Officers Lose Their Evidence After Turning A Medical Emergency Call Into A Warrantless Search Party

from the [extremely-Montgomery-Burns-voice]:-'Con-sti-tu-tion???' dept

This case, coming to us via Andrew Fleischman, would be Keystone-Cops-comical if it weren't such a hideous example of law enforcement using someone's rights as a doormat. What began as a 911 call for assistance with an unresponsive infant soon devolved into a full-blown search of house by several officers without a single warrant between them.

Arielle Turner was indicted by a grand jury for the death of her infant. That's gone now, thanks to the careless, self-destructive actions of the officers at the scene. All evidence obtained during the unlawful search has been suppressed, with this Georgia Supreme Court ruling [PDF] upholding the lower court's decision.

Arielle and her mother, Terry Turner, called 911 to report her 10-week-old baby was unresponsive. EMTs arrived and began treating Turner's daughter before taking her (and Arielle) to the hospital. The child's grandmother remained at home.

The first officer to arrive was Joseph Wells who comforted Terry Turner while standing on the porch. Terry invited Officer Wells to come in and sit down because her legs were starting to hurt. They sat and conversed. Detective Victoria Bender arrived shortly thereafter, letting herself in through the open front door. Neither of these two officers performed any searches or seized any property.

Over at the hospital, an examination did not turn up any signs of abuse or foul play. Investigators believed the infant's death to be accidental. This information was relayed to Detective Bender, who passed it on to Terry Turner. Either something got lost in translation or the officers already on the scene decided to make a command decision. Suddenly, the home they were already in was declared a crime scene, despite there being no evidence of foul play.

Once that happened, the floodgates opened. From the decision:

Shortly thereafter, more officers arrived, including a crime scene investigator who, at some point, began photographing the residence. Detective Bender started questioning Terry about the events leading up to the infant’s death and asked Terry to “take her around and tell [her] what went on last night.” Terry testified that she did not consent to the officers entering or searching her home, and she explained that she did not stop the officers because Detective Bender “just told me that’s what they was [sic] supposed to do.”

As to the sudden unexplained presence of a crime scene investigator, the court has this to say about the spotty testimony offered by other officers named in the lawsuit:

At the motion hearing, none of the law enforcement officers could explain how the crime scene investigator was notified or who summoned him to the scene, and the State did not call him as a witness at the hearing.

Another officer brought Arielle Turner back to her house full of cops. About that same time, the county coroner arrived. The coroner also decided to engage in a warrantless search, which included recording some video with his cellphone. Officers seized pretty much anything baby-related and took them to the sheriff's office.

All the assembled officers believed they had a right to do this under state law. Supposedly the state's Death Investigation Act trumps the US Constitution.

At the hearing on Appellee’s motion to suppress, all of the testifying officers confirmed that they did not obtain a search warrant, that they did not have probable cause to search the house, that they did not ask for permission to search the home, and that they did not believe a crime had occurred when the search of the home took place. Instead, the officers and Alcarez explained that their investigation was done pursuant to Georgia’s Death Investigation Act. See generally OCGA § 45-16-20 (2015) et seq. In total, law enforcement remained in Appellee’s home for approximately three hours questioning witnesses, searching, photographing and videotaping the home, and seizing evidence.

The government tried to argue consent was given for a search. Supposedly, Terry Turner's request one officer (who never performed a search) come in and sit down was a permission slip for several officers to search the entire house and seize multiple items for the next three hours. The court says the law (and the Constitution) simply does not permit this interpretation.

Here, a reasonable officer would understand that Terry’s invitation for Wells to enter her kitchen was not consent for additional officers to conduct a search of the home.

The court goes on to note there was no consent, not even tacitly. If anything, Terry Turner was unaware of her rights and no officer on the scene felt compelled to obtain actual consent when it was far easier to just act like everything was being done by the book.

