Complaint against Houston Metro alleges civil liberties violations

A Houston woman filed a complaint in the United States District Court, Southern District alleging a Houston Metro police officer violated her civil rights when she was detained and arrested for crossing a street and failure to produce identification upon demand.

On November 5, 2013, Elizabeth Theiss, leader of Political Action Committee “Stop The Magnet” and another activist positioned themselves on a public median in North Houston. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was campaigning nearby for Texas Governor. Liz left her purse in the trunk of her car and took out a banner “Abbott 4 Amnesty” to protest immigration policies and Abbott. While on the public median, Liz and her colleague unfurled the banner.

After a few minutes, Metro Officer J. R. Zepeda showed up and parked nearby. Zepeda ordered Liz and her colleague to his squad car, stating “you can’t be there”. Officer Zepeda told Liz and her friend they must put the banner down and sit on the curb. Officer Zepeda asked Liz for her identification (which was in the trunk of her car). Liz requested to know what violation had occurred to which initially there was no reply. Liz then got out her cell phone to legally record the events for First Amendment violations.

Officer Zepeda arrested Liz for “crossed street not a sidewalk” and “did not give officer driver license or ID upon demand” as was written on the ticket. After approximately 18 hours in jail she appeared in front of a judge; all charges against her were dismissed and she was released from jail.

The complaint alleges defendants Metro and Zepeda violated Ms. Theiss’ Fourth Amendment rights when she was detained, arrested and jailed without probable cause or reasonable suspicion and further alleges violations of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process when she was prosecuted with malice.

The complaint also accuses Metro of employing a custom and practice through its employees to detain and/or arrest people falsely “to teach them a lesson” even though there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion a crime had occurred, and that Metro has failed to discipline appropriately and to train & supervise properly. The complaint states Metro does not train its officers that it is not a crime not to carry an identification card.

A jury trial was requested.

Cause 4:14-cv-02175

Comments

  1. Foolish Memo says

    Does Metro still have any of these people employed? From the details mentioned it appears we have a problem.

  2. Tom Moran says

    Cops seem to think that they have the right to demand that people produce identification documents and/or identify themselves to the cops.
    Wrong on both counts.
    The only time we have to provide documentary evidence of our identification to the cops is when we are driving. We have to produce a driver’s license.
    As for identifying ourselves, we have a legal obligation to identify ourselves to the police if we are lawfully arrested, lawfully detained or if the officer believes we are witnesses to a crime. Otherwise, you can tell the cop to take a hike.
    The Harris County District Attorney’s Office — or at least most assistant DAs — and virtually every police agency in Houston thinks we have a general obligation to identify ourselves to the police. That may be because they haven’t read the penal code. A few years ago, an assistant district attorney got huffy with me when I filed a motion to suppress a search when my client was arrested for failure to identify himself. The prosecutor was pissed when I put in the motion that the Houston Police Department is not the Gestapo or the KGB.
    So, some free legal advise. A cop has the constitutional right to walk up to anyone any time and ASK for identifiucation. If a cops asks you, ask the cop if you’re free to leave or if you’re under arrest. If he says you are free to go, politely tell the cop to stuff it.

    • Briscoe Cain says

      Tom Moran, it’s been too long. Listen to this man guys. He’s one of the brightest criminal law minds in the state.

    • Ross says

      And let’s also keep in mind that, contrary to what many cops think, there is no law prohibiting you from taking pictures of anything visible from a public sidewalk, including police stations. And, HPD has a standing order that anytime you ask for a supervisor, the officer has to call for one. I have done that on several occasions where the patrol officers were being ignorant.

  3. Tom Moran says

    By the way, a few years ago, Metro cops were stopping passengers getting off buses and searching their purses, briefcases etc. The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association — a group of about 600 criminal defense lawyers — appeared before the Metro board and explained that the Metro cops were violating the Fourth Amendment.
    That brought it to a stop.
    It’s a case of criminal defense lawyers like me standing up for the rights of everyone, including a lot of people who don’t like us and what we do.
    So, if a cop, especially a Metro cop asks you for identification or to search you or your property, remember what Nancy Reagan said:
    “Yust say no.”

    • Briscoe Cain says

      My favorite part is how the officer asked her to come to him. She was on one side and he was on the other. She obeyed and walked across the street to her. And he later arrests her, citing “crossed street not a sidewalk” as one of the offenses.

      I’ve been to the scene. The closest crosswalk was 200+ feet from where she was standing. Had she started walking the other way toward the crosswalk, she would probably have been arrested for fleeing.

  4. says

    Officers frequently ignore the specifics of Texas Penal Code 38.02

    Sec. 38.02. FAILURE TO IDENTIFY. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information.

    (b) A person commits an offense if he intentionally gives a false or fictitious name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has:

    (1) lawfully arrested the person;

    (2) lawfully detained the person; or

    (3) requested the information from a person that the peace officer has good cause to believe is a witness to a criminal offense.

