Rick Rynearson Takes Illegal Checkpoint Detention to Fifth Circuit

Veteran’s Against Police Abuse founder Rick Rynearson is appealing a recently dismissed lawsuit against Border Patrol agents who detained him for thirty-four minutes, despite his offering of a military ID, driver’s license, two passports and despite answering their questions. The incident was captured by five video cameras and you can view it here.

Earlier this month, Rynearson presented his situation in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Related video and documents are below, as is background text originally shared by Rynearson via VeteransAgainstPoliceAbuse.com.

Rynearson has funded this lawsuit, and another similar ongoing civil suit, entirely himself. He is now appealing this civil suit to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

If you are in a position to help Rynearson continue his quest for justice, consider:

  1. donating via Paypal to “lilryno@aol.com” (or visit Rynearson’s site and click the Paypal button in the upper-left)
  2. mailing a check to: Rick Rynearson, 9450 SW Genini Dr ECM, #8182, Beaverton, OR 97008
  3. sharing the content below with those in your sphere

Rynearson notes, any money not used for this litigation will be donated evenly between The Peaceful Streets Project, Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC), CopBlock, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Thank you for any help you can provide!

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Argument concerning unconstitutional activity at an interior suspicionless checkpoint in Uvalde, TX delivered before the Honorable Judges Elrod, Reavely, and Southwick on 2 September 2014.

The 28J letter requested by the court, and Rynearson’s response to the letter.

28J Letter in Rynearson v United States of America, et al by VAPA-AgainstCopAbuse

Background

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Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Del Rio dismissed a civil lawsuit, prior to discovery, against two Border Patrol agents on the ground that the plaintiff did not demonstrate a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and therefore the agents had qualified immunity against discovery or civil suit.  The suit has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court heard oral argument, and we wait for their ruling.  The pleadings before the Fifth Circuit can be viewed here.

The plaintiff, Richard Rynearson, argued that a thirty-four minute detention for a suspicionless immigration inspection sixty-seven miles from the Mexican border violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures.  Rynearson provided video of the encounter that shows he offered a driver’s license, a military ID, an official passport, and a personal passport  and answered all eighteen question the agents asked him, with the exception of a single question concerning the identity of his supervisor at his place of employment (a question the agent told Rynearson he did not have to answer).

Still, the district court ruled that a thirty-four minute immigration detention was reasonable, and gave two separate arguments for its decision.

The first argument the court made in its ruling, was that Rynearson’s “own actions” caused the delay, and therefore this was a reasonable length for an immigration inspection.  Specifically the court ruled that Rynearson caused the well above average detention by 1) refusing to roll his window down during part of the detention, 2) refusing to physically hand his identification to an agent, despite the agent not asking for the identification to be physically handed over and despite the agent’s claim that the identification was irrelevant to immigration status, and 3) Rynearson’s “arguing” with the agent concerning the standard of suspicion required for further detetention, and Rynearson’s challenging the agent’s claim that he could not hear him.  The court did not hold the agents responsible for their failure to ask a single immigration question until eleven minutes into the detention.  The court did not explain why a citizen suspected of no crime must legally roll a window down beyond what is necessary to verbally communicate (if at all), or why he must physically hand over identification without a clear request (if at all), or why protected speech to disagree with an agent removes the need for government agents to act diligently during a detention that is legally required to be brief (couple of minutes).

The second argument the court made in its ruling, was that the agents had reasonable suspicion for “some criminal activity,” and the court mentioned possible drug smuggling or “another possibility” that Rynearson was acting as a decoy for unidentified vehicle(s) behind him that might have been smuggling contraband.  The court lists the following to support its lonesome claim of reasonable suspicion for “some criminal activity:” 1) Rynearson not rolling the window down for part of the detention, 2) disagreeing with the agents about the applicability of mere suspicion when not on the border, and disagreeing with the claim agents could not hear him, 3) making a phone call to his lawyer, his wife, the FBI, and the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington DC, 4) declining the request to exit the vehicle (a request and not an order according to the agent’s affadavit), and 5) not handing over his identification physically to the agent, despite the agent not requesting it be handed over and despite the agent claiming the identification was irrelevant to immigration status.  The court’s ruling makes no mention of the fact that the government itself did not claim the defendants had reasonable suspicion in its motion to dismiss, nor does the court mention that the primary agent declared in a signed affadavit that “Mr. Rynearson’s detention was solely for the purpose of conducting an immigration inspection.”  The court does not relate that the primary agent said multiple times during the incident that he did not need reasonable suspicion, or that the agent only told Rynearson that he had “mere suspicion;” a standard less than reasonable suspicion, that is only applicable for checkpoints on the actual border.  The court makes no mention of the fact that Rynearson’s window was partially rolled down in the primary inspection area and yet the drug dog did not alert for drugs.  The court also did not explain how a motorist who had installed five video cameras to record his actions in and around his vehicle, could be reasonably suspected of engaging in “some criminal activity.”

If the district court’s ruling is allowed to stand, the legal reality in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi will be that American motorists who are simply driving from one American town to another American town, who have committed no crimes and who are suspected of no wrongdoing at all, may be detained by the federal government for thirty-four minutes regardless of the abundance of (legally unrequired) immigration status proof they provide or their (legally unrequired) cooperation with questioning.  In short, if this ruling is allowed to stand, it will remove the protections of previous Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court case law, which requires that these suspicionless checkpoint stops be brief, be limited to the purpose of inquring into immigration status, and that they present only a “minimal intrusion” to motorists who are not suspected of any crime.  Put another way, if this ruling is allowed to stand, not even cooperation with the programmatic purpose of a checkpoint will be enough to shield innocent Americans from unreasonable seizures that are far from minimally intrusive.  In addition, this ruling if unchecked, will encourage federal activist judges to invent “reasonable suspicion” out of thin air, using only guesses and hunches to list various possibilities of “some criminal activity,” even when federal government law enforcement makes no such claim itself.

Rynearson has appealed this ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the hope of reminding the Border Patrol and the district court that its ruling in Machuca-Barerra still stands, and that suspicionless checkpoint stops are an exception to the standing rule of the Fourth Amendment, must be brief, must present a minimal intrusion, and must not be operated in a fashion that treats motorists as though they are all suspected of “some criminal activity.”

Rynearson Appeal to Fifth Circuit by VAPA-AgainstCopAbuse

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Rick Rynearson

Media Related to Rynearson’s Case

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Pete Eyre

Pete Eyre is co-founder of CopBlock.org. As an advocate of peaceful, consensual interactions, he seeks to inject a message of complete liberty and self-government into the conversation of police accountability. Eyre went to undergrad and grad school for law enforcement, then spent time in DC as an intern at the Cato Institute, a Koch Fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance, Directer of Campus Outreach at the Institute for Humane Studies, Crasher-in-Chief at Bureaucrash, and as a contractor for the Future of Freedom Foundation. In 2009 he left the belly of the beast and hit the road with Motorhome Diaries and later co-founded Liberty On Tour. He spent time in New Hampshire home, and was involved with Free Keene, the Free State Project and The Daily Decrypt.