On September 29, 2020, the Court of Appeals of Georgia decided Patrick v. Andrews[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to false arrest under the Fourth Amendment. The relevant facts of Patrick, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
Viewed with these principles in mind, the record shows that around 9:00 p.m. on August 8, 2013, Gregory Crosby phoned 911 and requested assistance regarding a dispute he was having with his neighbor about the location of a fencepost. Crosby told the dispatcher to “send someone before we shoot each other” and ended the phone call.
Deputy Andrews was dispatched to the scene, which was a farm in a remote area of the county. When Andrews arrived, he made contact with Crosby and his neighbor, Boyd Headley. Headley had a gun holster on his side; he told Andrews the gun was in his truck. Headley said he did not have any weapons on him, but Andrews found a knife in his pocket. Crosby was near his golf cart, which had gun racks on it. Andrews moved the men away from their vehicles and positioned himself so the men could not access their vehicles and weapons without “going … through” him. Crosby and Headley were “hostile towards [Andrews]” and each other.
Andrews deposed that he was trying to maintain safety, reason with the men and diffuse the situation, but Crosby and Headley kept yelling and would not calm down or cooperate with him. Crosby and Headley appeared to be intoxicated. While Andrews was trying to take charge of the situation, a back-up officer radioed him and said he was having trouble finding the location. Andrews tried to give the officer directions while still “dealing with” Crosby and Headley in what was “a fluid situation.” Crosby then stated that he was calling his friend, and he used his cell phone to call Patrick and two other people and told them to come to the scene. Andrews told Crosby to call the people back and tell them not to come, as he “had [his] hands full … [and did not] need anybody else [t]here[.]”
As he was “dealing with” Crosby and Headley and trying to help the back-up officer locate the scene, Andrews noticed a person quietly walk out of a dark wood line and onto Headley’s property, toward the group. The person, later identified as Patrick, was holding up what Andrews subsequently determined was a cell phone. Patrick, who lived in a camper on Crosby’s property, did not say anything but was recording the incident with the phone; Andrews did not know Patrick prior to this incident.
Andrews believed he had “a volatile situation with everything else — guns, knives, whatnot — I got it all and he shows up. So I don’t know what he’s doing.” It was dark out, and Andrews, considering it “a safety issue,” viewed Patrick as “another threat.” Headley claimed the property was his and stated that he did not want Patrick on his property.
Andrews told Patrick “not to approach, not to come any further.” Unsure of whether Patrick had heard him, Andrews approached Patrick and told him he was conducting an investigation and that Patrick needed to leave. Patrick said he was recording Andrews; Andrews deposed that he did not care that Patrick was recording the incident because his own camera was also recording it and “[p]eople do it all the time.” Patrick took one step backward and asked, “[i]s that good enough?” Andrews replied, “[n]o, you need to leave[.]” Patrick took a second step backward and asked if that was good enough. Andrews replied that it was not and again told Patrick to leave, saying that Patrick was not involved in the dispute and that if he did not leave the property he would be arrested for obstruction. When Patrick still refused to leave, Andrews handcuffed and arrested him for obstruction.
Andrews deposed that Patrick was not involved in the dispute, that he was interfering with the investigation, that the situation was unsafe, and that he thus needed to be removed from the scene. Patrick deposed that Andrews did tell him to leave the property, but that he was standing “far away” while Andrews was investigating the dispute; that Patrick believed he had permission to be on the property as he was friends with both men and had been on Headley’s property earlier that day; and that as Patrick “was walking up,” Andrews threatened to “take everybody to jail.[ii]
Patrick sued Deputy Andrews in state court for violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment by arresting him for obstruction without probable cause as well as false arrest under state law. The trial court granted summary judgment for Deputy Andrews on all claims, finding qualified immunity on the federal claim and official immunity on the state claim. Patrick appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. [Note: This article will only discuss the Fourth Amendment claim.]
The Fourth Amendment Claim – Unlawful Arrest
The court of appeals first examined the law related to unlawful arrest claims under the Fourth Amendment. The court stated
An arrest without probable cause is unconstitutional, but officers who make such an arrest are entitled to qualified immunity if there was arguable probable cause for the arrest.” Jones v. Cannon, 174 F3d 1271, 1283 (III) (C) (11th Cir. 1999) (emphasis supplied). Arguable probable cause exists “if a reasonable police officer, knowing what [Andrews] knew, could have believed there was probable cause for the warrantless arrest.” Id. Showing arguable probable cause does not require an arresting officer to prove every element of a crime; that “would negate the concept of probable cause and transform arresting officers into prosecutors.” Scarbrough v. Myles, 245 F3d 1299, 1302-1303 (11th Cir. 2001). “The validity of [an] arrest does not depend on whether the suspect actually committed a crime; the mere fact that the suspect is later acquitted of the offense for which he is arrested is irrelevant to the validity of the arrest.” Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U. S. 31, 36 (III) (99 SCt 2627, 61 LE2d 343) (1979).[iii]
The court of appeals then examined the Georgia obstruction statute. The statute states, in pertinent part,
OCGA § 16-10-24 (a) provides that “a person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer … in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The court also examined relevant case law related to the Georgia obstruction statute. The court noted that obstruction has been upheld in circumstances similar to the facts of Patrick’s case. Specifically, the court noted
This Court has found obstruction in cases with facts similar to the incident in the instant case. See, e.g., West v. State, 296 Ga. App. 58, 61-62 (2) (673 SE2d 558) (2009) (evidence of obstruction sufficient where investigating officer had repeatedly asked defendant to leave scene when victim said she was afraid of him, officer advised defendant that failure to comply would result in arrest, and defendant continued to speak to officer and ignore his requests), overruled in part on other grounds at Worthen v. State, 304 Ga. 862, 874 (3) (e) n. 8 (823 SE2d 291) (2019); Harris, supra (where officers responding to a disturbance call in a hospital emergency room attempted to restore order by directing defendant to wait for nurse’s authorization to enter hospital treatment area and to “back off,” but defendant failed to comply with officer’s lawful command, defendant committed crime of misdemeanor obstruction).[iv]
In light of the above, the court explained that Andrews was the only deputy on the scene of a dispute with two men, both possibly with access to weapons. Then, Patrick emerged from the woods and refused to leave, despite Andrews telling him numerous times to do so. In light of these facts, and the above precedent, the court of appeals held that Deputy Andrews had arguable probable cause to arrest Patrick for obstruction for hindering his ability to investigate the disturbance. Therefore, Deputy Andrews was entitled to qualified immunity.
[i] 356 Ga. App. 801 (2020)
[ii] Id. at 801-803
[iii] Id. at 803-804 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 805