By on September 6, 2011

A police officer has no right to pursue a minor traffic stop into a home, according to a ruling handed down Wednesday by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. A three-judge panel considered what happened after police in Sulphur, Oklahoma saw a suspect allegedly driving with faulty taillights on July 23, 2007.

Murray County Deputy Sheriff Craig A. Billings signaled seventeen-year-old Joshua Burchett, who was driving the car, to pull over. Burchett continued on for two blocks, parked in the driveway of his parents’ three-bedroom home, ran inside and hid in the bathroom. Billings called for backup and Sulphur Police Officers Steve Watkins and Tony Simpson arrived at the scene.

Billings began kicking the door, which woke the parents, Jose and Christina Mascorro. Jose Mascorro opened the door and Billings pointed a gun at his head, yelling, “On your knees [expletive]. Where is he? Where is he?” When Christina Mascorro asked whether Billings had a warrant, she was blasted in the mouth with pepper spray. Billings then sprayed the other residents, including Mascorro’s 14-year-old son. Christina Mascorro retreated to a back bedroom and called 911. Officer Watkins pulled her outside while Deputy Billings kicked in the door to the bathroom, gun drawn, to retrieve Burchett.

Jose and Christina Mascorro, after being treated at the hospital, were arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duty. The district court judge described the state of their home as “ransacked” after the officers left. The Mascorros sued, claiming the officers made an illegal entry, used excessive force and made a false arrest. The law enforcement officers moved to dismiss the case based on their qualified immunity from prosecution. They argued that their actions were justified because they had been in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect.

The appeals court considered US Supreme Court precedent on the question to determine whether “exigent circumstances” authorized their entry into a home without a warrant. They found only felony cases allowed such entry in extreme cases.

“We do not find the circumstances here amount to the kind of exigency excusing an officer from obtaining a warrant before entering a home,” Judge Terrence L. O’Brien wrote for the court. “The intended arrest was for a traffic misdemeanor committed by a minor, with whom the officer was well acquainted, who had fled into his family home from which there was only one exit. The risk of flight or escape was somewhere between low and nonexistent. Moreover, there was no evidence which could have potentially been destroyed and there were no officer or public safety concerns.”

Police officers lose their qualified immunity if their on-duty actions violated a constitutional right. The panel found these officers could be sued because they violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“No reasonable officer would have thought pursuit of a minor for a mere misdemeanor traffic offense constituted the sort of exigency permitting entry into a home without a warrant,” O’Brien concluded.

A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Mascorro v. Watkins (US Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, 8/31/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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28 Comments on “Federal Court: Traffic Stop Does Not Justify Home Entry...”


  • avatar
    philadlj

    “No reasonable officer would have thought pursuit of a minor for a mere misdemeanor traffic offense constituted the sort of exigency permitting entry into a home without a warrant,” O’Brien concluded

    You can keep your Few Good Men. I’ll take A Few Reasonable Officers.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Sounds like Officer Billings is yet another psychopathic bully with a pension.

    Hope he lost his jerb and benefits. And that the taxpayer isn’t on the hook for his defense.

    Good riddance.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    How can a 3 bedroom home only have one point of entry/exit?

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      Exactly.

      Unless it is an apartment, building code requires two points of exit unless the house has house a fire suppression system. Which is unlikely.

      So here is the “first” inconsistency with the story. I wonder how much else was fudged…

  • avatar
    roughbearingatsea

    It is highly unlikely that Officer Billings lost his job. Hopefully the department now has him chained to a desk pushing paperwork. This begs the question…. WTF are these guys adding to their coffee nowadays?

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      Steroids, cops want to be bulked up and intimidating, so they juice and then ‘rid rage gets added to the usual power trip and incidents like this occur. Google Jason Deason Canby Oregon for an example.

  • avatar

    “The intended arrest was for a traffic misdemeanor committed by a minor, with whom the officer was well acquainted”

    Maybe the officer was Wile E. Coyote’s cousin…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    These boys watch too many episodes of Cops. Tasers and pepper spray are used quite liberally these days. How about I not open the door and instead address the hyperactive officer from the second story window. When backup arrives someone can go get a judge to write a search warrant up and we’ll calmly read it together.

    Trashing the house isn’t required to find a person, I’ll take damages in court for thousands of dollars, Alex.

    of course the pursuing officer will tell tales of suspected felonies being committed, drugs, weapons, etc justifying the felony breech on a family home.

    It’s a shame taxpayers will pick up the bill for this.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    That officer should get a job in Homeland Security instead, where he can do that all the time to non-citizens who do not fall under the protection of U.S. law. With a resume like that, I’m sure he’ll fit right in.

    As for Officer Billings, I’m sure he’ll get a pat in the back, a very positive job review and possibly a promotion.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I am not defending the actions of this officer.

