Court Upholds Conviction Of Cop Who Threatened, Beat, Tased, And Arrested A Man For Complaining About Being Beaten By Him Earlier

from the this-is-how-far-an-officer-has-to-go-to-lose-everything dept

It takes a lot for a law enforcement officer to lose the protective shield of qualified immunity. This protection originates from the courts, not from statute, so it tends to be interpreted pretty loosely by the judges applying it. It covers the most egregious abuses of civil rights and liberties, just so long as the officer being sued has performed these violations with sufficient creativity.

Every so often, though, a cop does something no court can forgive. The multitude of exceptions afforded to law enforcement officers occasionally cannot be stretched to cover their sins in a cloak of official forgiveness. The Sixth Circuit Appeals Court recently handled one of these rarities.

An opinion [PDF] whose opening paragraph contains this sentence is not going to end well for the appellant.

[T]he string of horrors Officer William Dukes Jr. paraded on Jeffrey Littlepage after a simple traffic stop has no place in our society.

And it is a string of horrors. It’s an undeniable story of just how much havoc a man with a badge and bunch of power can wreak on a “civilian.” When it comes to police/citizen relationships, only one side holds all the cards. And unless someone has the wherewithal to lawyer up — and continue to litigate through multiple court levels for multiple years — the badge and the abused power go unchecked.

Jeffrey Littlepage stuck it out. Good thing he did. Otherwise, Officer William Dukes might have skated on this string of horrors. Without Littlepage’s tenacity, Dukes might be out of prison, free to roam around with a badge in hand and subject others to the same treatment he gave Littlepage.

Littlepage’s story starts with a traffic stop. It doesn’t end until Officer Dukes is behind bars. In between, there’s a hell of a lot of abusive activity by a man who never should have been allowed to carry a badge.

Officer Dukes was presumably killing time waiting to fuck someone up when a call came in that someone had tried to run another driver off the road. For whatever reason, Dukes decided it was Littlepage. He didn’t know who he was pulling over, so Littlepage won the SHIT COP lottery.

He approached Littlepage’s car and asked him to get out. When Littlepage did not respond quickly enough for Dukes, Dukes pulled him out. Unfortunately, the encounter did not end there. Dukes proceeded to frisk Littlepage, and it was not your ordinary frisk. Instead, Dukes “goosed” Littlepage (hit him in the genitals) and hit him in the back (after Littlepage had told him he had a bad back). R. 83, Pg. ID 1251. He then told Littlepage he was free to go, but not without giving him a warning. Dukes told him to stay off that road, and if he returned “down here, you’ll answer to me.” R. 82, Pg. ID 1008.

This was all terrifying enough for Littlepage, who had been minding his own business not running people off the road until he was pulled over by Officer Dukes and introduced to a brand new definition of “goosing.”

The problem for Littlepage is he needed to drive down that road. He had a friend to pick up the next day and he wanted to know whether or not he could drive down that road without being pulled from his car and physically abused by Officer Dukes.

He called the police department to inquire about his options and to file a complaint against Officer Dukes. The Providence PD said to come in the next day to file a complaint. That posed a problem because Littlepage still needed to drive down that road the next morning. He explained this and the dispatcher patched him through to the officer on duty: Officer Dukes. Dukes told Littlepage to “come in next week” to file the complaint and hung up on him. Littlepage — still with no answer — called back.

This time, Dukes answered, and before Littlepage could even get his question out, Dukes threatened to arrest him for harassing communications if he ever called again.

Sensing a bit of an impasse, Littlepage escalated his complaint. He called the Webster County Sheriff’s Office and then the Kentucky State Police, hoping to receive some sort of clearance to a) drive the road he needed to drive and b) get a complaint filed against Officer Dukes.

