Turning down qualified immunity to law enforcement officers who commit a breach of rights is rare. It doesn’t mean the accused cops lose. It just means they can’t negkect the lawsuit. In theory, it means that officers who were alleged to have violated rights will now approach a jury.
Although, a cop facing a jury is rarer than an immunity denial. When government employees are faced with being judged by a jury of their peers, their employers are likely to begin handing out settlements. What this implies is force the people they’re supposed to be serving to buy their way out of lawsuits where government misconduct might become part of the permanent record.
That is the case here. In May 2018, Des Moines resident and radio producer Daniel Robbins was recording illegally parked cars near the police station. Some of these illegally parked cars were driven by police officers. Detective Brad Youngblut, on his way towards his (reportedly illegally parked) vehicle noticed Robbins and decided to start pestering him.
The pestering continued for around 12 minutes. By the end of it, Robbins was surrounded by police officers and no longer possessed either his cell phone or camera. The reason given for this confiscation was… well, nothing real and wasn’t answered until the Youngblut and the officers were sued. This is what was said at the time:
Detective Youngblut suggested that the officers “just make a suspicious activity case . . . [and] confiscate the camera until we have a reason for what we’re doing.”
Once sued, the detective claimed accused car vandalism in the area, along with a murder of two cops somewhere else in the country by a person filming them, was all the justification he needed to stop Robbins and seize his recording equipment.
What was left unexplained to any court’s satisfaction was why Robbins’ property was seized and why it took the Des Moines PD 12 days to return it to him. The Eighth Circuit Appeals Court said Robbins’ Fourth Amendment allegations were credible, reversing the granting of immunity to officers by the lower court.
On remand, the district court issued a ruling aligning with the Appeals Court decision, which meant the next step for the officers would be a jury trial. But, of course, the city of Des Moines isn’t going to let that happen. Instead, it’s going to “allow” residents to pay the tab for the misconduct of these officers.
The city of Des Moines is paying a $125,000 settlement to a man who was detained by police for recording video outside the police station, court records show.
“The city won this case at the district court level, which was ultimately reversed by a panel of Eighth Circuit judges,” City Manager Scott Sanders said in a statement. “While the city disagrees with the panel’s determination, it also respects the judicial process and decided to settle the case and move forward.”