The record further supports the trial court’s finding that Terry merely acquiesced to the authority of the officers. The record reflects that, after the child was pronounced dead, numerous members of law enforcement responded to the Turner residence in order to investigate the death of the child without probable cause, without a search warrant, and without even a suspicion that a crime had been committed. The officers admitted at the hearing that they did not ask Terry for consent to search the home, to take photographs or video, or to remove any items from the residence. Despite this, at least four members of law enforcement, including a crime scene investigator (whose presence, astoundingly, no one can explain) participated in a search of Appellee’s home.

Law enforcement had the knowledge and the power. The officers chose to only use the latter. A deliberate misreading of the situation turned into playground for unconstitutional behavior. At any point, the search could have been stopped and the damage mitigated by a warrant request. Instead, cops took the inch Turner gave and stretched it into a country mile. And they used all this ill-gotten evidence to cook up a case against the infant's mother, even after hospital personnel stated they saw no indications of abuse or foul play.

This is the government at its ugliest -- willfully abusive and meaninglessly punitive. Hopefully this suppression of evidence will result in better behavior, but the past has shown law enforcement officers are slow learners. Why play by the rules when rolling the federal court dice still pays off regularly?


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:03pm

    The police are not the only culprits

    "Arielle Turner was indicted by a grand jury for the death of her infant."

    "Over at the hospital, an examination did not turn up any signs of abuse or foul play. Investigators believed the infant's death to be accidental."

    We all know that, if they want to, any DA could indict a ham sandwich (so to speak). But those two quotes above seem directly contradictory. If the investigators found the death accidental, they where the hell the the indictment come from.

    It is not just the police officer who performed the search that committed misdeeds. The DA who got the indictment from the grand jury must have told some super duper whoppers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:21pm

    "No, as a matter of fact, you CANNOT come in. Wait outside."

    Supposedly, Terry Turner's request one officer (who never performed a search) come in and sit down was a permission slip for several officers to search the entire house and seize multiple items for the next three hours. The court says the law (and the Constitution) simply does not permit this interpretation.

    Invite a single officer in to be polite, have entire house searched for hours by a parade of officers and investigators.

    Well that's one way to make sure that your buddies in blue are left cooling their heels outside from now on, and increase the odds that the only way they'll be 'invited' in is warrant in hand where the homeowner has no other choice.

    It'd be nice if those involved faced a personal punishment for such gross misconduct and constitutional violations, though at the very least the court didn't buy their laughable attempt to salvage the joke of a case they threw together.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Valkor, 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:33pm

      Re: "No, as a matter of fact, you CANNOT come in. Wait outside."

      My one experience with a cop asking if he could come in taught me that the answer is always "Do you have a warrant?".

      I left my car door open in the driveway of my parent's house, and half an hour later I'm trying to prove to a suspicious cop that I'm completely authorized to be there! I was too young to know better, but I do now... Everyone's a criminal that hasn't been caught yet to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:36pm

      Re: "No, as a matter of fact, you CANNOT come in. Wait outside."

      Any violation of constitutional, civil or statutory rights you could sue a public official in federal civil court for and win, is also a criminal act, and a felony almost without exception when it's done by a cop.

      But somehow, the cops and the feds are just too busy to bother enforcing the law against their own guys.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 7:22am

      Re: "No, as a matter of fact, you CANNOT come in. Wait outside."

      Maybe cops are like communal vampires, once you invite one into your home...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:34pm

    Close Call

    "Suddenly, the home they were already in was declared a crime scene, despite there being no evidence of foul play. "

    This almost happened to my mother recently. My grandmother had congestive heart failure, and wasn't expected to live long (and her chances of surviving surgery were lower than just letting it happen). One day, my mother went to visit her and found her dead in her bed.

    So my mother called the police, and the first officer on the scene was apparently instantly convinced my mother had murdered my 92 year old grandmother. Somehow. The idiot tried to turn the house into a crime scene, prevented anyone from covering my grandmother's body, acted extremely aggressive and hostile, the works.

