DC Federal Court Says Lying Amtrak Officer Can’t Have His Inconsistent Statements And His Evidence Too

from the maybe-the-officer-should-have-suppressed-his-lies dept

Cops lie. It’s a fact. It’s called testilying and it happens so often hardly anyone can even be bothered to act surprised when these lies are exposed.

This case — coming to us via FourthAmendment.com — contains yet another cop’s lies. This particular cop, Amtrak Police Officer Brandt Bartman, has just seen his train station drug bust disappear in a cloud of misstatements and Fourth Amendment violations. Officer Bartman stopped Bryan Sparks and his traveling companion, Autumn Luna, at the Washington, DC Amtrak station.

After a series of unconstitutional missteps, he searched their belongings and recovered contraband. None of that matters now. It’s as if the officer had never stopped them in the first place. The evidence has been suppressed and the pair are as free to go as they should have been last June.

Officer Bartman lied early and often, the DC Court’s opinion [PDF] shows:

Officer Bartman testified that Sparks and Luna were on the platform too early and that passengers were still disembarking. He claimed that he did not see the Amtrak employee escorting Sparks and Luna despite looking for one, and despite acknowledging that the surveillance footage showed the usher being only about “six feet” away from him.

That’s the first one. There’s more.

Following [drug dog] Koda’s alert on the purse, Officer Bartman placed Luna in handcuffs and at the same time directed his partner to handcuff Sparks. After she was handcuffed and was told she “may or may not get arrested” “depending on what it is,” Luna stated that she had “a pipe” and “maybe a gram of coke” in her purse and asked whether that would get her arrested. The timing of that statement as shown on the video and acknowledged in his testimony before this Court contradicted both Officer Bartman’s affidavit and grand jury testimony in this case, where he claimed that Luna made the statement before he handcuffed her.

The court says the initial stop to check tickets did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pretty much everything after that did, however. The government argued that ordering the couple to place their belongings on the ground and step away while the dog performed its search was a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Taking away travelers’ possessions restricts them from moving since it deprives them of the items they chose to take with them while traveling.

Nor was Officer Bartman’s action akin to “an officer merely pick[ing] up an individual’s property to look at it.” The fact that Koda could have sniffed the luggage if it had been checked or left on the platform
is irrelevant, because that is not what happened. Sparks and Luna had not voluntarily surrendered their luggage to a third party such as Amtrak or left it unattended on the platform. Rather, those items had been in Defendants’ immediate possession up until they were instructed to place their belongings on the ground and would have remained in their possession absent the instruction from Officer Bartman. When the Defendants placed their suitcases, jacket, laptop bag, and purse on the ground, they were temporarily deprived of the ability to access those items and anything in them. In addition, they were told to step away from their bags while Officer Bartman and Koda conducted the sniff, effectively foreclosing their use and control over their belongings.

Officer Bartman tried to argue both defendants consented to this search and voluntarily placed their bags on the ground. And once again, the court catches him in a series of misrepresentations.

Officer Bartman testified that he did not remember the exact language he used to tell Sparks and Luna to place their bags on the ground, and no body-worn camera footage of that crucial moment exists because neither officer had yet turned on their camera at that point. 12/2/21 Tr. at 49:12–20 (“Q. Do you remember the exact words you used? A. I do not . . . . Q. And the reason why we don’t have the exact words is because you hadn’t activated your body-worn camera at that time. Right? A. Right.”). His testimony inconsistently characterized the instruction, at times describing it as a request and other times as an order. Compare id. at 18:3–4 (“I asked the — both individuals if they could put their bags on the ground so my K9 can conduct a sniff.”) and id. at 49:8–9 (“[I] asked if they’d mind putting their bags on the ground so my K9 can conduct a sniff.”) with 12/14/21 Tr. at 83:5–6 (“[D]uring the security scan, I said, ‘You guys can put your bags on the ground.’”) and id. at 83:7–9 (“Q. In other words, this wasn’t a request, could you please? It was put your bags on the ground; correct? A. Yeah. Correct.”).

No matter which version was actually correct, the court points out Officer Bartman at no point made it clear this was a consensual interaction.

What Officer Bartman clearly remembered what he did not say, which was to tell Sparks and Luna that they were free to leave or could refuse consent to the search. See 12/2/21 Tr. at 47:14–16 (“Q. You didn’t tell them they were free to go at that point. Right? A. No. I didn’t state those words.”). Such a warning is not necessary for voluntary consent, but the lack of one is a relevant factor to be considered in the totality of the circumstances.

No consent at all, according to the one of the only consistent parts of Bartman’s testimony.

