Police Department Sued Over Alleged Harassment Of Citizen Posting Speed Trap Warning

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Speed Trap Warning SignAn Oklahoma citizen took his small town’s police department to federal court, claiming police clamped down on him when he put a sign on the curb warning of a speed trap ahead.

James Goad, of Meeker, Oklahoma, says the harassment that followed his action amounted to a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In the suit against the Meeker Police Department and Police Chief Sam Byrd, Goad claims police arrested him and violated his civil rights to get back at him for his sign stunt.

“Mr. Goad was exercising his constitutional right to free speech when he posted the speed trap warning sign on the property,” Goad’s attorney, Jack Dawson, wrote.

Byrd said he couldn’t comment on Goad’s specific charges because he had not been served with the lawsuit. But he said the sign Goad posted in June, 2012, in front of Meeker Supply & Pawn, which read “Slow down, Meeker speed trap ahead,” didn’t bother him. But it seems the situation was much more involved and Goad’s accusations show a rather disturbing action by a member of the department.

Chief Byrd stated to FoxNews.com “To be honest, nobody cared,” “It’s freedom of speech – you can post whatever you want out there.”

Radar EquipmentBut the sign apparently bothered former Meeker reserve Officer Sean Sugrue, according to Dawson. Sugrue allegedly began staking out speeders with a radar gun on Red Hill Road, right in front of the pawn shop, blocking customers from coming in. Goad claims when he told Officer Sugrue to leave, he refused and then followed him when he went to town hall to complain to the mayor. Once there, Officer Sugrue accused him of not wearing a seatbelt and of running a stop sign, claims Goad denied. After the incident, Goad filed a formal complaint, and an internal investigation backed him up. Officer Sugrue, who no longer works for the police department, issued an apology, but the wording did little to assuage Goad.

“I apologize if my actions appeared unprofessional and showed the town in a bad light,” Sugrue wrote. “Mr. Goad needs to know that he does not own the police department and that attempting to get belligerent with a police officer might have some negative effects.”

Chief Byrd said he thought the issue had been resolved after the departmental investigation. Although he said Officer Sugrue no longer works for him, he added that it was not a result of the feud with Goad. “In the issue with Mr. Goad, he came and filed a complaint with us,” Byrd said. “That was investigated and that was dealt with. We have our procedures for those kinds of complaints.”

But in February, 2013, Officer Sugrue pulled Goad over for speeding, and the feud was back on. Goad challenged the ticket in court, and on March 6, 2013, requested a copy of Sugrue’s personnel file. A day later, Officer Sugrue ran a background check on Goad with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, and arrested Goad for the felony offense of “making a false declaration to law enforcement” in his old complaint against Sugrue.

The issue, Officer Sugrue said at the time, was that Goad had stated he owned the pawn shop, something he could not do as because Goad had a past felony conviction. A judge tossed both the speeding ticket and Officer Sugrue’s new charge.

It is rather hard to argue that the conduct by Officer Sugrue, if proven, does not constitute harassment. Many of the actions alleged show that Goad was singled out for police action, including going to the length of running a Triple-I (Interstate Identification Index) check looking for something to charge Goad with.

Recently a United States District Court Judge in Missouri ruled that the flashing of headlights to warn drivers of oncoming speed enforcement by law enforcement was protected under the first amendment. The text for which can be read HERE.

By Darren Smith


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Wall Street Journal Law Blog
Photo Credit: TheNewspaper.com

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20 thoughts on “Police Department Sued Over Alleged Harassment Of Citizen Posting Speed Trap Warning”

  1. “arrested Goad for the felony offense of “making a false declaration to law enforcement” in his old complaint against Sugrue.”

    Reminds me of this.

  2. Up the hill is a race track. At the bottom of the hill is a 4-stop. Speed limit in that direction is 40 mph; it’s 30 in the other direction. Every Sat. night during the summer the cars, trucks, trailers, mostly heavy vehicles, come down off the hill. Many slide thru the stop sign. It’s been rumored that there’s a fair amount of beer consumed in the infield.

    One Sat. the sheriff assigned all the cars to our little community a few yards from stop sign and not visible when coming down the hill. They didn’t consider that a late comer would see them from the 4-corners and would have a cell phone. One call to the infield and the game was up. Deputies went after about three cars, one a probable dui based on the length of time he was pulled over. I congratulated the sheriff on the great behavior modification.

