Lawsuit Brought by World's Luckiest (Alleged) Pedophile Quashed
You'd think having multiple criminal cases dismissed due to a tainted warrant would be enough, but after Jared Armstrong escaped the clutches of the Alaska criminal justice system, the alleged child predator then sued the cops.
His luck just ran out. More than two years after the case reached the Ninth Circuit, the court finally granted the underlying appeal, and immunity to the officers.
Back in 2005, Armstrong, who was in his late thirties, befriended two young teenage boys. The parents of L.T. noticed that he had been carrying on email, phone, and instant message conversations with the much-older man, including one instant messaging conversation where Armstrong mentioned "drinking tequila and about giving a 'blow job' to his teacher."
One day, L.T. returned home from a movie carrying a copy of Satan Burger, a book they thought was pornographic, and which has bare buttocks squatting over a dinner plate on the cover. Shortly after L.T.'s parents complained to the police, the parents of L.T.'s friend also complained. Armstrong had given their son a web cam, knives, a bag, and an inflatable alien doll.
The parents asked Armstrong to stay away from their children, but he persisted. Eventually, the police obtained warrants based, in part, on an excerpt of Satan Burger provided to the magistrate judge.
That warrant, which led to the discovery of "photographs of identified victims 'using a toilet,' a book about why men abuse children, and videos of nude young males," was eventually held invalid because the "indecent material" (the book) must be "taken as a whole," and should violate indecency standards and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Later warrants, which uncovered hundreds of images of child pornography, were also quashed. Armstrong walked away free.
He then sued, asserting a § 1983 deprivation of civil rights claim. The district court denied qualified immunity, finding that a few pages of the book (not the whole) could not establish obscenity, and a reasonable officer would know that the warrants failed to establish probable cause.
This case actually took a hiatus, while the Supreme Court reviewed a prior Ninth Circuit en banc decision, Messerschmidt v. Millender, and the Supreme Court's reversal in that case proved to be determinative here.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court, and held that qualified immunity applies, for two reasons.
First, probable cause isn't full-blown proof. An officer need not prove that the material is obscene before seeking a warrant -- a few pages and the cover of the book should suffice.
More importantly, in Messerschmidt, the Supreme Court held that presentation to a superior officer and prosecutor, and approval by a judicial officer before the warrant is issued, "demonstrates that any error was not obvious." And qualified immunity "protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."
And here, there was more than just a single prosecutor or judge:
"Under Messerschmidt, approval by superiors, prosecutors, and a judge almost guarantees the honest police officer's claim to qualified immunity. Officers Asselin and Vandegriff consulted with six prosecutors and obtained warrants from five judicial officials. As Messerschmidt holds, we would have to treat all eleven prosecutors and judges as "plainly incompetent" to deny Officer Asselin and the other officers qualified immunity."
- Armstrong v. Asselin (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- CSU East Bay Professor Pedophile Gets Conviction, Plea Vacated (FindLaw's Ninth Circuit Blog)
- Abortion Case Nixed, 9th Already Reversed, Cy Pres Procrastinated (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
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