11/22/2019Georgia Motorist Wins Against Bogus Arrest For Sleeping Bag Possession
Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals rules that motorists with sleeping bags should not be automatically suspected of berry smuggling.
A Georgia motorist who ended up in handcuffs for doing nothing more than resting in his truck in a park was granted the right to sue by the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeal earlier this month. Joe T. Young had been relaxing while parked in an empty gravel lot at Sidney Lanier Park in Brunswick on August 27, 2017 when Georgia Department of Natural Resources banged on his window, asking whether he was okay.
Young was not interested in conversing with warden David Brady, so he waved him away and proceeded to drive slowly to another nearby parking lot. Brady followed, turned on his emergency lights and ordered Young out of the truck. He handcuffed Young, explaining that he was doing so, "because you're sitting over here sleeping."
"Sleeping's not a crime," Young snapped back.
Because Young had not in fact committed a crime, was not drunk and had no outstanding warrants, he was released. Young sued on the grounds that being forced out of the truck ripped sutures from a hernia surgery he had undergone the week before. He argued there was no basis whatsoever for the stop.
"Walking or driving away, not wishing to talk to an officer is not probable cause, nor reason to act completely ridiculous," Young wrote in his filing to the court.
Brady said he was suspicious because the unrolled sleeping bag in the truck's bed appeared to be the type used to smuggle palmetto berries -- even though berries are not harvested in that particular park. In reviewing the circumstances, the three-judge appellate panel found that Brady's actions failed to meet the "low bar" of reasonable suspicion.
"We are unpersuaded by Brady's argument that his suspicions of illegal palmetto berry harvesting justified his seizure of Young," the appellate panel ruled. "His argument is essentially that this suspicion was justified merely because Young was in the general region of the state in which the illegal harvesting occurred, at around the time it occurred, and he had a sleeping bag in the bed of his truck."
The panel denied Brady immunity from the lawsuit, essentially finding the law enforcement officer's testimony was not credible after viewing bodycam footage.
"In any event, we doubt Brady's depiction of the events in question," the court ruled. "And quite inconsistent with Brady's later testimony at the summary judgment stage, the sleeping bag did not appear in the footage to be stuffed with palmetto berries; rather, it was lying unrolled and flat."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.