THE CALIFORNIA LEGAL UPDATE
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December 20, 2022
December 20, 2022
Deputy District Attorney (Retired)
THIS EDITION’S WORDS OF WISDOM:
“I had a bad experience at the supermarket today. When the cashier said, “strip down, facing me,” apparently she was referring to my credit card.”
Disturbing the Peace and Refusing to Identify
COURT CASE REFERENCE: Vanegas v. City of Pasadena (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2022) 46 F.4th 1159
LEGAL UPDATES REFERENCE NO. CAC00088
(1) For a federal civil rights lawsuit to be sustained, a plaintiff must prove that law enforcement officers violated a federal statutory or constitutional right and that the unlawfulness of their conduct was clearly established at the time.
(2) So long as there is probable cause supporting an arrest for some offense, it is legally irrelevant that the arresting officers may have chosen the wrong offense.
(3) A finding of probable cause requires only that there be a fair probability or substantial chance that an arrestee committee a crime.
(4) Speech that causes a clear and present danger of imminent violence and was designed to disrupt a lawful endeavor constitutes a violation of Pen. Code § 415(2).
(5) A detainee who refuses to identify himself may be in violation of Pen. Code § 148(a)(1); delaying or obstructing a peace officer in the performance of his or her duties.
(6) Police officers are not constitutionally precluded from arresting for a misdemeanor that did not occur in their presence.
(7) Absent a viable constitutional violation by its officers, a city is not civilly liable for failing to properly train them.
Javier Vanegas and his estranged wife, Sandra Kerguelen, were in the process of getting a divorce. Kerguelen had an attorney—Karen Suri—while Vanegas was winging it on his own, and apparently not doing a very good job at it. At a hearing in Pasadena’s family court, after Venegas “raised his voice and yelled” at his wife’s attorney and the judge, the judge had to admonish Vanegas to control himself or face sanctions. Attorney Suri was so concerned that she asked the court bailiff after the hearing to keep Vanegas from following them as they left. The bailiff did so, blocking Vanegas’ way as Suri and Kerguelen left the courthouse. But Vanegas eventually caught up with them outside and renewed his verbal onslaught. Suri and Kerguelen tried to walk away, but Vanegas continued to follow them, getting in Suri’s face (“within arm’s reach”) while calling her a “scumbag” and a “liar.” Feeling threatened, Suri called 911, reporting to the operator that there was a man following her and yelling at her on the street in front of the courthouse. A Pasadena Police Department Community Service Officer, who happened to be in the area, saw the confrontation and intervened. He told Suri and Kerguelen to walk to the police station across the street to file a report, which they did. In the meantime, Pasadena Police Officer Philip Klotz—in the courthouse on other business—heard the call over his radio. The call came out identifying the cause of the disturbance as “Javier Vanegas” and who was reported to be walking northbound on Garland Avenue. The officer exited the courthouse looking for Vanegas. Seeing only one man in the vicinity, he approached that man (who was in fact Vanegas) and asked him if he was Javier. Vanegas failed to answer the question, asking the officer instead who he was (the officer apparently being in plain clothes). Officer Klotz identified himself as a law enforcement officer and then asked Vanegas for identification. Despite at least three requests for identification, Vanegas refused to comply, taking out his cellphone to record the interaction instead. Officer Klotz then gave Vanegas the option of either producing his identification or being placed in handcuffs. Vanegas continued to refuse to comply. Upon the arrival of other officers, Vanegas was handcuffed. Suri returned to the scene (still “almost crying and visibly shaking”) and identified Venegas. He was therefore arrested for disturbing the peace, per Pen. Code § 415(2). He was later released from the police station on a misdemeanor citation for violating Pen. Code § 148(a)(1); obstructing a peace officer. The Pasadena City Attorney, however, wimped out and declined to file charges. Emboldened by this, Vanegas filed suit in federal court (under authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1983) against the officers involved in his arrest—along with the City of Pasadena—alleging a violation of his Fourth (seizure) and Fourteenth (due process) Amendment rights. The federal district (trial) court granted the civil defendants’ motion for summary judgment (dismissing the case), ruling that Vanegas was lawfully arrested for either Pen. Code §§ 415(2) or 148(a)(1), thus negating any claim that his constitutional rights had been violated. Vanegas appealed.