HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The United States Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s granting of qualified immunity in a false arrest claim lawsuit against two Huntsville police officers and the city.
Roland Edger, a mechanic in Huntsville, was charged with obstructing governmental operations after police were called to a church parking lot where he was fixing a customer’s car at night in 2019.
He filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging false arrest in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against ‘unlawful searches and seizures’ and a state law false arrest claim after the City of Huntsville dropped the charges.
A district court found that the defendants, the officers and the city, were entitled to federal and state law immunities. “[The district court] reasoned that even though Mr. Edger committed no acts giving rise to actual probable cause, a reasonable but mistaken officer could nonetheless have believed his refusal to produce physical identification was a crime, and the officers thus had arguable probable cause to make the arrest,” court documents say.
Edger filed an appeal in December 2019 following the district court’s decision, and now, a three-judge panel for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the grant of qualified immunity.
On June 10, 2019, Edger was reportedly outside a church as he attempted to repair a customer’s car when a church security guard called 911 around 8:05 p.m. and told dispatch: “I have two Hispanic males, messing with an employee’s car that was left on the lot.” A Huntsville Police officer arrived around thirty minutes later, according to case records.
In body cam footage released by the court of appeals, Officer Krista McCabe approached and asked Edger about the Camry and his black hatchback in the parking lot. Edger answered, stating the Camry was a customer’s vehicle he was fixing and the hatchback was his.
Officer McCabe then watched Edger as he attempted to jack up the Camry to fix the tire, and eventually, the car slipped from the jack and slammed into the ground. Officer Cameron Perillat arrived shortly after the car slipped, approaching Edger and from there the situation escalated.
Officer McCabe: Alright. Take a break for me real fast and do y’all have driver’s license or IDs on you?
Edger: I ain’t going to submit to no ID. Listen, you call the lady right now. Listen I don’t have time for this. I don’t mean to be rude, or ugly, but . . .
Officer McCabe: Okay. No, you need to—
Edger: I don’t mean to be—
Officer McCabe: —give me your ID or driver’s license.
Edger: No. I don’t. Listen, I don’t want you to run me in for nothing.
Officer McCabe: Are you refusing me—are you refusing to give me your ID or driver’s license?
Edger: I’m telling you that if you will call this lady that owns this car—
As Edger was in the middle of responding to McCabe, Officer Perillat seized him from behind, then led him to the side of the Camry and handcuffed him. Edger protested, and Officer Perillat told Edger, “We don’t have time for this,” and, “You don’t understand the law.”
“During this time, the video shows that Mr. Edger offered his driver’s license at least three times before the officers could finish handcuffing him. Eventually, the officers managed to handcuff and search Mr. Edger, and then detain him in a squad car,” the court’s opinion states.
In the process, the opinion of the court, written by Judge Charles R. Wilson, also says officers never asked Edger or his stepson for their names or addresses.
Wilson writes that because Edger was not driving, he wasn’t required to provide his license. He also says that Edger had not committed any crime, therefore police had no basis for arresting him.
“So to summarize, it has been clearly established for decades prior to Mr. Edger’s arrest that the police are free to ask questions, and the public is free to ignore them,” Wilson said.
Now, Edger’s lawsuit against Officer McCabe and Officer Perillat can move forward.