False Arrest Claim Fails When Officer Threatened with Death

by | October 30, 2018

Juillerat v. Mudd, 735 Fed. Appx. 887 (6th Cir. 2018)

An officer was parked, positioned to block traffic, alongside a truck stuck under a low railroad crossing. Another driver, Maki Juillerat, came upon the scene and decided to drive his car around both vehicles rather than stop behind them. The officer subsequently stopped Juillerat, citing him for both driving on the wrong side of the road and disregarding the officer’s attempt to stop traffic.

A month later Juillerat told Dr. Mary Sweeney, a therapist treating him for post-traumatic stress disorder, that “he already hates cops” and was recently cited by an officer. Dr. Sweeney didn’t report any threat, but her written notes state Juillerat “reported both suicidal and homicidal ideation” and that Juillerat had thought about shooting the officer, without sharing specific plans, because he viewed the officer as unfair and inconsistent. The therapist wrote Juillerat was soon due to appear in court on the traffic citation.After a staff review of Dr. Sweeney’s notes, another staff member contacted police and conveyed Juillerat’s statement about shooting the officer. An investigator spoke with Dr. Sweeney, who said Juillerat did not pose a threat. So, the investigator informed the officer and closed the investigation with no further action.

But then the officer filed his own criminal complaint against Juillerat for making a terroristic threat. His complaint recited the threat, but left out the part where Dr. Sweeney said she did not perceive Juillerat as “an imminent risk to anyone.” A prosecutor then filed a charge and obtained an arrest warrant. Another officer found Juillerat and arrested him, but after 10 days in jail, the court released Juillerat and dismissed the charges.Juillerat then decided to sue the officer, the hospital staff and the police department for false arrest and other claims, but a trial court dismissed all claims. Juillerat appealed, but only on his single claim of false arrest.

To be technical, although “false arrest” is often shouted when someone disagrees with the legitimacy of an arrest, it more accurately refers to “false imprisonment.” In this case, the court used other technical points in its opinion. The officer “is not off the hook just because he did not arrest Juillerat.” If his actions caused the alleged false imprisonment, he could still be liable.

The court also pointed out that Juillerat technically sued under an incorrect theory—a misstep that protected the officer from a false arrest suit. Juillerat’s arrest was lawful because it was based on an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate. However, Juillerat could have claimed malicious prosecution and sued the officer for failing to tell the prosecutor and court about the therapist’s conclusion that Juillerat didn’t present an actual threat. Though the court didn’t explicitly say so, it seems this is a case where the officer got off on a technicality.

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.

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