U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake granted Maricopa County’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by SB 1070 protester Sunita Patel, last Friday. In a seven-page order, Judge Wake ruled that Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies had sufficient probable cause when they arrested Patel during protests outside the Fourth Avenue Jail in July, 2010, and that the officers are shielded by qualified immunity against monetary damage claims.
Patel, an attorney with The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, attended a protest against SB 1070 outside the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix on July 29, 2010, shortly after the legislation was enacted. Claiming she was acting as a legal observer, Patel took photographs and recorded the names of protesters who were arrested. After declaring the protest to be an unlawful assembly and commanding the protestors to disperse, County Sheriff’s Deputies began arresting individuals who had formed a human chain blocking the driveway leading to the jail’s sally port. Officers then told the crowd it had fifteen more minutes to disperse and went back into the jail.
About fifteen minutes later, deputies came back outside and ordered protesters to clear the driveway or face immediate arrest. Patel was subsequently arrested, along with several others, and charged with obstructing a public thoroughfare (A.R.S. §13-2906) and failing to comply with a police officer (A.R.S. §28-622). The charges were later dismissed by the County Attorney’s Office.
In her claim against Maricopa County, Patel sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief from the Sheriff’s Office. “Under the totality of the circumstances, a prudent person would have believed that Plaintiff committed a crime under A.R.S. §28-622(A) by willfully failing to comply with an officer’s order or direction,” Judge Wake wrote in his order denying Patel’s claim. “Based on the undisputed evidence here, the arresting deputy reasonably believed that Plaintiff had committed a crime and that her arrest was lawful.”
“Today’s ruling affirms that law enforcement officers should not be sued for performing their duties in a lawful and reasonable manner,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly are not a license to ignore the orders of uniformed law enforcement or obstruct a public thoroughfare,” he added.