Missouri Law Enforcement Explain Why No AMBER Alert Was Issued for Missing Father, 2 Sons

Many people across Missouri have wondered why no AMBER Alert was issued for a missing Pleasant Hope father and his two sons.

Darrell Peak and his two young boys, Mayson and Kaiden, were found dead near Warsaw on Monday.

Missouri State Highway Patrol says the case did not meet certain criteria. While no one with the MSHP headquarters would do a camera interview with KY3, the agency issued a statement instead.

“The Missouri State Highway Patrol issued a state-wide Endangered Person Advisory for Darrell Peak, Kaiden Peak, and Mayson Peak,” the statement read. “This advisory informed the media, the public, and law enforcement agencies across the state of the situation involving the Peak family. An AMBER Alert was not issued, as the statutory requirements for the activation of an AMBER Alert were not met.”​​

It was 16 hours after Darrell Peak left his home on Thursday when authorities were notified to be on the lookout.

“Any and every lead that is coming in we’re following,” Greene County Deputy Jason Winston told KY3 prior to the discovery. “We’re exhausting this investigation in every way we know how.”

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office said it asked several times for an amber alert to be issued.

Requirements for issuing an Amber Alert include timely requests, as more time goes by, the usefulness of an alert diminishes. Alert requirements also note parental disputes do not apply unless there is concern that a child could be harmed.

Some wonder why Peak’s history of depression and suicidal thoughts did not merit an AMBER Alert.

”My understanding is the family, the wife or a family member, went on the air and said he would never hurt his children,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox said. “My mindset is the family didn’t think he would ever do something like that, therefore it doesn’t meet the criteria.”

Would that have changed if authorities feared Peak could hurt his two sons?

”Yes, I believe it would have,” Knox said. “Again I cannot speak for their people, but if you meet all the criteria of the AMBER Alert there is no reason they couldn’t do one.”

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office previously told KY3 about their AMBER Alert attempts.

”We would definitely like for this issue to meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert, but at the same time we realize criteria is in place for a reason,” Winston said.

After this case, Sheriff Knox said many have asked him if the AMBER Alert system should be changed.

“My statement to that would be no,” he said. “The AMBER Alert is set up with criteria that is fairly stringent to keep that very serious when an amber alert goes off.”

Knox fears a change could lead to people ignoring alerts.

”Something we see day in and day out is people fighting, take off with the kids,” he said. “Happens all the time. I think everybody did exactly what they could do with the information they had. If you set off an AMBER Alert for every husband and wife that had an argument and walked away with the kids, people would ignore it. It would be a nuisance instead of something serious.”

Knox said he feels this case does draw attention to the need for more mental health outreach efforts at the state level.

“Society lets these people down,” he said. “We do not have the proper mechanisms in place to deal with mental illness anymore. And at the state level I think there needs to be help for mental illness.”

By Michael Van Schoik | KY3​

Drury Offers New Scholarships for Law Enforcement Officers With ‘Badge To Bachelor’s’ Program

Springfield-based Drury University announced Thursday that it’s offering a new scholarship program for law enforcement officers.

“Badge to Bachelor’s” is intended to give a leg up to law enforcement officers who enroll in Drury GO, the university’s two- and four-year evening and online degree program, said Mike Brothers, chief Drury spokesperson.

Qualifying Drury GO students can receive up to $500 in scholarship aid each semester, while students who graduated from Drury Law Enforcement Academy can receive up to $600 per semester.

Drury GO students often enroll in one or two courses at a time as they pursue their educations, Brothers said. With Drury charging $320 per credit hour, a course often costs $960 per semester, so the discounts offered by Badge to Bachelor’s make taking a class or two more accessible, Brothers said.

Many officers seek degrees to advance careers

While many law enforcement officers already have a degree or obtained significant college credits as a requirement for getting their job, many others are seeking degrees to become eligible for promotions, Brothers said.

That reality is in keeping with a general trend primed by the pandemic, Brothers added: More adults with some college experience already under their belts are looking to get back into school, in Drury’s experience.

The Badge to Bachelor’s aid may be paired with federal Pell Grants and Missouri Fast Track funding, in qualifying situations, Drury said in a Thursday news release. To further aid their path to a degree, Drury said it also plans to offer two courses on ethics and leadership this summer to Badge to Bachelor’s participants at a significantly reduced cost.

