The Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a lawsuit against local law enforcement for violating his First Amendment rights. If this person is victorious, it will be a significant victory for liberty while sending a message to police officers who believe they are above the Constitution.
The court took only eight hours to issue its ruling on Wednesday allowing the lawsuit to move forward:
The civil case surrounded Rogers’ 2019 arrest for criminal defamation after he criticized members of the STPSO as “clueless” following failure to solve Nanette Krentel’s murder investigation.
Rogers won a lawsuit for false arrest and imprisonment in 2022. But Sheriff Smith and his deputies appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit.
Three judges ruled that federal judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana was justified ruling in favor of Rogers last year.
The situation began in 2019 when Jerry Rogers Jr., a former federal agent, criticized officials working in the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office (STPSO), referring to them as “clueless.” The criticism was related to the office’s handling of the 2017 murder of a woman named Nanette Krentel, who was shot and left in her house as the alleged assailant burned it down.
Two years later, the sheriff’s office found out that Rogers had criticized Detective Daniel Buckner, the lead investigator in Krentel’s case. Instead of letting it go like adults, some of these individuals decided to retaliate by concocting an offense for which to charge Rogers:
To arrest him, the police had to furnish a real crime, as opposed to an imaginary one, so they sought to leverage Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute. Lawyers with the district attorney’s office told them that would be illegal, as that law was long ago rendered unconstitutional as it pertains to the criticism of public officials.
The defendants were undeterred. They arrested, strip-searched, and detained Rogers. He was jailed for part of that day and then released on bond, and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections ultimately declined to prosecute the case. But the primary goal was likely humiliation: Before he was booked, the police blasted out a press release about his arrest—which, according to Canizaro, was the only time he could remember the office following that particular order of operations. And the police filed a formal complaint with Rogers’ employer, something they had also never done before.
To get the warrant to target Rogers, the officers deceived a judge into approving the documentation.
However, the police officers requesting the arrest warrant omitted crucial information: they did not inform the judge that the Louisiana Supreme Court had declared the statute unconstitutional for speech about public officials, and that the district attorney’s office had advised them accordingly.
The appeals court, in reviewing the case, decided not to grant the offending officers qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields police from civil liability provided that they act in a reasonable manner when carrying out their duties. The court’s ruling noted that the warrant application for Rogers’ arrest “omitted key information when it failed to advise the judge regarding the DA’s position that the arrest would be unconstitutional.” The judges decided that the fact that the officers arrested the plaintiff “pursuant to a warrant does not protect them from liability” and that the officers’ defense “does not pass muster.”
This is a court ruling I can get behind, and I certainly don’t envy the officers’ defense attorney. It is difficult to argue that these people did not act in a way that clearly violated Rogers’ natural rights. This is a clear case of government officials using their positions to punish someone for speaking out against them. It is the type of corruption that is unfortunately all too common in government.
This story is another powerful reminder of the importance of focusing on local politics. If you are ever going to be abused by law enforcement, chances are, it won’t be the FBI. Instead, it will likely be your local police department or sheriff’s office.
One of the main reasons why some members of local law enforcement are so brash in flouting the Constitution is because they know that the chances of their victims fighting back are far too low. The reality is that there aren’t many who are willing to stand up for themselves like Rogers is doing. Until more of us are willing to defend our rights against government-sponsored abusers, they will continue treading on us.