When two or more police officers are involved in a confrontational situation and someone is recording the confrontation with a cell phone, there will be inevitable anger, shouts, and weapons drawn.
That’s exactly what happened in the early morning hours of May 8, 2013 at the home of Brian Hoyland in Rosemount, Minnesota.
Drag Racing Call Leads to Illegal Arrest of Witness
According to an August 28, 2017 decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Rosemount police received a report about drag racing in Brian Hoyland’s neighborhood. Two officers, Shawn McMenomy and Alex Eckstein, responded to the report. The two officers were in separate vehicles. As he neared the alleged drag racing scene, McMenomy observed a Corvette driving toward him and away from the drag racing area. That was enough to make the officer do a U-turn and pull up behind the Corvette.
At this point, the appeals court said, McMenomy had not witnessed any traffic violation by the driver of the Corvette. He decided to run the license plate number which revealed the vehicle was registered to Mark Illetschko and there were no outstanding warrants pending against him. The officer then stated he observed the Corvette’s tires “partially cross the road’s center dividing lane.” He immediately triggered his emergency lights.
The Corvette did not stop. Illetschko continued driving until he reached Brian Hoyland’s driveway. McMenomy got out of his vehicle and pointed his weapon at Illetschko just as Officer Eckstein arrived at the scene. He also got out of his vehicle and pointed his weapon at the Corvette. McMenomy ordered Illetschko out of the vehicle, instructing him to walk backwards towards the squad cars with his hands raised. Illetschko complied with the order.
Suspect Arrested, Posed No Threat
At this point, two more officers, Ryan Coughlin and Henry Cho, arrived at the scene. Coughlin immediately took Illetschko into custody, placing him in handcuffs. Thus, Illetschko was secured and posed no threat.
Brian Hoyland’s handicapped wife was a passenger in the Illetschko vehicle. The officers ordered her out of the vehicle. Christina Hoyland complied with their demands, although she did criticize the officers with the use of profanity. When the officers ordered her to walk backwards with hands raised, she informed them that she could not walk backward because of paralysis in one of her legs.
Property Owner Video Tapes Police Confrontation
Brian Hoyland had been sleeping when all this commotion erupted in his front yard. He quickly got up and put his children in the back of the home where they would be safe. He then grabbed his cell phone to record what was going on outside the residence. He opened his door and stood in its doorway because he thought he heard the officers yelling “shoot” or “shooting.” He switched on his porch light and held his cell phone out in front of him.
Police officers, as a rule, detest having their actions recorded.
All four officers, who were standing roughly 30 or 40 feet away, turned their attention to Hoyland. That lasted a few seconds before officers Coughlin and Eckstein re-focused their attention on Illetschko and Christina.
Police Order Witness to Drop Camera
The Eighth Circuit pointed out that at that point one of the officer yelled, “Drop the camera.”
McMenomy then shouted at Hoyland to “go back inside the residence.”
Hoyland responded: “You are in my yard! What is this, a DWI stop, are you guys are kidding me.”
Hoyland then told the officers that his wife was handicapped and yelled at them to do their jobs “the right way.”
McMenomy again ordered Hoyland back into the residence, telling him to stay there.
Hoyland remained in the doorway.
Witness Arrested for Interfering with Investigation
McMenomy shouted: “You are under arrest.”
A mere 30 seconds had elapsed from the time Hoyland emerged in the doorway until the arrest decision was made.
Hoyland complied with the officers’ command that he raise his hands and lay on the ground. He offered no resistance.
The arrest and seizure of all three individuals lasted no more than two and a half minutes.
State Judge Throws Out Criminal Case
Hoyland was charged with Obstruction of Legal Process, a misdemeanor. A state district court judge promptly threw out the charge, finding:
“[Hoyland’s] actions did not constitute the crime of Obstruction of Legal Process. It is clear from the video obtained from [Hoyland’s] cell phone that[Hoyland] exited the residence with the sole intent to inform officers his wife was disabled and unable to comply with their commands, and to record the incident for possible future use as evidence if the officers engaged in any improper conduct. The recording also shows that within seconds of [Hoyland’s] exiting the residence, the officers were aware the object he held was a camera. The entire encounter with [Hoyland] lasted approximately one minute, during which time [Hoyland] consistently attempted to communicate his wife was disabled. [Hoyland’s] conduct amounted to nothing more than a fleeting interruption of the officers’ performance of their duties without any intent to cause such an interruption. Accordingly, there is not probable cause to sustain the charge and the charge is dismissed.”
Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed
Hoyland filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against McMenomy, Cho and Eckstein for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The officers asserted the standard defense of qualified immunity. The federal district court denied the officers’ defense, finding there was sufficient evidence to let the case be tried by a jury. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court.
The case will likely be settled before it ever reaches a jury, with the city of Rosemount agreeing to pay Hoyland for the clear violation of his constitutional rights.
Beyond detesting having their actions recorded, police officers do not like—and, in most instances, will not tolerate—a citizen questioning their authority. Unquestionably, the police enjoy the authority to control an arrest scene, but this authority is not unlimited. It must be tempered with discretion. Arresting a civilian for asking lawful questions and engaging in lawful conduct is not part of that authority.
In this instance, four police officers intruded upon Hoyland’s property to make an arrest. As a property owner, he had the right to open his door and make an inquiry about what was taking place—and once he observed that his wife was being arrested, he had the right to inform the officers that she was disabled and unable to comply with their demands.
And, more to the point, Hoyland had the right to use his cell phone, or any other recording device, to record the officers’ conduct in his yard—and that is where this incident turned sour. The moment the officers realized their actions were being recorded, they ordered Hoyland to drop the camera, and when he did not comply with that order, they arrested him to prevent any further recording of their behavior.
Taxpayers Will Pay Tab Again
And it is this unbridled instinct to exceed their authority that leads to so many unnecessary uses of excessive and lethal force by the police each year in this country.
In this case, the city of Rosemount will pick up the tab for these officers’ abuse of authority.