  5. The NSA is your friend. . .they listen! says

    I think this comment is probably relevant to most who have a badge or are in public office: the law, though interesting, is irrelevant. Thank you Bill Clinton and Obama for showing us the way!

  6. BillMiller says

    I find it interesting that 38.02 does NOT require that someone produce a state-issued ID, even if that person is arrested, detained, or a witness. Makes me want to take a 1 am stroll down Lazy Lane in River Oaks with a hidden body cam and mic.

  7. Tom Moran says

    Other than a driver’s license when you’re driving, there are no laws requiring the typical citizen to carry any form of ID. And, the Supreme Court has made that clear in at least two cases, including one from Texas. If you get popped for failing to produce an identification document, the cop has no good faith defense in the civil rights suit that should follow.

  8. Hough Januss says

    I may have missed something in this article, so please allow me to bring up some points ( I will copy and paste directly from this article and then ask for further information). After, I will continue my discussion with my personal observations.

    1.) “After approximately 18 hours in jail she appeared in front of a judge; all charges against her were dismissed and she was released from jail.” Then in a subsequent paragraph this was stated “The complaint alleges defendants Metro and Zepeda violated Ms. Theiss’ Fourth Amendment rights when she was detained, arrested and jailed without probable cause or reasonable suspicion and further alleges violations of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process when she was prosecuted with malice.”

    Commentary: Let me start at the bottom of the quote…referencing the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment forbids states to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (WWW.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/14thamendment.html). How was she denied equal protection under the law if she, and her lawyers, claim that there is a systemic problem within Metro PD “The complaint also accuses Metro of employing a custom and practice through its employees to detain and/or arrest people falsely “to teach them a lesson” “?

    Next, I think I may have missed something when I read that she was released with all charges dropped, then another paragraph states that she is upset that she was “prosecuted with malice”. Huh??? How can one be prosecuted if all charges were dropped? Maybe the author was misinformed…maybe there are charges pending against her; or maybe all charges were dropped and the author misheard her state her case for “prosecution with malice”.

    2.) quote from article “Officer Zepeda told Liz and her friend they must put the banner down and sit on the curb. Officer Zepeda asked Liz for her identification (which was in the trunk of her car). Liz requested to know what violation had occurred to which initially there was no reply. Liz then got out her cell phone to legally record the events for First Amendment violations.”

    If I remember correctly (I troll YouTube for just these ‘type’ of videos on a regular basis and actually watched this one), the officer did NOT initially answer her question, but in a later portion of the video, he told her that she was on a prohibited area, or a dangerous area (I can’t remember the exact verbage since Liz pulled the video from YouTube, prohibiting me from revisiting it for direct quote. I also do not recall the officer ever confiscating her camera…thus NOT violating her 1st Amendment rights to free speech.

    3.) quote from article “The complaint alleges defendants Metro and Zepeda violated Ms. Theiss’ Fourth Amendment rights when she was detained, arrested and jailed without probable cause or reasonable suspicion”. Again, recalling from a faulty memory and not having the video to reference, I believe that she was told that she was in a dangerous or prohibited area (it looked like she was near Metro Rail tracks. Maybe she was posing a danger to herself or passengers on the Metro Light Rail…I don’t know. So how could her 4th Amendment rights be violated if she was arrested under probable cause for trespassing in a prohibited area (if that was the case)?

    I am neither a police apologist, nor am I a tin-foil hat wearing crazy. I am a Constitutionalist with a rational mind and a sharp eye. I fought for my country in the First Gulf War, had combat decorations awarded to me, have voted in EVERY national election (and most local elections) since I turned 18 back in 1984. I know how to respond to law enforcement queries within my Constitutional rights, and all police that I have come in contact with (not very many…I try to stay under the radar) have been nothing but courteous.

    After viewing the video, I did not really see anything outwardly infuriating in the officer’s manner. Maybe a bit gruff at first, but quite matter-of-fact during the video (I am a bit middle-aged and don’t remember everything…again, the video was removed). In fact, it was so non-committal that I just went on to the next police vs. citizen video to look for actual confrontation and violations of civil rights. Maybe I missed something..,I am pretty observant, but my German upbringing sometimes confuses my brain when thinking in American English.

    In conclusion, this has been determined (by me…yours truly…John Q. Citizen…etc., etc.) as another frivolous waste of taxpayer money (we get to foot the bill for Metro et. al.)

    Liz…there is a saying “you may beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride”. I have heard that applied in all kinds of civil and criminal stories in my 47 years of life. If I remember correctly…you were guilty of opening your mouth when you should have been more respectful (not to a police officer, but to a fellow human being). I have learned, in my encounters with law enforcement, that a friendly attitude goes a long way.