The funding is available for officers seeking any of Drury GO’s 30-plus degree programs, but the university offers two degree programs of particular interest to officers.

One program includes an associate’s degree and bachelor of science in law enforcement, with a focus on the latest investigative and procedural techniques as well as effective communication and leadership. The associate’s degree includes 24 credit hours that form the “core” of Drury’s law enforcement academy.

Another program includes an associate’s degree of science and bachelor of science in criminal justice. These degrees explore criminal investigation and conviction, including causes and prevention of criminal behavior. The degree prepares graduates to apply what they learn to real-world problems as they work in community, social or correctional agencies.

‘Welcomed and appreciated’

Regional law enforcement leaders hailed Drury’s move.

“I was notified of this new program last month and have made SPD officers aware,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told the News-Leader in an email relayed through a spokesperson. The chief thanked Drury for offering a new option for police officers working on their degrees and said, “Any opportunity that enhances an officer’s ability to improve their education is welcomed and appreciated.”

In a Drury news release, Webster County Sheriff Roye Cole said, “Although a degree isn’t always required in a law enforcement position, earning my bachelor’s in criminology and psychology and later my master in business administration from Drury University helped me see the bigger picture in my field and set me up for success as I advanced my career.”

Cole added, “The networking, education, legal, social and economic perspectives and lifelong friends have truly blessed me in my career and my personal life. Furthering your education only makes sense as the field is more complex — and more important — than ever.”

Drury encourages officers interested in Badge to Bachelor’s scholarship opportunities and admission requirements to call 417-873-7373 or email go@drury.edu.

Badge to Bachelor’s isn’t the only new educational opportunity tailored for law enforcement to be announced recently.

In January, the United Way of the Ozarks announced an Academy for Inclusion and Belonging aimed at law enforcement and nonprofit workers. Funded by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, that program is intended to address racism, the News-Leader reported earlier.

What Should Law Enforcement Reform Look Like?

While the national outcry for “police reform” is widely publicized on mainstream media channels, what would such reform actually look like if it were to be realistic and of any value?

​​Before the readership gets upset, this is in NO WAY a criticism or indictment of how law enforcement today does the job. That said, evolution is inevitable and resisting it only results in greater headache, heartache and—all too often—financial distress for the few who end up in the spotlight. While plenty of people who have never worked in law enforcement, both politicians and journalistic pundits alike, like to criticize how law enforcement officers did something, they seldom seem to offer a reasonable suggestion for how that something could be done differently or better. News outlets love to sensationalize an event and several news outlets have been caught carefully editing what they show to make an ugly situation seem even worse, always painting the law enforcement professionals in the worst possible light.
 
Reality is quite different from what we see on the news anymore (unfortunately). Journalistic integrity is challenged (HUGE understatement). But since there seems to be such a large societal conversation going on about “police reform,” we at the Officer Media Group thought it would be a good idea to find out how law enforcement professionals themselves felt reform could happen. What could be done or changed that would actually benefit the community and be within contemporary controls for how we do our job?
 
To that end, we crafted a very short and simple survey to solicit such opinions. In less than one week we received almost 800 replies. Below is a review of the responses and discussion on the options for reform in the order they were ranked by our respondents. Of interest to note is that the number one response we received has nothing to do with reforming police at all (see below). The next six are all changes that would have to be made at the agency level while the next one finally addresses individual officer performance—and even that is dependent on agency empowerment. Let’s take a look at the data.

Just to identify those taking the survey, we asked three questions: type of agency, position within the agency and whether the agency size is over or under 100 sworn officers.

Two-thirds of the respondents work for police departments. One-sixth work for sheriff’s offices and the rest were mixed between federal, military and private or other. This may seem inconsequential but it’s of note for one reason: The difference between police departments and sheriff’s offices.
 
Sheriff’s offices are Constitutionally mandated and sheriffs themselves are elected. They are directly responsible for the deputies under them. Police departments are created by governmental bodies—states, counties or cities. The police chief is an appointee of the chief executive officer of the given government unit (i.e. the governor, the county executive or the mayor). It’s an important difference and there are many examples of sheriffs behaving in the best interest of their constituents/citizens, while police chiefs do as they are directed by the governmental body they serve. To be fair, they have no choice if they want to stay employed.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents were of supervisory or command rank with the remainder listing themselves as “line officers.”

