Houston Cops Let Drunk Driver Go, Arrest and Jail Good Samaritan, Lie, and Demand to Get Away With It

While the process known as civil forfeiture may be the bulbous, dripping chancre on American jurisprudence, the doctrine of qualified immunity takes a close second place in the hall of shame. On the surface, qualified immunity has a noble purpose. It shields police officers acting in good faith from personal liability for their actions. Like so many well-intentioned laws, it only works when dealing with people acting in good faith. 

Qualified immunity has been the subject of abuse.

A case decided by the US Fith Circuit Court of Appeals on May 3 made us all a little safer by further defining what police officers can’t do and get away with. For most of this post, I will use the excellent narrative of Senior Judge (Reagan appointee) E. Grady Jolly.

The story is totally bizarre. Hughes stopped the driver from fleeing the scene.

Even though the driver maxed out the field sobriety test and was standing in the wreckage of his truck, the cops took a statement and released the driver. In the statement, the driver claimed that he knew Hughes, that Hughes accused the driver of boinking his wife, that Hughes had driven the drunk around, that they had visited a flea market at 2 a.m., that Hughes was driving the truck when it crashed, and on and on. 

Despite Hughes being able to document that he was driving for Uber and producing his clients to corroborate his story, the cops went with the drunk.

The probable cause affidavit also included an embellished version of the drunk’s statement.

The District Attorney’s office charged Hughes with “felony impersonation of a public servant,” and an arrest warrant was issued.

At 3 a.m., two days after the incident, the two officers who had responded to the crash site went to Hughes’s home and arrested him, but not without more drama.

Hughes spent 24 hours in the jail’s general population before being released.

Three months later, the state dismissed the case on the basis that “no probable cause existed . . . to believe the defendant committed the crime.”

Hughes sued everyone in the Houston government phone book, claiming a violation of “his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting and prosecuting him without probable cause because they included material misstatements and omissions in their warrant affidavit and materials. 

The two cops asserted qualified immunity. The district judge denied their application, and they appealed.

This case has yet to play out. As the Fifth Circuit says, the judge may still grant qualified immunity because this case deals solely with the judge’s rejection of the motion to dismiss. I think the judge would have to be something of a goober if he read this decision and okayed the qualified immunity move, but this is Houston that we’re talking about.

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