8/5/2015DC: Federal Court Upholds Arrest Of Elderly Man Over Parking Violation
Federal appeals court tosses lawsuit filed by after elderly man arrested for waiting for his wife in a loading zone.
An elderly motorist arrested while waiting for his 64-year-old wife to return from the drug store cannot sue Washington, DC's police department. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit earlier this month ruled that Barbara and Hamilton P. Fox III had no recourse for their treatment in the December 20, 2008 no-parking zone dispute.
On that late Saturday afternoon, Hamilton Fox dropped his wife off at the CVS Pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast DC. As the location has no parking lot, he pulled his car around to an adjacent street and waited for his wife beside a sign that read, "No Parking / Loading Zone / For Commercial Vehicles Only / 7:00 am to 6:30 pm / Monday-Saturday." It was just after 5pm at the time. Officer B.L. Squires pulled up behind Fox and used his bullhorn to tell Fox to move.
Fox could not understand the garbled sound, so he got out of his car to talk to Officer Squires, who informed him it was a "no parking" zone. Fox explained he was "loading" not parking. Officer Squires insisted that he move, and Fox asked for a supervisor. After more than twenty minutes, no supervisor appeared, and Mrs. Fox returned to the car. The Foxes decided to leave since there was no longer a parking issue. Office Squires hit his siren and ordered the elderly couple to wait for the supervisor, as requested. Eventually, a swarm of Metropolitan Police Department officers arrived on Segways and in squad cars.
"This guy has an attitude problem," Officer Squires told Sergeant Boyd, his supervisor.
Sergeant Boyd proceeded to handcuff Fox while Mrs. Fox asked what was going on. She was told she would also be arrested if she did not "shut up." Crying, Mrs. Fox asked why she was not allowed to ask a question. Sergeant Boyd ordered her out of the vehicle and to put her hands on the hood.
"Do you have any more questions now?" Sergeant Boyd said as Hamilton Fox was hauled away on a disorderly conduct charge.
Under the District's "post and forfeit" system, Fox was told he had to pay $35 to get out of jail, and by doing so he would waive his right to a trial. He was finally released at 11:45pm after the officers took the $35 out of his wallet. Fox argued that this was a money-making scam that deprived him of his constitutional right to due process. A defendant who withdraws his "voluntary" choice to hand over the cash to be released has no ability to recover his money under DC laws.
"In these cases, the District uses the full force and might of its criminal justice system to arrest persons then demands money from them to release them and to make their cases go away," Fox argued in his lawsuit against Officer Squires, Sergeant Boyd and the city.
The federal appellate court, however, was not persuaded. It only considered one question under appeal -- whether Officer Boyd could even be sued at all for his conduct in detaining Barbara Fox.
"The Supreme Court has made clear that 'a traffic stop can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a warning ticket," Judge David B. Sentelle wrote for the court. "Certainly, a plausible argument can be made that the officer's conduct in the present case crossed that constitutional line. That, however, is not good enough to pierce the officer's claim of qualified immunity."
Since it was not "clearly established" that the officer's conduct was unconstitutional, the three-judge panel threw out the lawsuit. A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.