City, police chief, and officer entitled to immunity from suspect’s false arrest claims.

John Flowers v. City of Diboll, et al, NO. 12-12-00107-CV (Tex. App – Tyler, March 22, 2013).

This case involves governmental and qualified immunity of the City and a police officer arising out of an arrest of Flowers. Flowers did not get along with the uncle (Cook) of a child over which he possessed primary custody.  After leaving a baseball game, Cook drove his truck alongside Flower’s and the vehicles collided.  After an investigation, Officer Baker arrested Flowers for deadly conduct for intentionally striking the other vehicle but Flowers was never charged. He then sued the City, Baker, and the police chief for false arrest.   The trial court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion and Flowers appealed. The Twelfth Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

Qualified immunity shields a police officer if a reasonable officer could have believed that the action taken was lawful in light of clearly established law and the information the officer possessed.  While the court chided Baker’s affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for being nothing more than a form affidavit, the court ultimately held that it is the facts, not the affidavit, which determines if probable cause existed to make an arrest.  Even though evidence conflicted in the investigation, a reasonable officer could have believed probable cause existed.  And since a warrant was not needed for a misdemeanor arrest, no constitutional or tort violations occurred. Flowers also failed to establish any inadequate policies existed which directly caused a constitutional violation.

An important point to take away from this case, other than the obvious ones, is the description of the flaws the court found in Baker’s affidavit.  The court explained that while a misdemeanor arrest does not require a warrant, any search warrant must be supported by a sufficient affidavit and Baker’s would have failed if that were the case. The court frowned on the use of form affidavits and held that a proper affidavit must explain the foundation of any beliefs formed by the officer.

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