Although whether consent was freely and voluntarily given is an objective standard, it is relevant that Officer Bartman subjectively did not believe that Sparks and Luna were free to leave—particularly in light of the absence of audio recording of this moment. Officer Bartman had already called Luna back once when she continued walking as he initiated the ticket check, saying “Ma’am, come back.” 12/14/21 Tr. at 67:24. And he admitted in his testimony that he would have continued questioning the Defendants had they attempted to leave. See 12/2/21 Tr. at 47:23–25 (“Q. They weren’t free to go. If they just ignored you and walked off, you would continue to ask them questions. Right? A. Yes.”). Consent is not voluntary if it is “granted only in submission to a claim of lawful authority.”

After finding all of this wholly unconstitutional, the court returns one final time to Officer Bartman and his inability to tell the truth in sworn statements. Over the course of eight lengthy paragraphs, it recounts all of the times Bartman’s testimony contradicted what was captured by the station’s security camera and those worn by Bartman and his partner.

Officer Bartman testified over two different days on this motion, as well as completing a sworn affidavit and providing testimony to the grand jury. Significant parts of that testimony were internally inconsistent as well as in conflict with the video evidence.

To wit, Bartman testified to the DC court that Sparks and Luna “raised his suspicion” because they “stared straight ahead with no eye contact.” Maybe so, but the court points out this statement appears nowhere in his warrant affidavit, criminal complaint affidavit, or his testimony in front of the grand jury.

Then there’s this:

It strikes the Court as unlikely that Officer Bartman was able to observe Defendants’ manner of walking and eye contact without also noticing the Amtrak employee walking with them. And even if the Court did choose to credit that statement, staring straight ahead and not making eye contact is not an especially unusual way to walk down a train platform.

He also claimed in front of this court that Sparks was “shaking” and “nervous” during the canine sniff of his bag. Again, the court says the recordings do not support the officer’s claims.

[F]rom the point that the body worn camera footage begins—while Koda is sniffing the luggage—it does not appear that Sparks was shaking or otherwise nervous; in fact, the video shows him rather nonchalantly eating a bag of chips as the canine sniff takes place. Although common sense would suggest that a suspect would become more, rather than less, nervous as an encounter progresses, Officer Bartman conceded that none of the nervous behaviors he described are captured on the video and had only occurred before he activated his body-worn camera. Accordingly, the Court declines to credit that statement, either.

That does it for Bartman and his bust. Well, his bust, anyway. Presumably Officer Bartman is back on duty, roaming Amtrak platforms and making shit up. Maybe this will deter him from future misconduct, but it’s far more likely the only change it will provoke is the scrubbing of criminal charges from the records of the two people whose rights he violated.

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Comments on “DC Federal Court Says Lying Amtrak Officer Can’t Have His Inconsistent Statements And His Evidence Too”

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discussitlive (profile) says:

Not that unusual

I have heard the term “Being Bartman’ed” from rail fans before. I wasn’t able to confirm it’s in relation to this ifficer. (not a typo.) My own experience in video taping and monitoring rail traffic (hey, everyone has a hobby!) around LEO is I’ve set my camera to automatically upload to a Raspberry Pi with an SSD drive in the trunk of my car via wifi or Bluetooth. So if they demand I delete my photos or videos, no problem. I cheerfully delete them from the camera. The few times they’ve seized the equipment, well, I’ve got backup equipment and I eventually get it back.
One of these days I’ll put a coordinated system up so folks without much tech knowledge can tape their protests and body cams – with a backup. Might even do a cloud upload version.

Ceyarrecks (profile) says:


I fully appreciate your automated solution! Something I have thought on many times due to the static & volatile nature of DashCams. How absolutely EXCELLENT to have such a system where the DashCam, et al. footage is continuously uploaded outside/away from the vehicle!!! Best yet! even if (God forbid) the DashCam or Car are completely destroyed in a collision, the last minutes prior to said destruction is preserved!

Christopher Settipani (profile) says:

Pyrrhic Victory

While looking for some more details on this story, I came across this (and very little related to the Bartman case):
Washington Pair Charged With Stealing $1 Million in Jobless Benefits, Small Business Loans

Mr. Sparks and Ms. Luna are in a lot more trouble than what Amtrak Officer Bartman wrongly tried to apply to them.

Christenson says:

Re: Court *still* giving deference!

From the footnotes:
7) Although the Court declines to credit certain statements by Officer Bartman, it clarifies that it is not making a blanket adverse credibility finding as to his testimony in all respects

Just curious judge, but just why did you do that when with respect to experts, juries are instructed falsus in unum, falsus in omnes???

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