The size of agency was a near even split between over 100 officers (54%) and below 100 officers (46%).
 
The fourth question was about what types of “police reform” would be most effective in the respondent’s opinion. Let’s list out the options for response in the order of popularity, top to bottom. They were:
 
  • Increase accountability of mainstream media outlets
  • Increase minimum hours of required annual training
  • Return to heavy focus on Community Oriented Policing
  • Increase training focus on community relations
  • Increase investment in less-lethal tool development/ deployment
  • Increase foot patrols/get officers out of their cruisers more
  • Increase length of basic police academy
  • Increase officer discretion in all misdemeanor criminal cases
  • Increase training in social assistance topics
  • Add certified/trained Social Workers to police & sheriffs agencies
  • Increase training on racial diversity/social morays and customs
  • Increase racial diversity within agencies/departments
  • Increase gender diversity within agencies/departments
  • Increase college requirements prior to hiring
  • Increase funding for education in prisons
  • Redefine “law enforcement” into “peace keeping” for performance expectations
  • Decriminalize streets drugs
  • Change/modify laws concerning/controlling use of force
  • Reduce funding for law enforcement as a whole

Remembering that the largest sampling group response came from police supervisors and command staff with agencies over 100 officers in size, it’s telling that the first most popular response was “Increase accountability of mainstream media outlets.” With over 75% of all respondents having selected that option, it was the number one most selected answer. Keep that in mind as you read through the rest of the commentary on other responses.

The next six most popular responses all deal with agency policy, direction and funding. Increasing training, whether it’s basic, social topics, community relations, etc.—all increases in training require an increase in funding. This is directly opposite of what so many people are demanding: “defund the police.”

When you get to the eighty item on the list—“Increase officer discretion in all misdemeanor criminal cases”—there is finally something impacted by the individual officer. It occurs to us that this is the item the public most needs to understand doesn’t exist as much as it probably should. It’s the item that the mainstream media would have you believe FULLY exists but only as prejudice. Think about it…

When the media says a white officer shot an unarmed black man, there are two implications: one, that the incident was racially motivated, and two that the officer had a choice. The third implication is that the officer made the wrong choice based on prejudice.

Now, let’s not confuse the issue: if an officer (of any race) is under immediate potentially lethal threat and defends himself (or herself) by using lethal force against a suspect (of any race), then the action is justified both legally and morally. Yes, there is discretion used on the part of the officer: he obviously had the option of NOT using defensive lethal force and risking dying. In many cases, the officer uses force to protect an innocent and not using force would sacrifice the innocent in favor of protecting the life / well-being of the violent perpetrator. This really is a dialogue that needs to be had at the national level and with full disclosure from all involved.

Several of the options listed included increasing diversity either by gender or race. Diversity is a laudable goal but the question is this: Should an agency—police or sheriff or other—be MORE diverse than the community served? Further, should the pursuit of diversity be place of greater priority than competence of the people hired? Let’s play Devil’s Advocate and look at two examples:

If a community has a perfect racial balance between two given races (i.e. “black” and “white”), then should the police department also be perfectly balanced? The obvious answer is yes. Neither race should be represented to a greater balance. The same can be said of gender. If the community is perfectly balanced male and female, then the police department should be the same, correct?

So, here’s the second part of that question: should the standards of hiring be sacrificed to insure balanced diversity? What if one race or the other doesn’t have enough qualified applicants to fill the necessary positions and keep the agency balanced? Should the agency then operate at reduced staffing levels to maintain the balance? Or should the qualified applicants be hired even though it will offset the balance?

The answer is one dictated by both federal law, many states’ laws, county personnel policies and the same in cities. The nationwide cry for police reform assumes a few very wrong “facts”: It assumes that all law enforcement are police and will be changed accordingly. It assumes that all departments operate exactly the same and that all budgets are the same. It assumes that all races, genders, sexual orientations and education levels are equally proportioned in every community.

None of those “facts” are actually true and trying to reshape law enforcement in compliance with false facts is… well… ludicrous. Let’s start with holding the mainstream media accountable for their misrepresentations and increase funding for training. It would be a great foundation for law enforcement reform moving forward.

By Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) | Officer.com

Photo ID 184954780 © Hanna Tverdokhlib | Dreamstime.com

Take The Officer Media Group Salary Survey

Did you ever wonder what your peers are getting paid?

 Do you wonder what benefits are common for chiefs of police, deputy chiefs, chief deputies (yes, they are different), majors, captains, lieutenants, etc.?

 If you’ll be kind enough to give us about 10 minutes of your time, when our survey closes we’ll give you back a complete report with all the data (minus all names and identifying data). 

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By Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) | Officer.com

Photo by Josh Appel

Eye for Evidence-Proof in the Print

Fingerprints play a large role in convictions. Lately, DNA evidence has been in the limelight when it comes to identifying (and eliminating) suspects and victims alike. Rightly so, DNA evidence has immeasurable value, but so does fingerprint evidence.

We all know each fingerprint is unique. Not only does each one have a pattern but they also each have other characteristics that serve as a “map” to identifying the print.

Collecting prints is not anything like it is on television. The portrayal is accurate but the execution and results are far different in real life. This being said, at crime scenes it is often easy to overlook latent fingerprints. However, it is crucial that if there are (logical) places where prints could be, you need to process that area and try to collect any prints that you can.

Commonly Overlooked Places to Find Prints

Often investigators will focus on the latent prints that are visible or obvious. However there are other surfaces that have prints such as paper, cardboard, and tape. Is it easy to lift prints on these surfaces? By no means is it ever easy. Is it worth it? Yes, it is certainly worth it. Many times these surfaces will have some of the best and most prominent fingerprints.

Processing these materials is sensitive and if you don’t know how to do it, bag it and let someone who does know process it. Many times this type of work will seem unnecessary and tedious. But going that extra mile can often make your case even tighter. Don’t settle for the visible print that is on the door of the house that was broken into. (those are often victims’ prints anyway) If something looks out of place or moved, chances are you’re right. Go with your intuition and collect those extra pieces of evidence.

Fingerprints on Paper

Surprisingly, I have found many, useable prints on paper. Can you dust those surfaces with standard fingerprint powder? Sometimes, but paper is best sprayed with Ninhydrin. Ninhydrin is a chemical that sticks to certain surfaces, it will turn purple if it happens to adhere to oils such as fingerprints. Once you find that you have prints using this method, photograph and submit them to the crime lab or an in house fingerprint analyst. The sooner the better for analyzing these prints.

Checking on paper for fingerprints is overlooked many times. However, there have been murder cases that were solved because of a latent print or palm print found on a sheet of paper.

Don’t overlook the little things, they could turn into big results.  

Story/Photo by Hilary Rodela | Officer.com

Why We Cannot Leave Our Safety to Luck

In late 1992 I was a young E-3 deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, as part of the U.S. led Unified Task Force (UNITAF), in support of Operation Restore Hope. One day, I was searching for an access point to the roof of what remained of our embassy. I was in a hurry, frustrated, fatigued and focused on what was important to me at the moment.

After searching and not finding an access point for the roof of the embassy, I abruptly walked into the first office I saw, approached a group of men wearing brown T-shirts and asked: “Can you please tell me how to get to the roof.” It was the wrong decision.

The red flags were all there for me to process: the presence of distinguished-looking men who clearly held high rank, hanging maps and planning materials consistent with a command post, and the big one, a white paper affixed to the wall stating, “UNITAF/CC.”

In hindsight, it was likely my self-induced time pressure, frustration and myopic focus of attention that led to the words spoken to me by one of those men in brown t-shirts. That man, USMC Lt. General Robert B. Johnston, said, “Airman, let me educate you on situational awareness.”

What followed was a memorable one-way conversation that I remember with clarity almost 30 years later. I was informed that situational awareness is a person’s perception and understanding of the environment. I was also informed that a failure to maintain situational awareness leads to adverse outcomes. Lesson learned, sir.

A Georgia police officer responded to a burglary call. The officer’s body-worn camera records him locating the suspect as he walks on a set of railroad tracks. The officer is engaged in multi-tasking by simultaneously focusing his attention on the suspect, giving commands and talking to dispatch. In the same 20 seconds, the officer’s bodycam records the alarming sound of a rapidly approaching locomotive. The bodycam video appears to show the officer stepping just to the left side of the tracks before he is violently struck by the train.