  3. For non baseball fans, Puig defected from Cuba and was an instant star w/ the LA Dodgers. Cuban players LOVE the US. Funny because, “they have great healthcare in Cuba” is the mantra here.

  4. Darren is the Yasiel Puig of the Turley blog. I’ll see Puig play this week.

  5. Very interesting case, Darren. You are really bringing us some great articles with spot on analysis. Many kudos to you.

  6. We once, and may still have, I avoid the area had a notorious town here in Georgia named Arcade. Its once claim to fame and money was its abundance of liquor stores, which Athens University of Georgia students frequented because Athens at one time was dry. Well, when the whole state allowed liquor sales, Arcade needed another money making venture, so they went into speeding tickets. I’m not talking about 15 miles above the posted limit, oh, no! I’m talking even 1 mile. I had a friend warn me, and one time I thought I was going the limit, yet got one anyway. The second time I thought I had cleared the Arcade town limit, but had missed it by a fraction. I’m female, and had 3 other females in the car, as we were returning from the Atlanta airport. I never had a more belligerent traffic cop in my life! After the usual questions, “do you know why I stopped you?” (I so badly wanted to say, “yes, you’re trying to make your quota”), I answered politely that I was most likely speeding. He then asked me if I doubted it, and if so, he’d show me on his “instruments”. I answered in the negative. He said something else I don’t remember, but the questions were all designed to get a snide remark from me. I smiled, got the ticket, drove a ways away, and then cursed a blue streak.
    By the way, there’s a beautiful, brand new municipal building in Arcade. I, and many others, paid for it by going 1 or 2 miles over the speed limit.

  7. Darrell C. Carlson wrote: “The speeders have a long history of injuring and sometimes killing good law abiding citizens…” So…shouldn’t getting them to SLOW DOWN be the goal? That is exactly what Mr. Goad was doing.

    Years ago in my city, a radio station started announcing speed traps in the morning. The police dept. was not “amused” and insisted they cease and desist. The radio station responded with “Isn’t your goal to get people to drive the speed limit? We’re helping them do that.” Oops. The police dept. saw this as a “no-win” situation and, instead, decided the better PR was to embrace it.

    i agree with you, Charlton S. Stanley. Many police departments use speed traps to raise revenue, often putting them at the bottom of hills, etc. Years ago, to get to Green Bay for a Packers game, you had to drive through several small towns. One town abruptly changed the speed limit for the sole purpose of raising money. It finally got a reputation for being a “speed trap.” For the informed, who drove very slowly though this town, you would often see three or four cars pulled over.


  8. darren is the best weekend contributor. Instead of some politically correct nonsense we get legal/constitutional issues.

  9. I just looked up the case file (WD Ok) and the facts are:

    Parties: James Goad v City of Meeker, Samuel D Byrd (official capacity), Samuel D Byrd (as an individual).

    The police department is not named, nor is Officer Sean Sugrue, who Darren alleged is the offending officer.

    The complaint says that Samuel D. Byrd is the one who ran the “NCIC Report on Mr. Goad and signed a sworn Application for Warrant of Arrest for the crimes of Operating a Pawnshop After Felony Conviction; Operating a Pawnshop Without a License; and Making a False Declaration to Law Enforcement” (par. 16).

    Darren wrote “Officer Sugrue ran a background check on Goad with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center”, but in fact the complaint says then officer Byrd (now Chief Byrd) did that background check.

    The complaint also informs that Mr. Goad, upon hearing of the felony charges, turned himself in to the Lincoln County Sheriffs, which means he was not arrested by either officer Sugrue or officer Byrd.

    He had to pay a lawyer $25,000 to represent him, and $5,000 for bail.

    All charges were dropped prior to court hearings.

    This changes some of the things I said in my previous comments.

    The inclusion of Byrd in official and individual capacity is appropriate.

    The complaint includes this allegation:

    Meeker is liable because Mr. Byrd’s actions were part of a policy or custom
    of Meeker in that it failed to properly supervise, train, and discipline its officers and/or it specifically authorized and condoned Mr. Byrd’s activities and Mr. Goad was deprived of
    constitutionally protected rights as a result.

    (par. 26).