    However in our town there were several 17-year olds who made it a point of pride to terrorize cops. Smashing cruiser windows, egging, lots of verbal harassment… When the town is small enough, these kids can do lots of damage and become notorious. Plus they’re usually tied into the town’s drug scene in some way, whether as customers or friends of the popular kids who are customers. It’s not hard to piece together a “social map” with just a few casual interviews.

    Again, this was the grossly WRONG way to get at this kid.

    But I could see a situation where a chronic troublemaker is mentioned several times, in informal interviews, as running in all the wrong circles. Any kind of conversation with him would usually yield valuable gossip. And he might have been mentioned in enough past crimes to seem a particularly tantalizing grab…

    Too bad nobody will ever volunteer any useful info to this cop, ever again. He just cashed in all his cred in this town. No detective promotion for him. Might as well work traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Even if the armed men with legal authority are being “terrorized” by a bunch of kids, the power and authority granted to them by our society requires that they act like adults with good judgement and discretion at all times. I don’t deny that it’s a difficult job.

      Pepper spraying someone’s mom for answering the door and asking appropriate questions is not adult behavior. That is the kind of gangster behavior that the police are supposed to protect us FROM.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      Faulty taillights.

      The horror…

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        Yeah, I know that excuse all too well. All you need is a Harley-Davidson, and a patch on the back of your vest . . . . . . .

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        In reply to syke: Yeah, nothing works on a Harley. You will get pulled over for the taillight not working, the pipes falling off at 60 mph, the brakes failing, the RUBBER BELT driving the rear wheel breaking, the PUSHRODS breaking, and the POS falling off the trailer you’re hauling it to the shop on (every day you try to start it). You would not have these problems with a Honda. You can actually ride one of them without something going wrong every time.
        Hondas don’t use rubber belts and pushrods. They have stopped embracing, or never did embrace, 1920’s motorcycle technology.
        Thank you for the opportunity to state the facts.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Ah yeah, faulty taillights……on a coast to coast trips a few months back I pull off Rt 80 near Chicago, I was actually in Indiana, about 10:30PM, was going to gas up and get a motel room for the night. My taillights were out on my 2002 Buick Century, I was unaware I had a blown fuse.

        Cop pulls me over, says, “don’t worry, you weren’t speeding, your taillights are out”. Takes my ID and registration and retreats to his car for 10 minutes. He called for back up and another cops shows up. They ask me to get out of the car and start grilling me with questions(I’m close to 70 years old), wondering why I’m in this “bad” area.

        The cop that pulled me over was one of these rah rah, shaved head, muscled up types, 45ish. The back up guy was older and a sgt. He apparently thinks I’m selling or buying drugs. I tell him to go ahead and search my car. The trunk was loaded with luggage, a big cooler and lots of stuff I was transporting.

        I show him a copy of my sons ID, as he is in law enforcement. But that didn’t matter to the “Rahrah”, nor did the fact I was a retired fuddyduddy driving an old Buick. He proceeded to take close to 30 minutes searching my car; the trunk and every thing in it, glove box, console, he even spent about 5 minutes under the hood, tapping the bottoms of the doors and the gas tank etc.

        While he was searching, the seargent and I were standing on the sidewalk bullshiting. I got the vibe from the seargent that he thought the other cop was being a complete dick.

        Finally the cop finishes his search, seems disappointed he found nothing and tells me I can go and get my gas and motel room.

      • 0 avatar

        Kevin,

        I do custom embroidery for a number of motorcycle clubs, both 3 patch M/Cs and social clubs. Some ride Harleys (and other V-twins), others ride sportbikes. As far as I can tell, the Hayabusas are in the shop as often as the Harleys are.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    Wow, it sounds like the kid had excellent reason to be afraid of the cops.

    If the cops behaved like that in my neighborhood (and I’ve lived in places where they do), I’d run and hide too!

    Having a reputation for this kind of thing will cut down on the number of calls the cops get, but not having the citizens on their side will make actual law enforcement much harder.

  • avatar
    George B

    Unfortunately, small towns sometimes get the mentally unstable officers rejected by other jurisdictions. I had friends that would torment the local cops for entertainment. Lucky nobody got shot.

    Glad Sulphur, OK isn’t on I-35. Would be bad to have to deal with this police department on the way to Oklahoma City.

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    Look at it from this perspective.

    It is a bad part of town with a high crime rate. The cop knows the suspect and knows the kid is a punk, maybe has a previous record, and that his parents are worthless trash.

    Signals the dirtbag to pull over, kid evades him and then runs into the house to hide.

    Cop has every right to pursue, even if the original intent to pull him over was for something as trivial as a tail light.

    First question is: Why did the kid run? Answer: Had something to hide.

