"The force" was with Randy Alman one October afternoon in Westland, Michigan.
Unfortunately, that "force" was a cruiser-combating task force staffed by officers from the Westland Police Department and the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. Based on what was likely a misunderstanding, those officers arrested Alman in Westland's Hix Park and charged him with criminal sexual conduct, solicitation or accosting, being a disorderly person, and battery.
Enter Luke Skywalker. Yes, the assistant county prosecutor assigned to the case was actually named Luke Skywalker. Which means we get to fill this post with "Star Wars" references.
Skywalker dismissed the charges against Alman -- "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you" -- based on an office policy that unsolicited sexual act or obscene conduct charges wouldn't be pursued if a police officer's conduct was designed to make the individual believe the act was invited or consensual. (In other words, the department doesn't prosecute when "it's a trap!")
Alman then sued Michigan law enforcement officials, the City of Westland, and Wayne County for their involvement in his arrest, claiming that they lacked probable cause to detain him.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The facts behind Alman's arrest are hardly damning. Alman was taking a break from helping his mother move to a nearby apartment building when he encountered Deputy Reed, the undercover cruiser decoy, in Hix Park. Reed claims that Alman invited him to take a walk down a path to look for a "big buck" and then grabbed his crotch. Alman says he never invited Reed on the walk, Reed followed him, and then misinterpreted accidental zipper contact as a come-on.
So the issue is whether the facts and circumstances within the cops' knowledge were sufficient to warrant a prudent person -- or one of reasonable caution -- to believe that Alman had committed, was committing, or was about to commit an offense. After an extended analysis of "sexually flirtatious conversation" and incidental crotch contact, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the cops didn't have probable cause to arrest Alman.
Perhaps "the dark side of the [task] force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be... unnatural." But when those abilities involve luring potential park cruisers, law enforcement should avoid half-hearted attempts at flirting and following, and stick to arresting obvious offenders. Remember, young Padawans: Do or do not. There is no try.
- Alman v. Reed (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)
- Puppies, Privacy, and Probable Cause: SCOTUS Goes to the Dogs (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)
- Conspiracy Theory? Sixth Circuit Denies Cop Qualified Immunity (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)