The officer doesn’t remember much of the event, but after watching his BWC video stated, “I’m lucky to be alive.

How could he not realize what was about to occur? I turn back to what Lt. General Johnston taught me all those years ago. Maintaining situational awareness is key to better decision-making, which in turn leads to better outcomes. Like my incident, the Georgia officer likely had some excitement or frustration as a stressor. Also, his limited attentional focus was more on the suspect and talking to dispatch than the approaching train.

In hindsight, we could reasonably say that prioritizing his attention on the train, even for a moment, might have changed the outcome. For instance, he might have seen the oversized plow attached to the front of the train, as well as the train’s approach speed. The resulting increase in situational awareness might have affected his decision to step just off the tracks instead of quickly stepping several feet away.

The Georgia officer survived, thankfully, and I wish him a speedy recovery. What happened to him could happen to anyone of us under similar circumstances. It doesn’t matter if you wear an EMS, fire, corrections or police uniform – we are all human beings with a limited capacity to process information. That limited capacity is stretched to the maximum when we operate in fast-paced, ambiguous environments. For our safety and the safety of the public, we should recognize these limitations and work hard toward maintaining situational awareness.  

PRINCIPLES OF SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

Situational awareness has a significant history of study and application to a multitude of fields. There are many influences on situational awareness that range from individual capabilities, organizational influences, training, experience and teamwork. However, there is a real need to focus on how first responders maintain situational awareness from the perspective of individual field personnel, teams and organizations. Here are important considerations for each.

1. Situational awareness for the individual

Realize your limitations. Recognize when the incident or situation is moving too rapidly for you to perceive the changes. When faced with situations that are or becoming unmanageable: back out, ask for resources and re-engage when appropriate.

Do not become overly fixated upon one aspect of the environment. Attempt to keep up a degree of global awareness. If unavoidable, ensure you have adequate resources to watch for changes you may not perceive.
Use caution when engaging. Be mentally primed to look for changes in the environment. Seek out new information, assess that information, look for potential contradictory evidence and then act according to protocol.

2. Situational awareness for the team

Communicate, coordinate and confirm. The recommendations for individuals remain active for teamwork but require significant coordination and communication between team members. Confirmation of group understanding is vital when moving forward in more ambiguous and time-compressed environments.

Leadership is critical in a group environment. A single point of command and control helps to ensure vital oversight to ensure the team is functioning within the vision and mission of the organization.

3. Situational awareness for the organization

Clear direction. Establish a vision and mission that guides individual, team and organizational priorities. This will aid teams and individuals during in-the-field decision-making.

Real-world training. Provide adequate training for real-world situations that operationalize situational awareness at both the individual and team levels.
Culture guides decisions and actions. Create a culture that guides field decision making and ensure accountability. The culture includes proper risk assessment and prioritization of objectives.

By David Blake | Police1

About the author

David Blake, Ph.D., is a retired California peace officer and a court-certified expert on human factors psychology and the use of force. He has significant experience teaching use of force and human factors psychology to law enforcement officers in several states. David has undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice and psychology. He has authored over 30 professional and peer-reviewed journal articles on the application of human factors psychology to first responders and their operational environments. David continues to conduct research on police deadly force and human factors psychology. He is the lead consultant at Blake Consulting and Training.

Digital Edition: What law enforcement wants in 2021

4,000 officers speak up about police reform, recruitment and more in Police1’s State of the Industry survey


2020 was a year of unprecedented change and uncertainty for law enforcement agencies. Calls for police reform and defunding dominated headlines in the mainstream media, but the future of the criminal justice system is being dictated and decided by everyone except law enforcement officers.

To provide officers a voice in setting the future of policing, Police1 conducted our first State of the Industry survey to understand how the law enforcement profession wants to evolve. Mo​​re than 4,300 LEOs responded from agencies large and small serving urban, suburban and rural areas. Just over half of the respondents have more than two decades in law enforcement, 30% have 10-20 years under their duty belt and 17% have fewer than 10 years.

Included in this digital edition, sponsored by Getac, are answers to key questions we asked respondents, as well as expert analysis on the path forward.

