties, this ruling is at least an encouraging glimmer in the gloom.

In 1948 Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to provide a limited waiver of “sovereign” immunity for the negligent acts of government agents, despite the fact that the United States is generally not liable for injuries to persons caused by the negligent or intentional acts of government employees and agents. The original version of the FTCA preserved government immunity for “intentional torts” such as assault, battery and false imprisonment.  However, in 1974, Congress amended the FTCA to allow the government to be sued for intentional torts by “law enforcement officers.”

In 2011, Kim Millbrook, a prisoner at a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, filed an FTCA lawsuit against the United States alleging that three prison guards had brutally assaulted him in the basement of the prison, forcibly restraining Millbrook and forcing him to perform oral sex. Millbrook’s lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court which ruled that the 1974 amendment to the FTCA allowing for intentional tort claims against law enforcement officers only applies to acts that occur during searches, while seizing evidence, or while making arrests. The district court’s decision was affirmed on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which, relying on prior rulings from the circuit, held that because the 1974 amendment defines “law enforcement officers” as officers “empowered by law to execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests,” the scope of the waiver of immunity for intentional torts applies only where the harmful act occurs in the course of one of those three duties. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected this interpretation, noting that the plain language of the law does not restrict the waiver of immunity to acts that occur during searches, seizures, and arrests. — John W. Whitehead

Walking a narrow line, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 in Florida v. Jardines that the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of homes is unconstitutional.

In keeping with the Court’s recent decision in Florida v. Harris, in which the justices ruled unanimously that police may use drug dogs to conduct warrantless searches during traffic stops, the Court did not address the question of whether a drug dog’s sniff constitutes a violation of one’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Instead, the Court ruled that an officer bringing a drug-sniffing dog to the front of a home without a warrant constitutes an unconstitutional invasion of private property.

In an age in which the police can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, it’s difficult to really celebrate this ruling given that it basically just gives a head nod to the Fourth Amendment. What we are experiencing today is a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it’s the Fourth Amendment being inexorably bled to death. It remains to be seen whether today’s ruling by the Supreme Court proves to be little more than a band-aid fix to a rapidly worsening condition.

Florida v. Jardines arose out of an incident that took place in November 2006, when Miami police responded to an “anonymous” tip that marijuana was being grown at the residence of Joelis Jardines. After police surveillance of the Jardines home failed to reveal any incriminating evidence, the police brought in a drug-sniffing dog and handler to inspect the property at 7:30 a.m. The police handler walked the dog up to the front door on a leash and the dog allegedly “alerted” to the scent of contraband, which was reported to the investigating police who also approached the door and allegedly smelled marijuana. Using this information, the police obtained a warrant to search the Jardines residence, resulting in the seizure of marijuana plants.

In court, Jardines’ lawyer moved to suppress the evidence obtained under the warrant, insisting that the warrant itself was invalid because of its reliance on the alert by the drug-sniffing dog. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the use of detection dogs at private residences raises significant privacy concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court, having ruled in previous cases that dog sniffs do not constitute “searches” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, agreed to review the state court decision.

In weighing in on the matter, The Rutherford Institute had asked the Supreme Court to declare the warrantless use of drug-sniffing dogs in both scenarios, searches of homes and vehicles, to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In an amicus curiae brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida v. Jardines, Institute attorneys cited mounting empirical evidence that narcotics detection dogs are unreliable and inaccurate, pointing out that both anecdotal evidence and research show that dogs frequently signal false alerts and show sensitivity to handler bias. Institute attorneys also pointed out that the amount of time it takes for the dogs to carry out a detection sniff on the perimeter of a private residence constitutes a trespass under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The Court ruled unanimously in a similar case, Florida v. Harris, that police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops. — John W. Whitehead

The right to remain silent when being questioned by the police is an essential element of liberty. If government agents are allowed to use silence in the face of accusatory questions as a sign of guilt, then the burden of proof will have been shifted to the suspect to prove his innocence, hearkening back to the days of the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism.

This essential right to not incriminate oneself is at the heart of Salinas v. Texas, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Rutherford Institute has asked the Court to affirm the right of criminal suspects to remain silent during interactions with police by prohibiting prosecutors from using a suspect’s pre-arrest silence as proof of his guilt during a criminal trial.

