Photographer's Bullshit Arrest By A Dallas Transit Cop Nets Him A $345,000 Settlement

from the get-out-your-checkbook,-Joe-Public dept

Dallas residents are now going to be $345,000 lighter thanks to the actions of one Dallas Area Rapid Transit cop. (via Reason)

DART officer Stephanie Branch decided the law was on her side when she demanded photographer Avi Adelman stop recording EMS personnel dealing with an apparent overdose. Officer Branch claimed Adelman’s photography violated the medical privacy rights of the person being attended to, saying things about HIPAA (not at all relevant here) and “establishing a perimeter.” Branch was in the wrong. She was violating DART policy by shutting Adelman down and she compounded this error by making twenty-three “false or misleading” statements in her report of the arrest.

Adelman spent 20 hours in jail after being charged with criminal trespassing. That charge was dropped and DART itself apologized to him for the actions of its “rogue” officer. Officer Branch escaped being held liable for violating Adelman’s First Amendment rights as the right to record public employees in public areas wasn’t clearly established in the Fifth Circuit until a year after Adelman’s arrest.

His Fourth Amendment claim moved forward though and Officer Branch appealed the stripping of her qualified immunity on this count. Her appeal was rejected by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Branch’s arrest of Adelman unreasonable. As the court pointed out, Branch’s actions directly violated a DART policy issued two years before the 2016 incident. Branch tried to reclaim her immunity shield by claiming ignorance, but the court shot that down.

Branch’s mistake was not reasonable. She didn’t misinterpret an unclear policy or law; she simply failed to learn about DART’s updated policy. And “an officer can gain no Fourth Amendment advantage through a sloppy study of the laws [s]he is duty-bound to enforce.” Heien, 135 S. Ct. at 539–40.

It’s good to see Adelman will be compensated for his violated rights, but this settlement comes courtesy of Branch’s employer, which means Officer Branch really isn’t being held responsible for violating the photographer’s rights. When qualified immunity is stripped, another shield usually takes it place. Government employees generally benefit from indemnification, which ensures they won’t personally be out any money no matter how often they lose lawsuits.

This indemnification helps plaintiffs, since it pretty much guarantees they’ll get paid. But it doesn’t result in greater accountability, as can be observed in multiple cities where law enforcement officers are costing residents millions of dollars every year, year after year. If there’s no direct financial pain, officers who engage in abusive behavior aren’t deterred from violating rights in the future.

Between DART policies and circuit precedent, no transit officer should make this same unreasonable mistake again. It’s too bad taxpayers have to keep paying for these expensive learning experiences.

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Comments on “Photographer's Bullshit Arrest By A Dallas Transit Cop Nets Him A $345,000 Settlement”

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39 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
keithzg (profile) says:

Sounds about right

She was violating DART policy by shutting Adelman down and she compounded this error by making twenty-three "false or misleading" statements in her report of the arrest.

Having been accosted by police for having the temerity to take a photo myself, and then having gone through their report about the ‘incident’, that sounds about right. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s about the average for any police report, if they were actually thoroughly checked instead of taken as gospel like they usually are.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Punishment for the officer?

Yup. You or I commit 23 counts of filing a false police report, commit a federal felony (false arrest while in possession of a firearm) and aggravated assault while in possession of a firearm (you can’t handcuff someone while making a false arrest without committing assault) and we’d be in prison for decades after being denied bail due to the heinous nature of our crimes.

Ever wondered what the constitutional protections for due process, freedom from cruel & unusual punishment and being innocent until proven guilty look like? Look no further than how a cop accused of wrongdoing is treated by other cops and the courts. It’s only corruption because they reserve that treatment for their own, despite it being mandatory for EVERYONE.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Punishment for the officer?

It’s sickening how these corrupt police flat out LIE, LIE, LIE taking away our rights. The rare times they are caught, they end up protected, mainly because of the UNIONS. ALWAYS record them to help protect yourself. If you can do online, so it’s saved online, hopefully, that way they don’t try erasing the evidence as they do like to do that also.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Punishment for the officer?

Need to tweak a few words there for accuracy.

Ever wondered what the constitutional protections for due process, freedom from punishment and being innocent, period look like? Look no further than how a cop accused of wrongdoing is treated by other cops and the courts.

They aren’t shielded from ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments, they’re shielded from any punishments, and with no punishments there really is no such thing as a guilty verdict.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

One bad apple spoils the bunch

Police departments and unions LOVE to claim that officers like this are just a few bad apples. But what they seem to have forgotten, is that the saying about bad apples refers to what happens if you don’t throw out the few bad apples.

You end up with an entire load of nothing BUT bad apples.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

-Branch’s actions directly violated a DART policy issued two years before the 2016 incident. Branch tried to reclaim her immunity shield by claiming ignorance

Cops to citizens: "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse!"
Cops to judge: "Ignorance of the law is an excuse!"

