Breaking Up Fight May Not not Justify Arrest
TALLAHASSEE (CN) - Jurors may find that police wrongfully arrested a minister and his sister for breaking up a fight between teens at school, a federal judge ruled.
Travis Robinson said he went to his daughter's school after she called him to say she was being bullied. He allegedly arrived with his sister just in time to see the fight.
Shannon Faison, the school resource officer and a deputy sheriff for Gadsden County, arrested Robinson and his sister for battery and disrupting a school function.
The deputy said he saw Robinson push the student who was fighting his daughter, but Robinson said he merely stepped between the two while other students pulled his daughter away.
He said he did nothing more than put up his hands to hold back the other student.
Robinson challenged the constitutionality of the arrest in a 2013 lawsuit against Faison and Gadsden County sheriff Morris Young.
Claiming there was probable cause for the arrest, the defendants moved to dismiss.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle found Wednesday that a jury could credit Robinson's testimony.
"The testimony is not in the record," Hinkle wrote. "But even if it were part of the record, the testimony would not require a finding that Mr. Robinson did anything more than he readily admits: he put up his hands to keep the other student from further attacking his daughter."
Stepping between students to stop a fight does not constitute disrupting a school function or battery, he added.
Faison spoke to the other student and her mother after the fight, and they called for the arrests of Robinson and his sister. This is does not meet the probable cause standard, according to the ruling.
The court also found that Faison has given inconsistent accounts of what he saw.
He first said Robinson pushed the student out of the school's door.
He later swore the student went out and came back, and Robinson pushed her to prevent her re-entry. He then said Robinson cursed rather crudely, though "Mr. Robinson (and others) say he is a minister who never curses and did not do so on this occasion," according to the ruling.
Faison has also variously claimed to have seen or broken up the fight himself, while others have sworn that the deputy was outside the school - separated from the fight by a closed door with no windows - and could not have seen the fight, the judge found.
Those witnesses say Faison arrived later.
Calling into question Faison's arrest of Robinson's sister, witnesses say the sister never touched the other student while Faison claims to have seen her hit the other student and pull her hair.
"A jury could believe Deputy Faison and conclude that he had probable cause to arrest Mr. Robinson," the ruling states. "Or a jury could conclude Deputy Faison saw Mr. Robinson do nothing that was even arguably illegal and arrested him anyway. Arresting a person with absolutely no factual basis - as a jury could conclude occurred here-rather obviously violates clearly established law. Resolving these factual disputes will be the job of the jury."