Fishermen Family Has a Case for Unfair Search

     SEATTLE (CN) – A family of commercial fishermen who say wildlife agents have a vendetta against them may have an illegal-search case, the 9th Circuit ruled.
     The case alleges that Capt. Michael Cenci and other Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have had a vendetta against Joseph Tarabochia and his three sons, Alex, Bryan and Matthew, since 2000. Such alleged harassment has resulted in 27 criminal counts in 11 court cases, according to a pro se complaint that the family filed in 2010. They said most charges fell apart before trial, and none resulted in convictions.
     In 2007, wildlife officials stopped and searched the Tarabochias’ vehicle but found no fish or game violations. Joseph and Matthew were charged with avoiding a wildlife field inspection because they initially failed to stop and refused to get out of their car until sheriff’s deputies arrived. The charges were dismissed after a judge found the stop and search illegal.
     The 2010 complaint took aim at Cenci and three other Washington Fish and Wildlife officers, Dan Chadwick, Brett Hopkins and Brad Rhoden.
     U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle granted the agents summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim and dismissed the allegation under the 14th Amendment for falling outside the statute of limitations.
     Settle found the agents had qualified immunity because “the law regarding warrantless stops by WSFW officers was not clearly established.”
     In reviving Alex and Matthew’s Fourth Amendment claims Tuesday, a three-judge appellate panel found that the family had a “clearly established” Fourth Amendment right.
     “It was clearly established on the date of the automobile stop at issue here that the Tarabochias had a Fourth Amendment right not to be stopped by WDFW officers while driving on a highway absent reasonable suspicion the Tarabochias had or were about to engage in unlawful activity,” Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the court.
     The 27-page opinion says “suspicionless automobile searches and seizures of commercial fishers” subject them to unfettered government intrusion, which is addressed by the Fourth Amendment.
     Though the Tarabochias will have another chance to press those claims against Cenci and Chadwick, the panel affirmed dismissal of 14th Amendment violations.
     The ruling notes that Matthew and Alex are the only appellants in the case because of a “failure to list all four original plaintiffs on the Notice of Appeal.”

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