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In fact, if generally does the police officers hard to really know the laws. It’s better for them to be clueless. They can arrest you with their goto B.S. charges they like to use and arrest you. It doesn’t matter to them if/when the charges get thrown out. They’ve wasted your time and nothing will happen to them. You’ve been cuffed, Fingerprinted and thrown into a cell for hours. That makes them happy. They got you. Doesn’t matter if you get set free.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: i would contest it..

You must live in a very strange place, where elected officials make statements along the lines of ‘If elected, I promise to hire people who will ignore the law and cost the taxpayers enormous sums of money’, such that voters can actually choose whether they want to vote for that outcome.

You get to pay your share.

This is also all sorts of rich, given that ‘your share’ implies that the guilty party is paying any of it, which does not seem to be the case. That’s like someone else going out to eat and handing you the entire check as ‘your share’, despite the fact that you didn’t order anything or had any real involvement in the choice to eat out.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: i would contest it..

Its the idea, that many people can pick up on Logic and lies..
The problem Iv seen is that as long as they get over 50% vote, it dont matter if the candidate Didnt get much of the TOTAL vote, as long as he got he most votes.. And if no one votes for either, then the incumbent still has the job..
Noooo, we dont want either.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: i would contest it..

For good or ill, we live in a democracy.

When the government does stupid and evil things, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the voters who elected the government.

So expect, as a voter, to "pay your share" of the result.

Personally, I’m a big fan of rights that can’t be taken away by majority vote.

Anonymous Coward says:

To be fair, this is not a real policeman: think "mall cop" or small-town speeding-ticket deputy. DART runs buses and commuter-rail. It is a joint-cities government agency, but nobody’s choice for front-lIne service in the eternal War on Crime….more the war on not-EXTREMELY-violent nuisances in semi-public business space.

Private security guards shouldn’t misbehave violently any more than cops should, of course.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Good perks if you can get them

It’s good to see Adelman will be compensated for his violated rights, but this settlement comes courtesy of Branch’s employer, which means Officer Branch really isn’t being held responsible for violating the photographer’s rights. When qualified immunity is stripped, another shield usually takes it place. Government employees generally benefit from indemnification, which ensures they won’t personally be out any money no matter how often they lose lawsuits.

Ah the joys of working for a government agency, where badges double as ‘Get out of any punishment free’ cards and concepts like ‘personal responsibility’ simply do not apply since someone else is always picking up the check.

John Roberts says:

Waste of City Money for a total loser

How can Avi even be taken serious? This guy is a complete and total loser. I say this because I have known him personally for many years and have witnessed him extort small businesses for a long time. He provoked the Dart officer and he is now getting compensated for it. The loser has not had a real job in decades and has his wife working odd jobs and temp jobs all over the city while he stays home finding ways to extort the next person. I hope his attorney takes most of the settlement. Bad money never lasts. I hope we never hear of him ever again.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'How dare you MAKE me violate the law/policy!'

Given the ‘provocation’ in this case was ‘provoking’ a DART officer into violating DART policy and lying multiple times in the process you’ll have to excuse me if I give the appropriate level of credibility to the rest of your claims about how ‘terrible’ a person they are.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Waste of City Money for a total loser

This guy is a complete and total loser. I say this because I have known him personally for many years and have witnessed him extort small businesses for a long time. He provoked the Dart officer and he is now getting compensated for it.

Extortion is a crime, as is witnessing a crime and not reporting it. Either prove your allegations or I’ll think you’re a liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Waste of City Money for a total loser

The "not reporting a crime" laws are really shaky in the US. There are a lot of "remaining silent" defenses, and "non-self incrimination defenses" that you could probably use to challenge them in court if it is required.

For example, reporting on someone else may incriminate you in a speeding or jaywalking offense. I know they exist still but I think people only get convicted through plea bargains or really shoddy lawyering since practically everything is outlawed in the US if you look hard enough.

Richard says:

Re: Re: Re: I think I might start hanging around cops with a cam

That is why numbers is the remedy. Until the amount, in the aggregate, is sufficient to make voters hold their elected officials accountable, so that they hold agency management accountable, so that they hold direct supervisors accountable, so that they provide necessary training and consequences to officers on an ongoing basis, nothing will change. Unfortunately, police misconduct is not a determinative issue for very many voters.

David Wilson says:

Nasty lies about Avi Adelman

Let’s clear the stink created by so-called John Roberts comment

One so-called fact is so wrong as to show the balance of his statement to be pure unadulterated garbage, generated by severe jealousy and fed by pure ignorance.

Adelman’s wife died almost two years ago due to pancreatic cancer. This is the link to the probate documents.

https://courtsportal.dallascounty.org/DALLASPROD/DocumentViewer/Embedded/WMasRgoA8Y0Wi9FbRUPV8upwKsP7nI8vLP0yLGzZ2fjiysz5fwZ2UCRbrs8NlAi1vlLi5L0RrQBt3dglDK7_Jw2?p=0

Feel better now, you lying piece of garbage?

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