Student sues, claims school police officer violated his rights… | TCTA
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Student sues, claims school police officer violated his rights during arrest

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A student sued a police officer, alleging that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights because he arrested the student without probable cause. The federal trial court dismissed the case and the student appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals reviewed the undisputed facts. The officer worked as a campus police officer at a high school. The principal showed the officer a picture of the student posing with a caricature of himself drawn on a whiteboard with the words "future school shooter" written above it. The picture had been posted on social media and parents were calling the school to take their students out of class. The police officer restrained the student in handcuffs and took him to the police station.

The student told officers that the day before, his health teacher had led a discussion about school shootings. The teacher told students that the stereotypical school shooter was a white male. Other students began making fun of the student, who was the only white male in the class. Some students jokingly asked the student not to shoot them. Another student went to the front of the classroom and sketched a caricature of the student on the whiteboard and wrote "future school shooter" above it. The student went around the room, giving fist bumps to students in response to their pretend pleas to not shoot them and posed for a photograph with the caricature. The student who drew the picture confirmed this description of events.

Notwithstanding the student's explanation, he was arrested and charged with an offense similar to making a terroristic threat. He was transported to a juvenile detention facility and spent the night there. He was released the next day on the condition that he remain in his home and wear an electronic ankle bracelet. The charge was later dismissed.

The police officer argued that he was immune from suit. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that in order to overcome the immunity, the student must prove that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct.

In this case, the student was alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment protects people from "unreasonable search and seizure." An arrest is considered a seizure of a person. A warrantless arrest is permitted if the officer has probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed. Even if an officer makes an arrest without probable cause, the officer is immune from suit unless the officer had fair notice that his conduct was unlawful.

In this case, the court found that even if the officer arguably lacked probable cause, he was immune from suit because there was no evidence to show that he violated the law. At the time of the first arrest, the officer had seen a picture of the student posing next to a caricature of himself labeled "future school shooter." At the time of the second arrest, although it seemed apparent at the time that the student's actions were a joke, there was no precedent to support that an officer had violated the Fourth Amendment under similar circumstances. Therefore, the officer was immune from suit for the arrest.