Texas Man Awarded $345k for Unlawful Arrest after Cop Denied Qualified Immunity
Dallas transit cop Stephanie Branch claimed she never received the memo explaining that photography is not a crime inside train stations which is why she remained ignorant of the law for two years before she arrested local photographer and activist Avi Adelman in 2016.
She had been on sick leave when the memo was issued to all Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officers on June 4, 2014 informing them of the new policy allowing photography inside train stations, which replaced the previous unconstitutional policy banning photography that Adelman had complained about.
In fact, she had gone on sick leave on May 2014, one month before the memo was issued, and did not return to work until January 2016, a month before she arrested Adelman on a criminal trespass charge.
She said it was not until February 17, 2016 – eight days after she arrested Adelman for trying to photograph paramedics tending to an overdose victim – that she first learned of a departmental policy allowing photography inside the train station.
She was also found to have lied 23 times in the internal affairs investigation into the arrest which is what led to Adelman receiving a $345,000 settlement last month after rejecting countless lower offers.
Thanks to his settlement, Adelman bought a 2012 Jeep Wrangler with a tire cover on the back with his photography logo and the following words beneath the logo:
"This vehicle paid for by DART, your tax dollars at work."
Branch, meanwhile, remains on the force after serving a three-day suspension for her lies and policy violations and unlawful arrest. The real losers here are the taxpayers as always.
One cop who did get the memo was DART police officer Elmar Cannon who witnessed Branch harassing and arresting Adelman on the night of February 9, 2016 and refused to assist in the arrest. But he also refused to intervene on behalf of Adelman even though he knew he was being unlawfully arrested.
"He can take all the pictures he wants," Cannon told a paramedic according to a transcript of the conversation recorded by his body camera which is posted below.
"That’s why I’m not getting involved in that."
Had he gotten involved and stopped Branch from making her unlawful arrest, he would have saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs to defend the arrest. Not just the $345,000 settlement received by Adelman but the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by DART over the past three years in trying to get the lawsuit dismissed which included an appeal to the Fifth Circuit which was denied. DART is also required to pay for Adelman's attorney fees.
"(Cannon) threw her under the bus by not stopping her (from making the arrest)," Adelman said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
It was Adelman's first and only arrest in the 63 years he's been alive and it was especially annoying because Branch had accused him of violating HIPAA laws when that has nothing to do with public photography as he explained in a PINAC News article two months before his arrest.
The memo, inspired by Adelman's activism, played a key role in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in denying her qualified immunity in September.
The ruling states:
"No reasonable officer under these circumstances would conclude that she had authority to eject a person complying with DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] policies from public property—and then arrest that person for criminal trespass when he failed to depart."
A footnote in the ruling also states that "Branch’s mistake was not reasonable. She didn’t misinterpret an unclear policy or law; she simply failed to learn about DART’s updated policy."
Branch's lies include several made-up quotes she attributed to Adelman, herself, the paramedics and even an imaginary witness she claims yelled at Adelman to stop taking photos. None of those statements were found on her body camera footage.
Her arrest report, in fact, is filled with direct quotes which should raise suspicions because nobody is able to remember quotes word by word without writing them down at the time they are said.
The following quote was attributed to Adelman which was used to paint him as being disruptive and rude when it was her being disruptive and rude.
"I do not plan on moving anywhere. I am on city of Dallas property. I don't give a damn about you or that man."
She also invoked the mythical War on Cops by claiming she feared Adelman was using his camera as a pretense to get close to cops and somehow kill them.
"Due to the ambush and killing of 6 to 8 police officers while on duty across the USA, I felt that protecting my co-workers back while they worked the medical scene was very important and a safety concern," she explained.
And she claimed she was acting on behalf of Dallas Fire-Rescue when she ordered Adelman away after a paramedic said, "Hey guys, that man is taking pictures and moving too close. Beware. Keep him back and away from our scene as we treat this man!"
But none of those statements were found on any recording.
What was found on a body cam recording was a paramedic asking Cannon, "Why is she going crazy" when he saw her harassing Adelman.
Read the lawsuit, arrest report and internal affairs investigation here. Very interesting reading. Below are screenshots of the conversation between Transit cop Cannon and the Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedic.