(CN) – The 7th Circuit dismissed the constitutional claims of a freelance photographer who said he was arrested, shoved and pepper sprayed for taking pictures of Milwaukee police as they searched a suspected drug house.
David Hollins, a passerby and freelance photographer, stood across the street and snapped photos as officers executed the search warrant.
An officer approached him and asked him to leave the area. When Hollins refused, he was arrested.
The photographer and police disagree about the amount of force used in the arrest. According to Hollins, an officer pushed him to the ground and ordered him to “get the fuck out of here” or the officer would “slap him with a loitering citation.” He said he was then choked, thrown to the ground and pepper sprayed, and his camera was broken. He was cited for resisting or obstructing an officer.
Officers denied using excessive force.
At trial, Hollins was found guilty of violating the ordinance and ordered to pay a fine. But he refused to pay and instead sued the city and the arresting officers, Charles Libal and Demetrius Ritt, for allegedly violating his First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
The district court dismissed Milwaukee and its police chief from the case, along with Hollins’ First Amendment and due process claims against Libal and Ritt. His claims for unlawful arrest and excessive force went to trial.
The jury ruled for the police officers.
On appeal, Hollins challenged both the jury’s verdict and the dismissal of his previous claims.
The lower court properly dismissed Hollins’ claim against the city and its former and current police chiefs, Judge Bauer wrote, calling it a “largely incoherent argument.” The court also refused to revive his First Amendment claims, because he never addressed the officers’ claim that the arrest had nothing to do with Hollins’ picture-taking. The officers said they arrested the photographer because he stood directly across the street from an alleged drug house, where a high-risk search warrant was being executed, and refused to move.
The Chicago-based court was similarly unconvinced that the trial court made several errors, including failing to ask potential jurors about possible racial biases, limiting the cross-examination of Ritt, and refusing to instruct jurors about the scope of the municipal ordinance and the lawfulness of Hollins’ arrest.
“Hollins offers no authority to support his assertion that disobeying a police officer’s lawful order to leave the area while the officer is in the course of performing his official duties cannot constitute ‘obstructing,'” Judge Bauer concluded.
“In this instance, the allegations of wrongdoing were neither proven nor found to have any merit.”