Law enforcement is an incestuous occupation. A literal game of “telephone” resulted in this:

Dukes soon got wind of Littlepage’s additional calls, and he hatched a plan to respond. He instructed the Providence dispatcher to call Littlepage and tell him that he could come down to the police station and complain to a supervisor, even though a supervisor was not on duty that night. Littlepage suspected this was “a trap” and instead asked if the supervisor could come to his house. Id. at 1024. The dispatcher said no but nevertheless asked Littlepage for his address. After confirming that no one would come and “harass” or “arrest” him, Littlepage complied. Id. at 1025. He then went to bed for the night.

Sleeping all night is fine for civilians, but if you’re a pissed off cop with an axe to grind and all the taxpayer-funded time in the world to grind it with, you do this:

Littlepage’s sleep was cut short when Dukes showed up at his house, banged on his door until he answered, and said, “Get your clothes on. You’re under arrest.”

Littlepage refused to go with Dukes, arguing that he had committed no crime. Officer Dukes — a firm believer in the sunk cost fallacy — decided to amp things up to prove might makes right when it comes to people he had abused previously.

Dukes followed Littlepage into his house, and things quickly escalated. In the ensuing melee (captured on Dukes’s body camera), Dukes shot Littlepage twice with a taser, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, punched him in the nose (thereby breaking it), and hit him with his baton multiple times. Next, Dukes handcuffed Littlepage. Once they were outside, Dukes told the responding EMT that “he hadn’t been in a good fight like this in a long while.” R. 83, Pg. ID 1152, 1156. Littlepage went to the hospital to recover, at which point Dukes issued him citations for (1) harassing communications, (2) resisting arrest, (3) assaulting a police officer, and (4) criminal mischief (for allowing his broken nose—courtesy of Dukes—to bleed on Dukes’s uniform)

This is why cops aren’t fans of body cameras, despite the tech’s utter failure to produce better police officers. Also: bleeding on an officer is a crime.

This situation was so fucked, a prosecutor stepped in to dismiss all charges against Littlepage and file charges against Officer Dukes. The case was referred to the feds: the US Attorney’s Office.

Officer Dukes — convicted of rights violation charges — appealed. He claimed he had probable cause to arrest Littlepage under the state’s harassment laws. The appeals court said, “Oh my, no.”

Dukes maintains that he could arrest Littlepage because his calls served no legitimate purpose.

Contrary to Dukes’s claim, the evidence overwhelmingly shows there was no probable cause since Littlepage’s calls had a legitimate purpose. In fact, even Dukes admits that Littlepage was trying to obtain information about filing a complaint and about where he could permissibly drive. Both are legitimate purposes for his calls. Dukes and the dispatcher provided Littlepage with inconsistent information, thus requiring multiple calls for clarification. The dispatcher told Littlepage he could talk to the police chief the next morning, but Dukes said Littlepage had to wait until the following week. Neither Dukes nor the dispatcher clarified whether Littlepage could drive on the road again. And after the second call, Littlepage still did not have answers to his questions, so he called two other law enforcement agencies to seek advice. The jury heard recordings of these phone calls, and two of the dispatchers testified that, in their opinions, Littlepage’s call to them had been made for a legitimate purpose. Though Dukes may view the evidence differently, a rational juror could conclude that Dukes lacked probable cause to arrest Littlepage.

No qualified immunity. No “Fine. Just this once.” No more arguments about the sufficiency of evidence. Officer Dukes is going to jail to spend some quality time with people he and his blue brethren have locked up.

Whether the bootlickers want to admit it or not, cops wield an outsized amount of power. Officer Dukes was completely in the wrong but he still assaulted someone during a traffic stop, refused to assist him with his followup questions, and showed up at his house to assault him again for thinking about filing a complaint.

The problem isn’t necessarily the power. Without it, cops would be more useless than they already are. No, the problem is how readily we hand out power to those who can’t be trusted to use it responsibly… and how slowly we rescind it from people like Officer Dukes. This kind of thing doesn’t happen because Dukes is the bad apple in this particular barrel. It happens because Officer Dukes was pretty sure he could get away with it. In this case, he was wrong. But even as case law continues to develop, Officer Dukes — convicted and imprisoned for abusing the rights of a citizen — is an outlier.