“By leveraging the data from this survey to target public information outlets, the truth about who the police are, what they believe, what they are doing and what they hope for the future can serve as a means to advocate for the profession while producing one of many positive, intended consequences: successful recruitment and retention of quality police officers,” observes criminal justice professor and former police officer Janay Casparini, Ph.D.

Some highlights from this issue include:

  • What LEOs want for the future of policing
  • How satisfied cops are with their careers
  • Duties that are of most importance to officers
  • Officer optimism about the future of law enforcement
  • Responsibilities officers think should be handled by other government agencies
  • Predictions on the future of police recruitment and retention

To download your free copy of the “What cops want in 2021” Digital Edition from Police1,​ visit https://www.police1.com/police-products/body-cameras/articles/digital-edition-what-cops-want-in-2021-BtmyyGkg84zplSlw/?utm_source=lytics&utm_medium=referral and​ fill out the f​orm at the bottom of the page.​


About the author
The Police1 Digital Edition brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing police officers and law enforcement leaders everywhere. Each Digital Edition features contributions from some of the top experts and most progressive thinkers in the field. Download to access thought leadership content and innovation in action that will help transform operations in any agency.

NIC’s Becoming Trauma Informed: An Essential Element for Justice Settings Now Available for Viewing

Experiencing or exposure to traumatic events during childhood and continuing into adulthood is all too common. Less known is that trauma is a dominant factor in the lives of individuals involved with the criminal justice system; in what occurs while in the system; and in how transitioning and living in the community is impacted.

With this increasing awareness, criminal justice professionals are considering what this means in their correctional settings, how to manage this population, and provide effective services. Often overlooked is the challenge of staff who are also affected by trauma in their personal and work lives, as organizational stress and trauma create additional challenges for the workplace.

In this Community Services Division-sponsored webinar series, NIC’s Maureen Buell facilitates a stimulating discussion featuring Stephanie Covington, PhD, of the Center for Gender and Justice and Nena Messina, PhD of Envisioning Justice Solutions. This dynamic three part webinar series focuses on the following topics:

1) The Association between ACEs and Criminal Justice Involvement;

2) Trauma Informed Treatment and Theory; and

3) Becoming Trauma Informed and Moving to Trauma Responsive.

As demand outpaced the limited number of registrations, the linked content is now streaming and shareable. The linked content includes the downloadable recorded sessions, a list of resources referenced during the presentations, and a Q&A document that memorializes questions brought up in the chat.

By accessing this robust series you will explore the issues, find helpful answers, and learn from subject matter experts. Below are testimonials from webinar participants. We think you will agree!

Thank you for a wonderful informative presentation.

Thank you, great information I can take to my job.

Thank you for this great webinar and resources. Looking forward to next week’s as well.

Here is the link to the webinar:
https://nicic.gov/series/becoming-trauma-informed-essential-element-justice-settings

Preventable False Arrest Defeats Qualified Immunity

​Officers are frequently cautioned to slow down in approaching dangerous situations. Pause, take a moment to think when there is discretionary time.​

 

BELL V. NEUKIRCH, 2020 WL 6304897 (8TH CIR. 2020)

A 911 caller reported a couple of Black juvenile males playing with guns outside a house. The caller described the first suspect as having dreadlocks, wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, and having a gun in his pocket. The caller gave his phone number.

Responding officers called the complainant as they were driving to the scene. He told them the boys had gone into the house. As the two officers drove up, they saw three Black juvenile males. An officer chirped the siren and the juveniles turned to look. One juvenile ran and an officer chased. The officer shouted, “Drop the gun,” and the juvenile tossed a gun over a fence.

The officer could not catch the fleeing juvenile. He broadcast the suspect description as: “Black male. Dreads. Blue shorts.” The officer then added: “Juvenile Black male, 17-18, about 5’10,” skinny, blue shorts, white t-shirt, shoulder-length dreads. He was taking his shoes off. I’m not sure what kind of shoes he had.” The patrol car dash camera showed that the suspect wore a plain white t-shirt; dark solid-color shorts; and long, striped, gray socks that rose to near mid-calf.

