Can California police officers demand that a citizen leave the privacy of a home interior to stand on a front porch and then arrest the person for being intoxicated in public?
You might be surprised by the stance to that question at the City of Fullerton and its police department, two governmental entities trying to improve public relations in the wake of the still-vividly gruesome and unnecessary cop killing of Kelly Thomas in 2011.
According to Fullerton's lawyers, police shouldn't just be allowed to lure an unwilling citizen outside of a home, cops should be entitled to complete immunity for abusing their powers with a false arrest.
The issue arose in the ongoing federal civil rights case Matthew Goggans filed after a February 2011 incident where Fullerton officers Anthony Ciciarelli (a.k.a. Anthony Ciccareilli) and Frank Nguyen responded to a noise complaint just after midnight, repeatedly demanded that Goggans step outside and promptly arrested him for being intoxicated in public when he reluctantly obeyed their commands.
Fullerton's taxpayer-funded, Los Angeles lawyers–Dana Alden Fox, Barry Hassenberg and Dawn M. Flores-Oster–told U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse that it is irrelevant under California law what caused Goggans to go outside.
When Goggans stepped onto the porch, Nguyen voiced the gotcha-moment, advising that they could now arrest him for being drunk in public.
The officers handcuffed the Fullerton College student, took him to jail, photographed and fingerprinted him, left him in lockup for several hours and issued him a citation for committing crimes.
Prosecutors inside the Orange County District Attorney's office weren't impressed by the case and refused to file charges.
Goggans eventually hired Garo Mardirossian and Thomas E. Beck and in early 2013 the duo sued Fullerton for abusing police powers.
The plaintiff lawyers argued to Selna that the cops “knew or should have known that California law does not allow a police officer to command a person who is lawfully inside his private home, to step outside onto his front porch, and arrest him for intoxication in a public place.”
In a ruling this month, Selna declared he was “unpersuaded” by the arguments of Fullerton officials.
“In this case, Ciciarelli and Nguyen ordered Goggans to come outside, even after he had indicated he did not want to,” wrote the judge. “Under California law, an intoxicated person who is found somewhere other than a 'public place' but who acquiesces in the police's request to accompany an officer to a 'public place' cannot be found in violation of [the law] based solely on the person's presence in that 'public place.'”
Selna also stated “critical weaknesses” in the police assertion that they had probable cause to arrest Goggans for public intoxication because “there is virtually nothing” in complaint “to suggest that Goggans was drunk.”
He added that “even if [the officers] had probable cause to believe Goggans was in a public place, the fact that Goggans was playing loud music at midnight, did not wish to leave his home, and failed to deny being drunk does not add up to a fair probability that Goggans was intoxicated.”
After asserting that at this stage of the litigation he doesn't see any probable cause for the arrest, Selna refused to dismiss the lawsuit, remove Nguyen as a defendant or hold him immune for potential punitive damages for carrying out his police duties in “bad faith.”
In July 2011, a group of heavily-armed Fullerton cops beat to death an unarmed Thomas, who was a frail homeless man. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged several involved officers for the brutal attack. That trial is set to get underway next month in Orange County Superior Court.