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Comments on “Court Upholds Conviction Of Cop Who Threatened, Beat, Tased, And Arrested A Man For Complaining About Being Beaten By Him Earlier”

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65 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Pardon?

Because he already pardoned Joe Arpaio for similar levels of abuses, and he said he would have pardoned the murderous military officer recently in the news if that guy hadn’t got off on the charge. You know, the guy that murdered a child and then posed with the corpse.

Jonn says:

Re: Re: Re: Pardon?

” murderous military officer recently in the news”. Ummm, where do you get your news at? First, he didn’t commit murder, Courts had plenty of testimony and evidence to show that. Second, he wasn’t a military officers, he was a Chief Petty Officer, a E-7, enlisted, non-commissioned officer..
Murdered a child? Where did you get that crap from,CNN? He was accused of killing a ISIS prisoner, not a child.
We’re you in Iraq or Afghanistan and could tell the difference between ISIS, Taliban, or Al-Quinault? Yeah, thought so.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pardon?

(via UrbanDictionary)

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their love of Donald Trump, to the point they will abandon all logic and reason.

Symptoms for this condition can be very diverse, ranging from racist or xenophobic outbursts to a complete disconnection from reality. TDS can also often result in the sufferer exhibiting violent, homicidal, or even genocidal desires, particularly against residents from foreign countries.

Sufferers have also been known to wish direct self-harm on themselves (such as increased tariffs, a desire for tax cuts heavily favoring corporations and the 1%, infringement of first amendment rights, and even the destruction of NATO for comrade Putin), provided that action was initiated by Donald Trump.

Paranoia is also a common symptom of TDS. Sufferers have been known to believe that they are in some way being persecuted when their Trump related beliefs are questioned, and in some cases believe they are about to be a victim of an immigrant related crime. The paranoia does however not seem to be bad enough to make TDS sufferers attempt to actually becoming informed and think for themselves.

If properly treated, suffers of TDS can make a full recovery. Many suffers have been known to grow out of TDS, yet many can only be treated by having their condition directly treated through the application of logical reasoning. It is also known that products containing mole can exacerbate the condition.

"Did you hear what Billy said the other day? He was saying how the US is being overrun by murderers and rapists from Mexico?!?"

"Yeah I know.. he has a serious case of TDS.."

"What’s that?"

"Trump Derangement Syndrome"

"Is it treatable?"

"I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be."

"Wait, I meant to say ‘I can’t see any reason why it would be.’ Logical reasoning is kryptonite to Trump Flakes."

That One Guy (profile) says:

Gotta love those 'friendly little scuffles'

In the ensuing melee (captured on Dukes’s body camera), Dukes shot Littlepage twice with a taser, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, punched him in the nose (thereby breaking it), and hit him with his baton multiple times. Next, Dukes handcuffed Littlepage. Once they were outside, Dukes told the responding EMT that “he hadn’t been in a good fight like this in a long while.” R. 83, Pg. ID 1152, 1156. Littlepage went to the hospital to recover, at which point Dukes issued him citations for (1) harassing communications, (2) resisting arrest, (3) assaulting a police officer, and (4) criminal mischief (for allowing his broken nose—courtesy of Dukes—to bleed on Dukes’s uniform)

And here’s where the case takes a bit of a darker turn. Unless I missed something, he wasn’t charged for any of that. Not ‘he was charged with assault and it (somehow) didn’t stick, but ‘he wasn’t charged for hospitalizing Littlepage at all‘.

