Store Owner Sues Baton Rouge Police For Seizing His CCTV Recording Of Alton Sterling Shooting
from the store-entirely-self-service-apparently dept
I don’t get to use the phrase “with alacrity” that often, but Baton Rouge store owner Abdullah Muflahi’s filing of a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge police can only be described as that.
Following the shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, Muflahi’s store was raided by law enforcement officers who took the hard drive containing the store’s surveillance camera footage of the altercation. So far, everyone involved has refused to discuss the illegal seizure of Muflahi’s recording equipment, deferring to the FBI and its investigation of the shooting — which would be something if the FBI would answer questions about the seizure and current location of the hard drive.. but it won’t talk about it either.
Hence the speedily-filed lawsuit by Muflahi, as reported by Mike Hayes of Buzzfeed:
The owner of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge where Alton Sterling was fatally shot on July 5 says police detained him for hours while seizing his security footage of the incident without a warrant, according to a lawsuit [PDF] filed Monday.
28-year-old Abdullah Muflahi says that police at the scene placed him in a locked police car for four hours and denied him access to his cell phone, preventing him from contacting his family or an attorney.
According to the lawsuit, police wouldn’t even allow Muflahi to go back into his store to use the restroom during his detention, forcing him to urinate outside of his store in full view of the public. And his detention didn’t end there. Muflahi was taken back to the Louisiana State Police headquarters and held for another two hours while officers questioned him.
This all sounds very suspicious, illegal, and retaliatory. Muflahi not only had CCTV footage of the shooting, but also filmed it with his own cell phone, providing one of the two “unofficial” accounts of the arrest. While it’s fantastic that a recent Supreme Court decision may have resulted in officers’ reluctance to seize/search Muflahi’s cell phone, the Fourth Amendment itself seemed to have little effect on their decision to enter his store and seize his recording equipment without a warrant. While the recording could correctly be described as “evidence,” that doesn’t excuse a warrantless entry or seizure.
The lawsuit, unfortunately, is a little thin when it comes to establishing anything that might overcome the immunity that shields individual officers from the consequences of their actions. While it does suggest the Baton Rouge Police Department’s training is inadequate, it really doesn’t go into detail as to why the court should be expected to believe this assertion. However, it does make an allegation that could be interesting if the court decides to explore it.
[Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie] has negotiated a contract with a union representing police officers that provides a blanket indemnification for police officers who are sued by the public from all claims no matter what the circumstances under which the claim arise and further provides that meritorious complaints about police officers are purged from employment files after only 18 months. Both contract provisions encourage aggressive conduct by police officers by minimizing consequences.
It’s common knowledge that police union contracts are generally constructed to shield officers from not only public scrutiny, but internal misconduct investigations as well. Most of these are complemented by a “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights” that gives officers up to three days to ignore questions about alleged misconduct or excessive force. These “extra rights” are often granted in the face of police union pressure, and the unions themselves are heavily-involved in the drafting of department discipline policies. Unions also help fired officers regain their positions, making it even harder for law enforcement agencies to rid themselves of the “bad apples” continually spoiling the rest of the “bunch.”
While there’s zero chance any decision would result in an alteration of the union’s relationship with the Baton Rouge police department or the policies it helped draft, any discussion would at least shine a little more light on how these unions tend to make bad policing/policies even worse.