Posner calls Evansville “Keystone Kops” for flash-bang, while they arrest LA Zombie twice
Remember the flash-bang LA Zombie gang case? Well, there have been some very unusual developments this week.
Most significant for legal scholars, the elderly neighbor who was flash-banged by the police has had a big win in the 7th Circuit last Friday. Judge Posner affirmed the lower court ruling , thereby denying summary judgment for excessive force claims and denying qualified immunity to the Evansville police for their series of too many mistakes (Posner calls them “Keystone Kops“, but amazingly his Honor doesn’t take the opportunity to mention “LA Zombies” despite Judge Lawrence writing it in the district court judgment. Judge Posner has zombied before, but I guess he didn’t think they were relevant here.).
Meanwhile (and coincidentally?), the Evansville police managed to arrest Derrick Murray twice this week. Surely, it’s a coincidence, right? They’re not retaliating for their public embarrassment, right? Police don’t do that, right?!? But boy, that benchslap has gotta hurt.
Ok so, for those of you who don’t remember the facts, this case was previously mentioned at ZombieLaw: “L.A. Zombie gang of Evansville, Indiana“. It’s about internet threats made by Derrick Murray, and how the police used flash-grenades on his elderly neighbor because the internet posts were from the unsecured wireless internet at that address. The police got a search warrant based on the IP address and bang.
Recall also from prior ZombieLaw: “L.A. Zombie internet posts – free speech or criminal?” in which the defense attorney first argued that it should be free speech to threaten the cops on the internet.
Ultimately, Murray plead to the charge, see from 2013, Evansville Courier & Press: “Man pleads guilty, says threats to police not ‘the smartest thing’” by Mark Wilson:
“I was just being stupid. It was just a cowardly act,” Murray said.
[Murray] walked up the street from his mother’s house until his smartphone could pick up an unsecured wireless Internet connection
The threat [Murray] pleaded guilty to making read (sic all): “Lol at all da cops commenting. F#=k the police. you mfs need to b taught a lesson. always harassing n violating mfs rights. 4th of July a cops house gonna get hit. don’t care about your kids or btchs lives. I dnt even care about my own life. I got my reasons … times ticking.”
That, plus some claims of explosives (and the IP address) allowed the Evansville police to get a warrant for the wrong house. Rather than investigate further, they threw a flash-grenade and cuffed a 68-year old lady. The district court denied summary judgment in January and the appeal decided last week affirmed. See report in the Evansville Courier & Press: “Appeals Court: EPD not shielded from liability in SWAT raid lawsuit” by Mark Wilson.
This is an important decision for police practices (at least in the 7th Circuit) and it’s already being covered in the legal news. See Courthouse News: “SWAT Assault on Home Ruled Unreasonable” by Jack Bouboushian.
See also Reason’s Hit and Run Blog: “SWAT Team Liable for Wrong-House Flash-Bang Raid on Grandmother, Teen Girl; Can Be Sued For Their Actions” by Brian Doherty:
this decision does not say the cops lost the civil suit. It is saying that their attempt to argue that “qualified immunity insulates them from liability” for being sued at all failed, and, as discussed below, the lawsuit can go on to trial.
Presumably they’ll settle before trial and hopefully it will cause changes in police practices so that they better investigate future cases before throwing flash grenades. Watch the video of the bungled search warrant (h/t Hit and Run Blog):
Ok, so all this is big news for police practices and legal junkies. BUT THAT’s NOT ALL.
The same Derrick G. Murray has been arrested twice more this week. First, last Thursday for marijuana, and then again, as soon as he posted bail, this morning Tuesday, for MURDER! Yes, murder.
What kind of police practice is that? Arrest suspect, get his bail money, arrest him again? And on the same week of the big court case about the highly embarrassing police mistake caused by that very same person? That’s a big coincidence.
About the marijuana arrest, see Evansville Courier & Press: “Man who made 2012 threats against police arrested again” by Richard Gootee:
The man who spent time in federal prison after making Internet threats against Evansville police in 2012 is back in jail after being arrested on Thursday. According to the probable cause affidavit against 34-year-old Derrick G. Murray, Evansville police officers and federal agents located about 13 grams of suspected marijuana during a search of his home… The search was done as part of Murray’s April 2013 federal sentence for pleading guilty to a charge of transmitting threats in interstate commerce.
And about the murder arrest, again from the Evansville Courier & Press: “Police release names in Breedlove murder arrests” Richard Gootee:
Derrick G. Murray, had just been released from the Vanderburgh County Jail on a $5,000 cash bond after being arrested Thursday on preliminary marijuana charges.
See also 14news: “Three charged with murder in death of Evansville DJ” by Jess Raatz:
Evansville police say three suspects have been charged with murder in the death of Shane Breedlove.
Tuesday morning, around 4 a.m., detectives and the EPD SWAT team served warrants for Derrick Murray, Bobby John Handegard and Bobby Michael Handegard.
Murray is the same man who was arrested back in 2012 in connection with threats towards EPD officers that led to a SWAT team raid on the wrong house.
41-year-old Shane Breedlove was gunned down two weeks ago, on his way to work on Evansville’s east side.
Ok so, crazy-internet-threat-guy gets arrested for marijuana that sort of makes sense, but murder? of a DJ? WTF? If these charges don’t stick, then the timing of these arrests sure seems questionable. Then again if it turns out that he did murder the DJ, well then, maybe flash-grenades were warranted? They shouldn’t have immunity for cavalier law enforcement, but exactly what is excessive force if it’s really a murderous gang-member? We still sometimes need the cavalry.
District Judge Lawrence in his order denying summary judgment in January 2015 wrote:
Derrick Murray, a known LA Zombies gang member and a “thorn to the police department for a while,”
Well, it looks like maybe they got him this time, and right on time to save the department a little bit of face. “That’s some fine police work, Lou”