From page 4 of the ruling:

‘… which led to a federal indictment that charged Dukes with (1) willfully depriving Littlepage of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures by arresting him without probable cause, (2) willfully depriving Littlepage of his constitutional right to free speech, and (3) making a false entry in a record or document in relation to a matter within the jurisdiction of the FBI. The jury heard testimony from Dukes, Littlepage, and other witnesses, viewed video recordings of the initial traffic stop and subsequent arrest, and listened to audio recordings of Littlepage’s phone calls. After considering this evidence, the jury convicted Dukes on count one but acquitted him of counts two and three. The court sentenced Dukes to forty-two months in prison.’

It’s nice that the prosecutor was actually willing to go after someone with a badge for a change, but the fact that he wasn’t charged with assault for beating and hospitalizing someone would seem to indicate that they were half-assing the case at best, or, far more worrying, they didn’t consider assault a problem when the one doing it has a badge.

wshuff (profile) says:

Re: Gotta love those 'friendly little scuffles'

He was charged with Federal crimes and tried by the U.S. attorney. Charges for the physical injuries inflicted on Littlepage would be state crimes, i.e., assault, battery, etc. Forty-two months in federal prison means that Dukes will serve at least 85%. That should be pretty decent vindication for a broken nose. As for the rest, well, Littlepage probably has a pretty nice civil suit in the works and convicted Dukes should find the qualified immunity defense hard to make. So Littlepage may end up with a nice chunk of money for his trouble. And he’ll be able to drive down that street as much as he wants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Gotta love those 'friendly little scuffles'

"So Littlepage may end up with a nice chunk of money for his trouble. And he’ll be able to drive down that street as much as he wants."

Well that’s great for him but what about the rest of us as there is nothing addressing the assault it seems to be ok then

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Gotta love those 'friendly little scuffles'

Any sentence of more than 365 days (366 in a leap year) is considered a felony conviction for purposes of losing one’s right to possess a firearm.

Since a cop can’t be hired in the USA without being able to be armed, this is a career ender for Dukes unless the Supreme Court reverses the appeals court.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Gotta love those 'friendly little scuffles'

"So Littlepage may end up with a nice chunk of money for his trouble. And he’ll be able to drive down that street as much as he wants."

Except that Dukes was, for all intents and purposes, a bona fide police officer which means Littlepage is now on the sh!t list of an entire police department.

There’s never just That One Guy.
William Dukes held a rank in the force which means he’s been around the block and pulled a few years wearing blue. My guess is if he’d been with a partner the case against him would have been closed. And Littlepage might have been shot instead.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I am often amazed that they aren’t selling more bodycams to citizens.

There was a sudden glut of ZOMG videos out of Russia, b/c people did such stupid things & then tried to sue the person they just hit that everyone now has dashcams in both directions at all times leading to some amazing videos for the rest of us.

With police bodycams and dash cams magically failing to operate, have we reached the point where we need to record ourselves 24/7 just to be safe?

Look at all of the stories where if not for a bystander with a cell phone no charges would have been brought or the real story would never have been known.

Who watches the Watchmen, not the courts unless a cop violated someones rights that way before.

TRX (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I am often amazed that they aren’t selling more bodycams to citizens.

Police-type cams are bulky and priced for "other people’s money" budgets. I wear a "spy cam" type camera that looks like a fat pen. There are tie-tac-sized ones that will talk to a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The problem with carrying a camera is that if it’s identifiable as such, it’s likely to be smashed or stolen during the encounter. One that streams video to a remote server will eat up your data plan. "You pays your money and you rolls your dice."

Those of you who use phone apps to record audio; police are wising up to that, too. Don’t be surprised if your phone gets stepped on or mysteriously reset to factory default while it’s in their hands.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

This. When it comes to cameras, you get the quality you pay for. A ‘cheap’ camera with some but not all of the features you’d want in a body camera will set you back close to $100. A truly cheap camera in the $20-$50 range probably won’t capture what you need it to.

And like TRX said, a police-grade camera is firmly in the ‘other peoples money’ range, starting around $600 for a dirt cheap no-frills model, and going as high (in some cases) as $1000-$2000. And that’s per camera — the base station that secures the footage so it cannot be tampered with is a lot more.