The facts of the case are as follows:

In 1992, Juan and Hector Garza were found murdered in their apartment. Genovevo Salinas, an acquaintance of the men who had been at a party with them the evening before they were found dead, was suspected by police as being responsible for the murders. The police approached Salinas at his home and asked him to accompany them to the police station so they could question him and clear his name. Salinas was never handcuffed and was not given Miranda warnings. At the police station, Salinas was taken to an interview room where, during the course of the interview, police questioning became more accusatory, and Salinas was asked whether his father’s shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” Salinas remained silent and did not answer the question. The interview proceeded.  At the conclusion of the interview, police arrested Salinas for outstanding traffic fines.  The district attorney later charged Salinas with the murders, but police were unable to arrest Salinas on the murder charge until 2007. After the first trial resulted in a hung jury, Salinas was re-tried. During the second trial, the prosecutor suggested that Salinas’ silence during the police interview prior to his arrest was a “very important piece of evidence” and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. The jury found Salinas guilty of murder and sentenced him to twenty years in prison.

In appealing the verdict to the Texas Court of Appeals, Salinas argued that the prosecution’s emphasis on his pre-arrest silence as evidence of his guilt was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against self-incrimination. Two Texas appeals courts upheld the verdict, ruling that Salinas was not under government compulsion during the time of the police interview, thus he had no Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling, The Rutherford Institute is asking the Court to affirm that under the Fifth Amendment, a person cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself, whether by being forced to testify, or by using his silence as evidence of his guilt. In keeping with the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “[n]o person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” Institute attorneys are urging the Court to reverse the conviction of Genovevo Salinas, who was found guilty of homicide after prosecutors argued that Salinas’ silence during a police interview prior to his arrest was a “very important piece of evidence” and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. A jury found Salinas guilty of murder and he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

In their “friend of the court” brief, Institute attorneys argue that a person’s refusal to answer police questions, even before arrest and before Miranda warnings are given, does not indicate guilt in light of the well-known “right to remain silent.” — John W. Whitehead

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Salinas v. Texas

Talk about freedom going to the dogs…

In a 9-0 decision in Florida v. Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police may use drug-sniffing dogs to carry out warrantless searches during routine traffic stops, despite the fact that published scientific studies show that drug dog alerts are wrong as much as 56% of the time, and are heavily influenced by the biases of the dog’s handler.

This ruling undercuts the entire basis of the Fourth Amendment, which was designed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures. When dog sniffs, which have proven to be unreliable, are considered probable cause for police to search your property without a warrant—whether it’s your home, your car or your person—then none of our rights are secure.

As CBS News points out, “The irony in this case, Florida v. Harris, is that the trained narcotics dog (named Aldo) did not find the drugs he was trained to find when he prompted an officer to search Clayton Harris’ truck.”

The case began in June 2006, when a Florida county sheriff stopped a vehicle driven by Clayton Harris for an expired license tag. When Harris refused the sheriff’s request for consent to search his vehicle, a drug-detection dog was deployed and conducted a “free air sniff” of the exterior of the vehicle. When the dog alerted to the door handle on the driver’s side, the officer conducted a warrantless search of the interior of the vehicle. Although the search didn’t turn up anything the dog was trained to find, the officer reportedly found pseudoephedrine and materials used for making methamphetamine.

Harris was arrested and charged.

Two months later, Harris was once again pulled over in his vehicle by the same police officer and drug-sniffing dog. Once again the dog “alerted,” and once again the search failed to turn up anything for which the dog was trained to find. Only this time, nothing of interest was found whatsoever.

In court, Harris’ attorneys moved to suppress the evidence found as a result of the search of his vehicle, asserting that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The Florida Supreme Court granted the motion on appeal, however, ruling that the state’s claim that the dog was trained and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish the dog’s reliability for purposes of determining probable cause. The court held that the state has the burden of showing the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog was reliable by presenting evidence on matters such as training field performance records.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the lower court’s ruling, The Rutherford Institute documented empirical research showing dog alerts are not inherently reliable. One recent study at the University of California—Davis, showed that in a test where handlers were told drugs might be found at the test site, but no drugs were present, dogs gave false positive alerts an astonishing 85% of the time. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on a related case, Florida v. Jardines, which challenges the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of private homes. The Rutherford Institute also filed an amicus brief in Florida v. Jardines. — John W. Whitehead