Seven minutes later, another officer in the area saw Tyree Bell walking and talking on his cell phone. The officer asked by radio whether the officer who had given chase was sure the suspect had removed his shoes and explained he was watching “a younger Black male with … braids or dreads … white shirt, with black-and-white shorts.” As the two officers were speaking by radio, Bell walked past the police car.

The officer could see Bell wearing a white t-shirt, black shorts with a wide white stripe on each side, short black socks and black Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes trimmed in red with a red logo on the tongue. Bell’s hairstyle was short dreadlocks. The officer got out and called Bell over to him, who immediately complied. Bell was not breathing hard, as he would be if he’d just run from the other officer, though he was a little sweaty, as it was a hot day. The officer frisked Bell, finding nothing, and asked for identification. Bell said he was not carrying identification and that he was coming from his cousin’s house down the street. The officer handcuffed him.

The officer who had chased the suspect came to Bell’s location and identified him as the suspect who ran. Bell denied he had seen police or run away. The two officers briefly looked at dash camera video at the initial scene. A detective arrived to follow up on the report of suspects with guns. The officers told the detective they had reviewed the video and identified Bell as the suspect with a gun who fled. Bell was taken to a juvenile detention center.

Three weeks later, the detective reviewed the dash camera video recording for the first time. He concluded Bell was not the suspect who fled from police. Bell’s shorts had “a white colored pattern on the front/sides,” while the suspect’s shorts were “black or dark blue.” The suspect wore “long grey colored socks that rode halfway up his calves,” while Bell’s socks “were short and black in color.” Bell was taller than the suspect and his hair was markedly different from the suspect. The detective reviewed the information with a prosecutor, who dropped the charges and released Bell.

Bell sued, alleging the officers seized, arrested and detained him without probable cause and that no reasonable officer could have believed probable cause existed. A trial court granted qualified immunity to the officers. Bell appealed.

The court of appeals reversed the grant of qualified immunity and remanded the case for trial. The court held no reasonable officer could have believed there was probable cause to arrest Bell based on the plainly exculpatory evidence readily available to them. First, the court cited the several differences in Bell’s appearance and that of the suspect seen on the dash camera. The only things they truly had in common is they were young Black men wearing white t-shirts. Bell was five inches taller. When he was stopped a mile away from the initial scene, he wasn’t breathing heavily and was not perspiring heavily – strong evidence he had not just run a mile. The suspect’s hair was all black and bushy; Bell’s hair was in short dreadlocks with colored tips. The suspect wore low-cut shoes or sandals, while Bell wore black Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes trimmed in red with a red logo on the tongue.

The officers asserted the discrepancies in appearance were not so noticeable that they could tell the suspect and Bell apart. The court noted that, in addition to the distinct differences observed by the judges as they viewed the dash camera video and Bell’s photograph, the detective immediately realized the officers had arrested the wrong suspect once he got around to viewing the dash camera recording. The court was critical of the officers for not confirming Bell’s involvement by corroborating his identification with the other juveniles and the 911 caller.

In a case involving an arrest without probable cause, officers have qualified immunity if they reasonably but mistakenly conclude there was probable cause (Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987)). Courts sometimes use the phrase “arguable probable cause,” where the probable cause determination is “close enough.” “Arguable probable cause exists even where an officer mistakenly arrests a suspect believing it is based in probable cause if the mistake is objectively reasonable” (Borgman v. Kedley, 646 F.3d 518 (8th Cir. 2011)). Nonetheless, in a case where there was easily available exculpatory information that would have shown there was no probable cause to arrest Bell, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity.

One of the appellate judges observed, “This case is hardly the model of good police work.” The court concluded, “This is an obvious case of insufficient probable cause.” Officers are frequently cautioned to slow down in approaching dangerous situations. Pause, take a moment to think when there is discretionary time. This is a case where there was time for a pause by the patrol officers to review the dash camera video of the suspect, compare it to Bell, and listen to and perhaps investigate Bell’s claims that he had just left his cousin’s house down the street. There was also time for a pause by the detective to review the video recording before three weeks passed. A few additional minutes of investigation would have certainly prevented liability for Bell’s unlawful arrest.

​By Ken Wallentine |  Lexipol’s Xiphos Newsletter | Police1.com

About the author

Ken Wallentine is the chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal ​​procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

This article was featured in Lexipol’s Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here.