About the best anyone using their own money can reasonably afford is a GoPro — which isn’t bad, but lacks a lot of the extras a real body cam has.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The sad thing is that there is a market where a good system would be a best seller.
A magically broken/disabled camera or phone should be seen as what it is, the cop was doing something they should not have been doing & wanted no evidence. With a lack of any recorded evidence on either side the simple fact the citizens recording was tampered with should be a huge red flag.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Selling bodycams to citizens

If only the courts would finally set 1 standard that cops doing their job in public can be recorded.

But the courts and powers that be want to believe that once they put on the uniform they become perfect angels who can never do anything bad or treat citizens badly for no reason other than the cop had a bad day. (Looks up at the current story.)

We see body cam footage offered up to make cops look innocent immediately after a bad event hits the media, but when a citizen has a tape showing wrong doing they still have to ‘investigate’ and keep paying the officers while they see if something bad happened. (See also: Cop hits me while texting, cop slams into cyclist admits fault on tape, still a review needed to be done.)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah but then there would be evidence that could be used to challenge the cops version of the story.

I mean its not like there are departments who are looking away as the 500 dash cams that suddenly stopped working, went in for repair, and then failed again the next day… er wait. Somehow everyone still wants to pretend that its bad tech rather than bad actors.

Anonymous Coward says:

I sincerely hope Dukes gets the shit beaten out of him daily during his 42 months in prison. I hope he has to pay back the legal costs borne by the community he failed to serve. And I hope he doesn’t get his job back and reaps no form of pension from the force.

Most of all I hope this serves as a lesson to all the other assholes with badges out there.

Patrick Jackson says:

Re: Re:

I wholeheartedly believe that this is too little of a sentence for a person who raised their right hand to serve and protect and he just simply should be made an example out of and as a church going man I wholeheartedly hopes that he would get beat down the same way and then the nerve of him to say that he hadn’t been in a fight like that in a long time makes it even more disturbing because the guy wasn’t fighting at all but I’ll ask the lord almighty for forgiveness because I’m sick of seeing these things done on a daily basis and I’m of the flesh also and I wholeheartedly think it’s too much for someone to hold compassion for a complete heartless evil animal of a human being.????????

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

as a church going man I wholeheartedly hopes that he would get beat down

Just like Jesus would want, right?

I wholeheartedly think it’s too much for someone to hold compassion for a complete heartless evil animal of a human being.

Have you not been paying attention in church? And do you ask for forgiveness for your horrendous run-on sentences too?

Anonymous Coward says:

He seriously went into this guys house, in the middle of the night, with no warrant nor legal reason, tased him, beat the shit out of him, but decided it would be OK to leave his body camera on the whole time.

It sure does shines a light on the mind set this guy (and cops in general) had in terms of not having any fucks to give since nothing would ever happen to him as a consequence for his actions.

Just a big WTF.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He seriously went into this guys house, in the middle of the night, with no warrant nor legal reason, tased him, beat the shit out of him, but decided it would be OK to leave his body camera on the whole time.

For ‘good’ reason unfortunately, as I noted in my comment despite there being video evidence(along with hospital records I’m sure) of him beating Littlepage he wasn’t charged for any of that, as thought the prosecutor didn’t consider it a problem at all to hospitalize someone or thought that despite iron-clad evidence it would be too difficult to convict a cop for assault, neither of which looks good.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, incidental injuries while enforcing the law are covered by qualified immunity to a certain degree. So the sticking point the court of appeals had to clear up is whether the officer could claim under any standard to be enforcing the law, meaning that his conduct had to be viewed under the standards allowing for quality community.

The court of appeals held up that the lower court was right in considering qualified immunity to not apply to this activity since it was not possibly part of his job.

