On November 3, 2022, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the Zawada v. Hogan[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to false arrest under the Fourth Amendment. The relevant facts of Zawada are as follows:
In 2019, Zawada, then represented by counsel, filed his complaint against Officer Hogan, Sergeant Harpe, Sergeant Paul, and Hamburg Township, Michigan. His claims center around his arrest by Hogan and Harpe on December 19, 2017, after he decided not to return $1,500 given to him by his supervisor, Frederic Cummins, to purchase automobile parts for Cummins’s business. The parts were not ready when Zawada arrived to purchase them, so he returned to his home in Ann Arbor and, later that evening, returned the company truck, keys, and gas receipt, but he kept the $1,500. Cummins then began attempting to contact Zawada to reacquire the money in order to buy the parts, and they exchanged a series of texts, in which Zawada provided a series of reasons why he could not return the money. Zawada claimed that he was busy meeting a friend, that he was preoccupied with a pending job interview, that he had a family emergency, and that he needed to go to Poland. Zawada then attempted to negotiate to keep a portion of the $1,500 to cover outstanding pay, but Cummins insisted that Zawada return the full amount and then they would discuss his pay. Cummins went to the Hamburg Township Police Department and reported the theft.
On December 19, 2017, Hogan and Harpe travelled to Zawada’s residence in Ann Arbor, which was outside of their territorial jurisdiction, and Zawada confirmed that he had been given the money to buy the parts, but he had not returned either the money or the parts to Cummins and had even used some of the money to pay his personal bills. Hogan and Harpe therefore arrested Zawada, and he was charged with felony embezzlement and conversion in Livingston County.[ii]
The Zawada filed suit and alleged numerous claims against the officers, supervisors and city. This article will only address the false arrest claims and excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment against the officers and supervisors (hereafter referred to jointly as the “officers”). The district court granted qualified immunity for the officers and dismissed the suit. Zawada appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Regarding the false arrest claim, Zawada first argued that the arrest was unlawful because the officers arrested him outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the Hamburg Police Department. The court of appeals examined Michigan law pertain to arrests and arrests by private citizens. The court stated
Michigan Compiled Laws § 764.16(b) allows any private citizen to make an arrest if the person to be arrested has committed a felony, and the Michigan Court of Appeals has acknowledged that this statute extends to police officers. See People v. Davis, 133 Mich. App. 707, 350 N.W.2d 796, 800 (Mich. Ct. App. 1984) (per curiam) (noting that police officers in Michigan acting outside their jurisdiction have the authority to make an arrest given probable cause); People v. Bashans, 80 Mich. App. 702, 265 N.W.2d 170, 175 (Mich. Ct. App. 1978)[iii]
Thus, as long as the officers had probable cause to arrest Zawada for a felony offense, the warrantless arrest was authorized under Michigan law.
The court of appeals then set out to determine if the officers had probable cause to arrest Zawada for embezzlement, a felony. Zawada argued that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him.
The court first stated
Probable cause exists when the “facts and circumstances [are] sufficient to lead an ordinarily prudent person to believe the accused was guilty of the crime charged.” Webb v. United States, 789 F.3d 647, 660 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting MacDermid v. Discover Fin. Servs., 342 F. App’x 138, 146 (6th Cir. 2009)).[iv]
The court then examined the facts of the case relevant to the issue of probable cause. The court noted that Cummins, the victim, reported to the police that he had given Zawada $1,500 to purchase auto parts for the business, and Zawada did not purchase the parts or return the money. Cummins also provided the police text messages between he and Zawada that corroborated Cummins report. Officers Hogan and Harpe then went to Zawada’s residence and spoke to him about the money. The officers recorded the audio of their conversation with Zawada on their patrol vehicle’s dash camera. Zawada admitted that Cummins gave him $1,500 to purchase parts, he did not purchase the parts or return the money, he spent some of the money on personal bills, and he did not have the remainder of the money with him.
Based upon the above facts, the court of appeals held that Officers Hogan and Harpe had probable cause to arrest Zawada for embezzlement under Michigan law. As such, the false arrest claim fails.
The court of appeals then examined Zawada’s claim that the officers used excessive force when they arrested him. In his complaint, Zawada claimed that the officers “violently threw him to the ground in his living room.” However, he provided no evidence to support this allegation. Additionally, in his deposition, Zawada admitted that he “refused to be arrested,” that the officers repeatedly yelled for him to stop resisting, and that he was trying to reach for his phone as the officers were trying to handcuff him. Further, after Zawada was handcuffed, the patrol car’s video showed that Zawada was not in physical distress, did not complain of injuries, and did not complain that the handcuffs were too tight.
Zawada further argued that the use of any force against him was excessive because the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him. However, the court of appeals already determined that there was probable cause to arrest him. Additionally, the criminal court also determined there was probable cause to arrest Zawada, and he pleaded no contest to a lesser charge, both of which also preclude his claim that the officers lacked probable cause.
Therefore, the court of appeals held there was no evidence that the officers used excessive force and probable cause existed to arrest Zawada. As such, the court of appeals affirmed the grant of qualified immunity to the officers.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
[i] No. 21-2932 (6th Cir. Decided November 3, 2022 Unpublished)
[ii] Id. at 1-3
[iii] Id. at 6 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 7 (emphasis added)