    “The intended arrest was for a traffic misdemeanor committed by a minor, with whom the officer was well acquainted,…”
    Generally, an officer is only well acquainted with someone they kick the door down to go after is someone with a long criminal history.

    I think the only mistake the officer made was not turning his siren on.

    Joshua may get off this time, but that kid should start looking forward to a full scholarship at Penitentiary U.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      And this justifies kicking his parent’s place apart in a nominally free country? Never heard such ridiculous justification. The only mistake “was not turning the siren on”? The cop decided to be the judge and jury as well as the prosecutor, and then claimed immunity from prosecution after his attack. That is sick.

      Still, one more reason to not visit the USA. Becoming more like a fascist police state all the time, based on these Newspaper articles.

      If the best argument anyone can come up with is that if you’re not guilty then you have nothing to worry about, then centuries of English and American common law might as well be booted out the back door onto the dump.

      Freedom? Doesn’t sound like it to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Wagen

      I do not find it surprising at all that the same voice that is defending such reprehnsible actions is the one calling humans “worthless trash.”

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Oh, and spraying the mom with pepper spray for asking if he has warrants is perfectly excusable. What should be in the pen is officer Billings. As for the kid running, probably had experience with this type of ‘peace officers’ in the past. Who wouldn’t run in that circumstance? I do hope that police officer got some time in the state pen. WOuld be great to see what the inmates will do to him. Might came out a better man in the end.

      • 0 avatar
        Just Us

        This is for all that are posting to this article: THERE IS NOTHING NEW OR UNUSUAL about this brutal invasion and absolute disregard for human rights, public safety, and a total lack of integrety.

        I’m an old man now and have personally witnessed this kind of “inexplicable” police behavior since I was ten (10) years old and I’m CERTAIN that it didn’t start then because I lost a 17 year-old (law-abiding) Uncle one year BEFORE my birth at the hands of the law………..they beat him to death & left leaning against a tree in the alley where they killed him; witnesses heard his cry for help, to no avail.

        I had to caution my children about this “irrational” behavior on the part of law enforcement.

        I suspect that the boy did NOT stop when he was “signaled” by Billings to surrender because he knew that he would be beaten or in some way abused by this officer. . . think about it: The adult mother being pepper sprayed for excersizing her legal rights (this means that she has NO legal rights in the opinion of Billings).

        The family is hispanic [Jose Mascorro] and this presents a “joyful opportunity” to be brutal & get away with it………happens only too often.

        Do you see the underlying attitude of the “peace officer”? He believes that he’s above the law and that A N Y action that he decides to take is “legal and justifiable”. This cop had a mission when it came to the kid, the parents, the home, the neighborhood, and the judicial (lol) system that still exists today.

        Be cautious when you deal with the men in blue; make sure there is sufficient lighting and witnesses if you get pulled over legally….(run if it’s not legal)……keep a video and/or voice recorder, ask to make a phone call or have someone call for you (to your family so they know the danger that you’re in).

        Again, who knows what that sick cop would have done to the boy if he had stopped………shot him? No witnesses?…justifiable shooting? That would have been more of a disaster to the family.

        He ran, he lives, thank God! It is not geography that dictates this type of “renegade” behavior on the part of law officers, no, it is “the careless disregard for human life” that causes this and it is EVERY WHER that you find unstable individuals who are legally armed and hide behind a badge………they are everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      You all need to read between the lines.

      We’ve heard basically one side of the story. Read the .pdf that is linked to the story.

      The officer’s story was pretty much dismissed with some legal babble by the immigrant loving liberal judicial system.

      There are two sides to every story. We have been told basically one side by the family, and the officer’s side by the defense that is probably up for re-election and needs to get the Hispanic vote.

      The kid was running for a reason, and the cop did not pepper spray the mom for merely asking if he had a warrant.

      This whole thing is purely a re-election ploy and unfortunately Officer Billings is going to be the scapegoat.

  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    IMO, they lost the case when the first officer paused to call for back-up. Hot pursuit means just that: Hot, right damn now, pursuit. Stopping and allowing untold minutes to pass by waiting for backup kinda puts the lie to the exigent circumstances argument. You had time to wait, set up a perimeter, establish contact by knocking (however violently) on the door, etc., then you have time to get a search warrant if you need one.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’ve been pepper sprayed. Everyone who serves in the Coast Guard gets pepper sprayed -it’s part of the training. (Or at least it was when I served)

    Getting pepper sprayed is unpleasant, to put it mildly. There was no justification for spraying mom when she asked about a warrant.

    That cop needs to be fired. He probably won’t be.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Mr. “PIG” Billings is disgrace to law enforcement. He should be fired, and sent to a “pound you in the a$$ federal pen” for a few years. People who treat others like this deserve the same treatment back…disgusting…

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