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.