Responding to a domestic dispute between neighbors, a West Virginia State Trooper approached the residence of the caller, only known as Cliff. Things quickly went terribly wrong when the trooper was confronted by a barking, but chained dog—referred to in the video as “Buddy.” The entire incident was captured on video by the son of Cliff’s neighbor, Randall Hupp.
Buddy’s reaction was normal. He reacted in a way most dogs do when strangers suddenly approach their territory: he barked. In what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction—which is never a good thing when one is armed with a deadly weapon—the trooper pulled out his gun from his holster and took aim at the chained, nonaggressive dog, who can be seen in the video wagging his tail and totally oblivious to the fact that his life almost ended at that very moment.
According to TheFreeThoughtProject.com, Buddy’s “tail was still wagging, and he seemed to calm down immediately. However, the fact that this dog was on a chain, not growling, nor posing any threat whatsoever, was of no consequence to the state trooper….”
Witnessing what was about to happen, Hupp’s daughter, Tiffanie, had the same knee-jerk—but courageous—reaction. In the video, Tiffanie appears to quickly, but politely, step between the trooper’s gun and Buddy. What she said to the trooper cannot be heard, but one can only speculate from her gesture that she likely told the police not to shoot the dog.
Without Tiffanie’s intervention, Buddy could very well have become another victim of a cop who appears to be ill-equipped or untrained to handle a dog. The idiom, “shoot first, ask questions later,” is literal in these situations, which is very disappointing in a civilized society.
It also appears from the video that the trooper became quite perturbed by Tiffanie’s “interference” and swiftly pushed her aside, which caused her to fall to the ground. The trooper followed that up with placing her in handcuffs. All this is in full view of Tiffanie’s 4-year-old son, who was probably traumatized and can be heard crying at the end of the video.
It is not unusual, or even wrong, for police officers to place individuals in handcuffs for purposes of deescalating a tense situation. But, as the video indicates, the situation was made tense not by Tiffanie, but by the officer. More troubling are the other facts reported by TheFreeThoughtProject.com.
One: Tiffanie was arrested and charged with the catch-all misdemeanor of obstruction. Pursuant to subsection (1) of West Virginia Code § 61-5-17, obstructing an officer is when “[a]ny person who by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise, forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs, or attempts to hinder or obstruct, any law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity….”
It is difficult to understand how a person stepping between an officer’s aimed service pistol in an effort to protect a furry family member from being shot dead constitutes “obstruction,” especially when the video clearly shows that Tiffanie never laid a hand on the officer. The real question is, did the officer simply get pissed-off because Tiffanie had the audacity to get in the way of his killing someone’s pet? Is that the agency’s argument? Or, did Tiffanie resist arrest? She can be heard screaming, but both obstruction and resisting are absent from what is shown on the video.
Second: After the trooper discovered that the entire incident was being videotaped, he entered Hupp’s residence for purposes of “seizing” “all digital devices, including [Hupp’s] 4-year-old grandson’s tablet.”
Under both the U.S. Constitution, as well as the West Virginia Constitution, people in this country have the right “to be secure in their houses, persons, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures….” In short, we have what is called a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially in one’s own home. As such, conducting a search and seizure of one’s residence without probable cause, or without a warrant supported by probable cause, is prohibited under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article III, section 3-6 of the West Virginia State Constitution.
However, no right is absolute. There are legitimate and legal exceptions to the rule. The two applicable in this scenario are consent and to protect the destruction of evidence. It is unclear from the article or video whether Hupp gave the trooper permission to enter his residence and take his property. If he did, then there is no search and seizure violation.
Assuming Hupp did not consent, then the question is whether the trooper took the digital items to preserve whatever evidence was captured of the “crime” of obstruction, or whether it was a malicious seizure and, thus, an abuse of process.
Even if the trooper’s search and seizure of the digital devices were justified, what is significant is a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case, which held that law enforcement officers cannot search the contents of a cellphone without a warrant. Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014). This includes photographs and videos contained in the devices. If a warrant was not issued and assuming the agency seized the contents (the video recording of the incident) that were contained in the seized devices, then there is arguably a Constitutional violation here.
Third: According to TheFreeThoughtProject.org, the powers-that-be is “forcing Tiffanie to use their public appointed defender, with obvious conflicts of interests.” The conflict of interest? Her appointed attorney is married to a state trooper. Even if, for argument sake, Tiffanie’s appointed attorney can remain impartial and will defend her vigorously, one can argue that denying Tiffanie’s request for another attorney is in violation of her Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel, which includes the right to the counsel of the defendant’s choice and the right to conflict-free counsel.
Unfortunately, case law is not on Tiffanie’s side with respect to the former. The right to choose counsel seems to be limited to those defendants who can afford to pay for their own attorney, according to apublicdefender.com. With respect to the conflict of interest argument, it remains to be seen whether her attorney can put aside the fact that her husband is a state trooper and provide Tiffanie with effective legal representation.
What is your opinion? If you believe the charge of obstruction should be dropped, you are asked to sign this petition by clicking here.