You don’t get 42 months in prison for ringing somebody up in the middle of the night, so even while the appeals court did not concern themselves with the question whether the officer was entitled to break plaintiff’s nose when not covered by qualified immunity, I am pretty sure that the lower court already took this question into account in their sentencing. It just wasn’t part of the appeal.

Oblate (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

IANAL, but I would guess that those charges wouldn’t be appropriate for a federal indictment. Also possibly the county prosecutor was trying to reduce liability for the county from the inevitable civil lawsuit, or was waiting to file those charges until after the federal case was finished. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A conviction for assault should have been the easiest charge to bring and secure out of the entire thing, yet they didn’t even try.

This was a federal court, and I don’t think there’s an applicable federal statute. The only federal assault statutes I could find were for assaulting specific people (members of Congress, federal officials, etc.) or in particular places (the high seas, on a space ship – yes really – in a consul, etc.).

Personanongrata says:

Expediency, Legislating from the Bench and Tyranny

But even as case law continues to develop, Officer Dukes — convicted and imprisoned for abusing the rights of a citizen — is an outlier.

Why is holding police officers accountable for their misconduct an outlier?

Because in the US criminal justice system judges are permitted to legislate from the bench in concocting various legal schemes (eg qualified/absolute immunity, 3rd party doctrine) that circumvent the law.

It takes a lot for a law enforcement officer to lose the protective shield of qualified immunity. This protection originates from the courts, not from statute, so it tends to be interpreted pretty loosely by the judges applying it.

Circumventing the will of congress when judicial activists legislate from the bench is not rule of law – rather – it is rule of man (ie tyranny).

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Expediency, Legislating from the Bench and Tyranny

Holding them accountable makes you a member of a hate group. Treating them as you would any other violent criminal makes you a terrorist. Expecting them to know the law is unreasonable because they don’t have law degrees (even though non-cops without law degrees get told ignorance is not an excuse). Expecting them to obey and uphold the law as they are paid and sworn to do is just crazy talk.

That’s their narrative, and the courts seem to have bought into it hook, line and sinker.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the entire barrel.

I don’t know why this was voted "insightful". This old saying simply doesn’t apply to modern law enforcement. Even if there are only a couple dozen like this that get reported every year all of their fellow officers keep quiet about it and do nothing to fix the problem. That makes them just as bad as the "rotten apples". They’re all bad. Every last one of them.

Patrick Jackson says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’ve been saying all along that there’s no such thing as good cops because they still have their blue wall of BS and until I see with my eyes a cop arresting another cop for bad actions then as far as I’m concerned they’re all bad and then the nerve of them to tell citizens that if they see crimes report crimes and they’re not reporting bad cops and their evil actions. I just wholeheartedly hopes that they put him in population where he can get his ass rightfully beat like Jason Van Dyke.????????

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Qualified immunity...

Legislatures and Congress CAN’T define qualified immunity by statute — the US Constitution flatly forbids creating a less privileged class (in this case a VERY large class comprising 99.7% of the population) of citizen.

If any legislative branch body were to enact a law giving anyone qualified immunity, it would be completely unconstitutional; Which is why it’s so mystifying that the judicial branch, supposedly unable to create new laws, was able to do what Congress cannot.

Anon says:

One Bad Apple...

People who use the xpression "one bad apple" to exuse this as an exception, obviously don’t know the full saying:

"One bad apple spoils the whole bunch."

Failing to restrain the officer well before his power trip resulted in this sort of "behaviour" are in fact condemning the rest of the force and all police to be tarred with the same brush or see that they too can get away with this. I have trouble imagining this comes close to being an isolated incident in an otherwise blameless career. He was a bully, and probably acted this way all the time.

David says:

Re: One Bad Apple...

Well, it doesn’t exactly sound like the dispatcher was a particularly laudable apple in that barrel either, rerouting all attempts at finding someone to complain to back to the cause of complaint.

Which makes as much sense as a firefighter choosing gasoline for dousing a conflagration.

Definitely recklessly incompetent behavior.

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