    It was only when his supervisor arrived that sanity prevailed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 6:50am

      Re: Close Call

      When my dad passed away, it was at home under hospice care. The hospice people gave us a card with their number to call if he passed when they weren't there and warned us to specifically NOT call the police. Their people would have someone come over to verify the death and call the right people to have his remains taken care of, as well as deal with all the paperwork. It was one of the things we were grateful for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 31 Aug 2018 @ 5:30pm

        Re: Re: Close Call

        My mother-in-law was in hospice in our home, and passed. The only people we called were the hospice folks. Don't do it any other way. Hospice are there to help you, and ours did a great job.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      mikeD, 8 Sep 2018 @ 7:21pm

      Re: Close Call

      When I found my Dad passed away (a touch upon his wrist proved he was cold & stiff) one morning, I first called his lawyer. He said DO NOT call 911, call the coroner. Everything went smoothly. I answered his few questions, took the body, all before 11 AM. I think the time of day may have a lot to do with the presumptions people make about this situation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:51pm

    Hospital saying no evidence of foul play and they got an indictment.

    Video showing cops beating a cuffed defendant to death and no indictment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 5:36pm

    Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

    Not that I disagree with court's findings from what's here (likely not all that's relevant, given Techdirt's purpose), BUT:

    Once police officers are inside a house, it's practically impossible to stop them "searching" with their eyes, besides the precedents of physically past where law draws a line.

    Now, were they out of line for searching AFTER finding a dead baby? -- YOU DON'T KNOW. Seems like good idea to do little looking sheerly on fishing expedition, when there is in fact, A DEAD BABY.

    Should they have gotten a warrant? Well, maybe, but in hectic activity besides that were already in, perhaps no one gave it thought. There'd also be a need (IF were foul play) to gather evidence before tampered with. -- You do not and i think cannot state any actual wrong done. -- No, NOT getting a warrant could be oversight, and any judge would have to allow any hard evidence had it been found, or be lynched himself.

    "officers admitted at the hearing" -- The facts. Apparently without the evil intent that you imply.

    Would you still object even if hard evidence had been turned up? -- Probably not, but for cynical reason that it'd reduce your already thin credibility when YOUR ONLY USE for the dead baby is to again attack police.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:10pm

      Re: Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Bill, 12 Sep 2018 @ 6:17pm

        Re: Re: Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

        If a dead baby was probable cause, there would be one in the trunk of every squad car. That's why they have police dogs--to convert suspicions and biases into probable cause.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dan (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:16pm

      Re: Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

      Should they have gotten a warrant?

      Without exception, they admitted that they didn't have probable cause. No PC, no warrant. So, despite your apparent belief that a dead baby is automatic probable cause of a crime, none of the law enforcement personnel involved agreed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:43pm

      Once police officers are inside a house, it's practically impossible to stop them "searching" with their eyes, besides the precedents of physically past where law draws a line.

      Yes, yes, the ”plain sight” precedent is a thing. The problem here is, these cops did not stop at a plain sight search.

      Now, were they out of line for searching AFTER finding a dead baby? -- YOU DON'T KNOW. Seems like good idea to do little looking sheerly on fishing expedition, when there is in fact, A DEAD BABY.

      People of all ages die of natural causes and accidents all the time. The death of a child is not, in and of itself, probable cause to assume a crime has been comitted. Investigators at the hospital also called the cops to tell them that the child’s death was ruled accidental with no signs of foul play. If someone had found signs of foul play while examining the child’s body, that would have been probable cause for a search.

      Should they have gotten a warrant? Well, maybe, but in hectic activity besides that were already in, perhaps no one gave it thought.

      One officer forgetting to do it in the heat of the moment is one thing. Four members of the force forgetting to do it over the course of three hours makes me wonder how “hectic” the activity really was.

      You do not and i think cannot state any actual wrong done.

      The police illegally searched a person’s home under the knowingly false pretense of a baby having died of foul play. If you do not see that as the police doing something wrong, your ethics and morals could use a reboot.

      without the evil intent that you imply

      In this case, execution overrides intent. The officers may have believed they were acting with good intent and in good faith (despite already having learned the child was ruled to have died by accident), but their actions were unconstitutional and thus invalidated their supposedly good intent.

      Would you still object even if hard evidence had been turned up?

