“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Eighth Circuit judge Steven Grasz wrote and Trump judge Jonathan Kobes joined a 2-1 ruling that reversed a district court and granted qualified immunity to a police officer charged with improperly arresting, searching, and pointing his gun at two 12 and 14 year-old boys even after it became clear they were not the suspects he was looking for. The August 2021 decision was in Pollreis v Marzolf.
While walking home from their grandparents one rainy evening, W.Y. and S.Y , 12 and 14 year-old boys, were stopped by Springdale, Arkansas police officer Lamont Marzolf, who was looking for suspects in a gang-related case. No judge disagreed that Marzolf was initially justified in stopping the boys and having them lie down as he checked further. But after the boys complied with all his orders and they were identified by their parents who were walking a few feet behind them, Marzolf and another officer nevertheless handcuffed them and continued to point their guns at them. The boys were then frisked and searched, with Marzolf searching W.Y., just before a sergeant who had arrived at the scene instructed that the boys should be let go. No charges of any sort were filed against them.
The boys’ mother filed suit against Marzolf. The district court refused to grant him qualified immunity and ruled that trial should go forward on the charges that he improperly handcuffed and arrested the boys, improperly searched W.Y., and used excessive force by continuing to point his gun at them without good cause. Marzolf appealed.
Trump judges Grasz and Kobes reversed and ordered the case dismissed on qualified immunity grounds. They conceded that the boys had done what they were told by officers, that neither “did anything wrong,” and stated that their family “would rightly be proud of them.” Nevertheless, they concluded that Marzolf was properly “doing his job” and could not be fount to have “violated the boys’ clearly established constitutional rights” under the “difficult” circumstances involved.
Judge Jane Kelly strongly dissented. Based on the facts, she explained that a reasonable jury could find that the stop “escalated to an arrest without probable cause” when the boys were handcuffed, that the officer “unlawfully searched” W.Y. incident to the improper arrest, and that he “used unlawful force by continuing to point his gun” at the boys “as they lay on the ground,” so the case should have proceeded to trial.
Specifically, Kelly pointed to clear precedent that holds that the use of handcuffs, which often turns a stop into an arrest, requires “reasonable belief that the suspect is armed and dangerous” or that the restraints are “necessary” for some other reason. On these facts, Kelly went on, a jury could well have found that there were no grounds for such reasonable belief or probable cause for an arrest and should have been permitted to decide whether to do so. This also meant, she went on, that the search incident to the arrest could well have “violated” W.Y.’s Fourth Amendment rights. Based on precedent, Kelly continued, Marzolf similarly appeared to have “violated their Fourth Amendment rights” when he “continued to point his weapon” at them even after they “continued to obey” all the officer’s commands, including lying “on the ground” with their hands at their sides. Since the officer’s “conduct over the course” of the boys’ detention appeared to have “violated their Fourth Amendment rights,” Kelly concluded, the case should have been allowed to go forward to a jury.
As a result of the ruling by Trump judges Grasz and Kobes, however, there will be no accountability for Officer Marzolf’s misconduct. The case is yet another example of Trump judges reversing district courts to prevent accountability for police misconduct, and emphasizes the need, as part of our fight for our courts, for the Senate to promptly confirm fair-minded Biden judges who will help hold police accountable for misconduct.