Arrested Trying to Get Into a Country Concert
A Massachusetts concertgoer will be able to sue the police after they arrested him not for committing a crime, but merely for being intoxicated.
In the summer of 2014, Mr. Peter Alfano and two friends planned to see a Jason Aldean concert at the Xfinity Center. On the bus, and at a tailgate party outside the concert, Mr. Alfano drank between six to eight beers. He tried to get through security to get into the concert. Police officers pulled him aside and made him do field sobriety tests. They then asked him to take a breathalyzer test, but he refused. After that, Officer Thomas Lunch shackled him to a bench and brought him to a holding cell. Unfortunately, he missed the concert entirely.
Mr. Alfano Sues the Police
Mr. Alfano sued Officer Lynch in federal court. At first, the District Court threw the case out. According to that Court Officer Lynch was “immune” from the lawsuit. Immunity is legal jargon that says you can’t sue a police officer for conduct unless the officer violates “clearly established” rights. In other words, a citizen can’t sue an officer unless it is crystal clear the officer was violating the law.
Justice Souter Makes a Guest Appearance
The First Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the District Court’s decision. Judge Bruce Selya wrote the opinion. Two other judges joined him, including retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter. After retirement Justice Souter still occasionally sits on the First Circuit.
The Lawsuit Lives!
The First Circuit said that it is clearly established constitutional law, under the Fourth Amendment, that a police officer must have probable cause to arrest an individual. According to Massachusetts protective custody law, the police may only detain person if he is both intoxicated and “incapacitated”. Incapacitated means he is apt to harm himself, someone else, or property. True, the parties did not dispute Mr. Alfano’s intoxication. However, they legitimately disputed whether Mr. Alfano posed a danger. The purpose of the trial is for the jury to resolve the conflict in evidence. It was wrong, therefore, to dismiss the case before trial.
Putting aside the legal analysis, this case passes the common sense test. If the police could arrest anyone who was drunk, but not dangerous, many concert halls and sporting venues would be out of business in short order.