      Yes. An illegal search is illegal regardless of whether that search turns up evidence of a crime.

      YOUR ONLY USE for the dead baby is to again attack police

      The police’s only use of the dead child was to give them an excuse for performing an illegal search. If anyone deserves to be attacked for exploiting a dead child as a means to an end, those LEOs deserve it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Canuck, 31 Aug 2018 @ 5:11am

      Re: Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

      Oh look, another BlueBalls post that's chock full of lies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dave P., 31 Aug 2018 @ 12:00pm

      Re: Dead baby is probable cause, like it or not.

      Another load of old cobblers (as we say over the UK side of the pond) from you-know-who. I know somebody just like that who also seems to delight in causing trouble and stirring the sh*t at any opportunity. Also a control freak as well, which seems to tie in with that sort of mentality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:09pm

    A dead baby may be probable cause, but probable cause is the standard for a warrant...something that is missing in this case.

    While it is practically impossible to stop the police from searching with their eyes as you put it, that is not the same thing as doing a full blown forensic search. Evidence and crime scenes can be preserved while waiting on a search warrant without violating the 4th Amendment.

    And shouting IT'S A DEAD BABY still doesn't justify trampling over the Constitution like it's a door mat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sharur, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:26pm

    Georgia Death Investigations Act

    While they were still wrong to not get a warrant (should have been trivial in this case if their argument was correct), there may have been some substance to their "we must investigate this death" response.

    The cited law requires an investigation (specifically, the Georgia Death Investigations Act) specifically calls for an investigation when (among other things):

    -After birth, but before 7 years of age if the death is unexpected and/or unexplained
    -In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 16 years of age and under
    -Suddenly, when in apparent good health

    So, investigation apparently was mandated, but the procedure was absolutely horrid. How hard is it to find a judge and say "Here's the law that says we must investigate this, and therefore forms probable cause for this warrant).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dan (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:39pm

      Re: Georgia Death Investigations Act

      "Probable cause" requires (in principle) strong reason to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in the subject premises. "This law requires us to investigate" does not translate into "we have reason to believe that evidence of a crime will be found." If that's all the cops had, no warrant should have been issued.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:46pm

      Re: Georgia Death Investigations Act

      "Over at the hospital, an examination did not turn up any signs of abuse or foul play. Investigators believed the infant's death to be accidental."

      There was an investigation. There was no need, from the results of the investigation, to search the house. The death was found to be accidental, at the hospital.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:49pm

      The investigation should have ended when the police learned that the child’s death had been ruled accidental. The LEOs let their willingness to violate another person’s rights override their good judgment, all in the pursuit of a truth they at least reasonably knew was not there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 1:24am

      Re: Georgia Death Investigations Act

      The cited law requires an investigation (specifically, the Georgia Death Investigations Act) specifically calls for an investigation when (among other things):

      That starts with talking to the doctors, and if that does not give probable cause for a warrant, the investigation ends there as well. Instead they turned the death into a fishing expedition that failed to come up with any evidence of any crime, or any cash to for seizure under civil forfeiture laws.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wothe (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re: Georgia Death Investigations Act

        Accept that **EVIDENCE** that the DA used to get the Grand Jury to indict was suppressed by the judge -- which kinda blew away the indictment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 31 Aug 2018 @ 5:35pm

      Re: Georgia Death Investigations Act

      The hospital did all the investigation needed. They declared that no foul play was involved. That should have been the end of it.

      The cops knew that, yet still investigated - and amazingly - tried to convict an innocent person, not only without any medical testimony at all, but with exculpatory medical testimony from the hospital.

      I hope they win a tidy sum at their civil suit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:41pm

    Most criminals just play video games to get their jollies...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason Epstein, 30 Aug 2018 @ 7:11pm

    4th amendment

    Its rare that judges enforce the Constitution via the 4th or 5th amendment. Glad to hear some courts still do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 11:08am

      Enforcing our 4th amendment rights.

      If the officers found something criminal during their illegal search, the courts are often irresistibly tempted to rule differently.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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