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Unconstitutional seizure or good police work?

Alan Hoover is a returned Marine combat veteran of the Iraq war. Timothy Walsh and Michael Gondek are Dearborn Heights police officers.  Walsh and Gondek were dispatched to investigate a suspicious vehicle near a Dearborn intersection.  While they were at the intersection, they observed Hoover in a Dodge Neon.  The Neon did not meet the description of the vehicle they had been dispatched to investigate, but the officers observed that personal belongings in the back seat blocked Hoover's view in the rearview mirror.  They followed him for several blocks and his path of travel seemed illogical to them, so they pulled him over.

The officers said that Hoover failed to make eye contact, chain-smoked, and provided a military ID rather than his driver's license, which he was not carrying.  They saw that Hoover's 18 month-old son was in a car seat in the rear of the Neon with diapers on his lap and Hoover's "unpacked" personal belongings strewn around the vehicle.  Hoover claimed he was driving his son to Ohio and that his wife knew he was leaving the state and would join him.  He said he was planning to visit two area friends to say "goodbye" when he was stopped. He provided the officers with his in-laws' names and phone number, suggesting the child's mother might be there, however, when contacted the parents alleged there had been a domestic dispute precipitating Hoover's non-consensual departure with his child.

Officers then asked dispatch to contact Hoover's wife, who related his difficulties adjusting to civilian life, his recent accusations of an affair and a resulting domestic dispute.  After about 50 minutes, Hoover was hand-cuffed and taken to police headquarters.  His wife was summoned to the headquarters, and the child was turned over to her.  She related her story about Hoover's self-injurious tirade through their home and her concern that he had described thoughts of suicide.  The officers then transported Hoover to the VA Hospital where he was evaluated by a psychiatrist who interviewed Hoover and concluded there was no basis for hospitalizing him against his will. 

Officers then secured a commitment request from Hoover's wife and he was admitted involuntarily.  He was discharged two days later, on Monday morning.  He then filed suit against the police, claiming that his seizure and subsequent illegal custodial arrangements including the involuntary commitment, constituted an "illegal arrest or seizure" under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. 

The Federal courts evaluated the police conduct at each stage of developments and concluded that even though Hoover had done nothing illegal, the officers did not act illegally in detaining him, handcuffing him, transporting him to police headquarters, or transporting him to a mental hospital confinement.  The court concluded that while Hoover's activities were innocent, there was sufficient suggestion of potential illegal action to warrant further investigation (and detention). [And with the recent Supreme Court ruling--Hoover was also subject to body-cavity search.]

The moral of the story:  I guess, don't throw your belongings around in your car and make sure to make eye contact with the police if you are stopped.  Otherwise, if there is any criminal or suspicious interpretation that can be placed on your behavior, you may spend the weekend somewhere other than where you expected.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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