Deputies entitled to dismissal for false arrest where property owner failed to remove his truck after being instructed

 

Childers v. Iglesias, No. 16-10442, (5th Cir. February 9, 2017)

This is a false arrest/§1983 case where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims against the arresting officers.

Childers owns a ranch and was at the gate preparing to leave. He had attempted to evict an individual he asserts was living at the ranch. Sheriff’s deputies were called and deputies Hollis and Iglesias arrived. Childers truck was parked in front of the gate blocking access. While Childers was attempting to provide an explanation of the situation to Hollis, Deputy Iglesias ordered him to remove his truck so they could access the property. Childers asserts he was attempting to complete his conversation with Hollis before complying, but Iglesias arrested him for interfering with an officer’s duties. The charges were eventually dropped. Childers sued Hollis and Iglesias for false arrest and violating his freedom of speech. The deputies filed a motion to dismiss which was granted. Childers appealed.

Childers asserts interference consisting of speech only, is a complete defense to Texas Penal Code §38.15 (interfering with a police officer’s official duties) pursuant to Carney v. State, 31 S.W.3d 392, 396 (Tex. App.—Austin 2000, no pet.).  Therefore no probable cause existed for the arrest.   However, Childers was not simply expressing his version of events, he failed to remove his truck which was blocking access. This instruction was made within the scope of the official duty Deputy Iglesias was performing: trying to access the ranch through the gate. In making the arrest, the deputies were concerned more with the moving of Childers’s truck rather than the content of his speech. Texas courts have found that failure to comply with an officer’s instructions under similar circumstances violates Texas Penal Code § 38.15 and is not protected speech. Based on this precedent, a reasonable officer could have believed there was a fair probability Childers violated Texas Penal Code §38.15 by failing to comply with Iglesias’s instruction. Probably cause therefore existed for a possible crime committed in the officer’s presence. As a result, the motion to dismiss was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Circuit Judge Prado, Circuit Judge Higginson, and Circuit Judge Costa. Judge Prado delivered the opinion of the court.  Attorney for the Appellant: Franklin W. Cram.  Attorney for the Appellee: Stephen Robert Marsh.

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