    Thus, after getting the facts straight, the complaint is well crafted.

  10. Pardon me folks for not seeing the good citizenship in helping criminals avoid prosecution. The speeders have a long history of injuring and sometimes killing good law abiding citizens – and if that doesn’t bother you in the least – perhaps the added cost they cause to be slapped on your insurance will give you something to ponder.
    Speeding is a selfish act putting others at risk, from “me first” childish thinking.

  11. One wonders why the police officer was not sued. Respondeat superior suits against municipalities, “local governments”, are not valid.

    If a local government has a policy that violates the U.S. Constitution or laws then that local government can be sued on that basis, but not for what its employees do that is not policy or practice:

    “Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Monell, civil rights plaintiffs can bring suit against municipal entities where their “policies and practices” proximately cause constitutional injuries. By definition, these Monell claims are not based on respondeat superior; rather, they are brought against the governmental entity for injuries caused directly by the entity itself … Monell claims tend to take several forms. First, a City can be liable for an express policy. The classic example is Garner, where the City of Memphis had an express policy permitting its officers to fire their guns at persons fleeing from the police regardless of the threat posed by such individuals. Because that policy could mean the death penalty for non-violent individuals who posed no threat to the officers or others, it was declared unconstitutional.

    Additionally, municipalities can also be liable for failure to train their employees. This claim was first elucidated by the Supreme Court in Harris,17 which held that the provision of inadequate training to police officers can constitute a basis for suit against a municipality when it demonstrates the municipality’s deliberate indifference to the rights of individuals its officers come into contact with. Such deliberate indifference is commonly demonstrated in two ways. First, a municipality is deemed to have exhibited deliberate indifference by its failure to train its employees to handle recurring situations that presents an obvious potential for a constitutional violation where such failure to train results in a constitutional violation. Additionally, a plaintiff may succeed on a failure to train when he or she demonstrates that a municipality has failed to provide further training after learning of a pattern of constitutional violations by its officers.

    Finally, Monell claims can be stated for a “widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.” For example, district courts in the Northern District of Illinois have recognized practice claims for the failure to discipline and/or punish police officers for the use of excessive force such that the city itself thereby implicitly encourages said abuses. In other words, municipalities can be sued non-derivatively for their own role in turning a blind eye to abuses. In Robinson, for instance, the jury found liability against the City based on the total and complete failure to implement a working internal affairs department to monitor police abuses.”

    (The Journal of the DuPage County Bar Association). In this case the officer who conducted himself improperly was chastened by the local government.

    Additionally, the Chief of Police had no personal involvement in the wrongs of the officer, rather he allowed the filing of a complaint and discipline against the officer.

    The pleadings, like the case yesterday, evince a lack of research on the part of the lawyer drafting the pleadings IMO.

    On the facts Darren laid out, the individual officer should have been the only defendant in this case IMO.

  12. It appears that the idea of catching speeders is about raising money and not about slowing down traffic. Do the police WANT people to speed so they can catch them and write tickets? Some departments do, apparently.

    I have been reading accounts of the companies contracting to operate speed and traffic light cameras have settings to no tolerance–in other words, there is no five to ten MPH cushion. One news article a few days ago says that when traffic light cameras are set up, part of some contracts between the camera company and the municipality is that they will cut three seconds off the orange caution light time. That way, the light will show red in the picture before vehicles have time to clear the intersection.

    Another speed light company demanded money from a city because traffic had slowed down enough they were not making their guaranteed minimum profit.

  13. Here the police are kind enough to tell where the enforcement zones are in advance. It is the individuals trying to get their ticket quota that are the problem. They are tricky little devils.

  14. Technically, warning people to slow down is being a good citizen.

    Years ago (when RR was POTUS) – the Secret Service instructed our Limo company to “rush at all costs” getting a dog show out of the Hyatt in NJ off of 287.

    When I went down and held a sign up for Limo drivers to slow down;
    over 1/2 dozen (squealers) felt it necessary to pull over and inform State Troopers what I was doing.

    I showed them the SS Memo to us;
    and they simply moved the trap away for next 3 hours.
    (Once the Sgt verified the issues)
    But they stayed patrolling heavily.

    Never got arrested when I told that I wasn’t moving;
    but I did plan to utilize Free Speech and doing Civic duty as defense.
    (If they did arrest)

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