A lesson for Little Rock police | Arkansas Blog

A lesson for Little Rock police

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PROBABLE CAUSE: Did it exist in arrest of Joe Thompson by LRPD? A federal case from Saline County offers guidance.
  • PROBABLE CAUSE: Did it exist in arrest of Joe Thompson by LRPD? A federal case from Saline County offers guidance.

Good fortune treated me yesterday to a repeat showing of a documentary (produced in part by my wife) on the life and jurisprudence of federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele.

One episode caused me to slap my forehead. It was his remarkable 89-page opinion (written near his 89th birthday) on behalf of Hispanic plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the Alexander police department for racial profiling. The judge found the complaint meritorious and plaintffs won financial damages.

What caused me to sit up in the review of his rulings was his finding against the police for the arrest of Danny Villanueva in 2007. An officer called him out of his home, without probable cause, and then arrested him in part because he had beer on his breath. Which Villanueva indeed did, having consumed a six-pack or so legally in the comfort of his home. Part of his alleged offense also was that he didn't produce an ID fast enough to suit the cop.

I think you know where I'm going.

The Alexander police paid a financial price for an arrest made without probable cause. The judge also said the front yard of Villanueva's home didn't constitute a public place. Did they have any more cause than the Little Rock police had in the arrest of Surgeon General Joe Thompson, called to his door in Hillcrest for cop investigation of the non-crime of pissing off a security guard for billionaire Warren Stephens? Thompson had questioned the private dick's presence at Thompson's curb. Thompson, too, was said by the rentacop to have the odor of alcohol about him. Another non-crime. He did not identify himself fast enough, the sworn officers said.

Villanueva won a directed acquittal verdict on his disorderly conduct charge and then became a successful plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. Just saying.

Wrote Eisele:


The experience made Villanueva feel ashamed. It also made him feel like a criminal.

Thompson's case isn't a racial bias case, but some constitutional and legal issues in the Villanueva arrest bear a resemblance to Thompson's case. Wrote Eisele:

The Court holds that Villanueva did not appear in a public place when he came outside his home at Leath’s request and stood in his driveway [Thompson was on his doorstep].

The judge said the officer didn't have ground to arrest Villanueva for either public intoxication or disorderly conduct. To quote him on the latter:

Under Arkansas law:

(a) A person commits the offense of disorderly conduct if, with the purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm or recklessly creating a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, he or she:

(1) Engages in fighting or in violent, threatening, or tumultuous behavior;

(2) Makes unreasonable or excessive noise;

(3) In a public place, uses abusive or obscene language, or makes an
obscene gesture, in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly
response;

(4) Disrupts or disturbs any lawful assembly or meeting of persons;

(5) Obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic;

(6) Congregates with two (2) or more other persons in a public place and
refuses to comply with a lawful order to disperse of a lawful
enforcement officer or other person engaged in enforcing or executing
the law;

(7) Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition;

(8) In a public place, mars, defiles, desecrates, or otherwise damages a
patriotic or religious symbol that is an object of respect by the public
or a substantial segment of the public; or

(9) In a public place, exposes his or her private parts.

Leath testified that Villanueva’s disorderly conduct consisted solely of his delay in responding to Leath’s request to produce a driver’s license, but this in no way constitutes disorderly conduct. And no officer of the law, acting reasonably, could have come to such a conclusion.

The Court concludes that Leath violated Villanueva’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizure when he ticketed him for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, handcuffed him, and placed him in his patrol car for twenty minutes.

You'll recall that Thompson cut it with the cops for initially refusing to identify himself. Not much cover for them there, if Eisele's ruling is a guide. That leaves, I guess, "threatening" behavior. On that, the recently released video and audio evidence don't present much on the cops' side. And one of them is a cop with more than 60 incidents of use of force in arrests on his record.

The police say no body mikes were turned on when cops met at the end of the street with the Stephens security guard before rousting Thompson out of his home. Wouldn't that conversation be interesting?

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