Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Summary Judgment for Officer Reversed in Civil Rights Case

Baig v. Hargis, 2015 WL 221610 (1/16/15) (Kan.) (unpub'd) (slip opinion here)- In a ยง 1983 case, the 10th reverses a summary judgment in favor of an officer. The 10th upholds the proposition that in determining whether there is probable cause an officer has an obligation to investigate relevant, easily accessible facts. In this case, a loss prevention officer ("LPO") at a Macy's store reported to the police that three people, including a woman who was possibly Asian, were acting as though they were going to shoplift some items [e.g. taking sensor tags off, stuffing a purse with stuff]. The LPO did not say any of them had left the store. When the officer arrived, he spotted Ms. Baig, who was Asian, getting into her car in the parking lot. Aside from her race, every other aspect of her appearance conflicted with the LPO's description of the Asian woman. She wore dress slacks, not shorts, a salmon/pink shirt with grey dots, not a peach shirt, and leather sandals, not flip flops. Her hair was down, not pinned up, did not wear sunglasses and had a brown, not a burgundy, purse. Nonetheless, the officer confronted her and got her to get out of her car. He then handcuffed her and told her she was under arrest. Within a minute the officer got a dispatch that all three suspects were still in the store. The 10th holds a reasonable officer would not have ignored all the obvious differences between Ms Baig and the suspect. At worst, the 10th says, given the lack of exigent circumstances, the officer maybe could have temporarily detained her while easily determining all the suspects were still in the store. Or he could have asked for permission to search her bag for stolen items. So the officer's conduct, as alleged by Ms. Baig, clearly violated the Fourth Amendment.