First Amendment on the Docket

Pettit v. Morrow, et al.

Status:
Active
Case Dates:
Monday, 11 January, 2021 - ongoing
Facts:

On April 24, 2019, Nick Pettit was standing on the front porch of his Columbus home. He had come out because he heard a disturbance in his neighborhood: approximately 6 members of a Columbus Police SWAT team were across the street serving a search warrant at a neighboring home; more police cars and officers were further down his street. SWAT was evacuating and then questioning a family, a grandmother and two grandchildren, whom Mr. Pettit knew as his neighbors. Concerned, Mr. Pettit took out his cellphone and began filming the interaction while standing on his porch. He recorded the police mistreating his neighbors, including smacking the compliant teenaged grandson on the face. Mr. Pettit told the police to stop it, and said that he had them on camera. The officers told him to go inside. He did not, and kept filming.
In response, Officers Kenneth Dale and Glenn Thivener, and their commanding Sergeant, James Morrow, of the Columbus Police Department, clad in SWAT gear and carrying automatic rifles, crossed the street, opened Mr. Pettit’s gate, and marched through his yard and onto his porch, yelling at him to get back into his house. Then they slammed him down, threatened him, took his phone, roughed him up, and arrested him. Mr. Pettit spent five days in jail before being charged under R.C. 2317.13(a)(1), Misconduct at an Emergency. Those charges were later dropped by the Columbus City prosecutor on the basis of insufficient evidence. Mr. Pettit suffered physical and emotional harm in addition to the violation of his constitutional rights.

Legal Theory:

Speech and expressive conduct, including the right to film and to criticize the police, are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In attacking Mr. Pettit, arresting and charging him without probable cause, and seizing his phone, the police retaliated against him for having exercised his First Amendment rights. Additionally, in entering onto Mr. Pettit’s property unlawfully, attacking him, arresting him, and seizing his phone, the police violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment prohibitions on the excessive use of force and against unlawful seizure.

Status:

We filed a complaint for compensatory and punitive damages on January 11, 2021. On March 12, parties stipulated to extend the deadline for Defendants’ response to April 2.