Court Rejects Generalized 'Safety Concerns' as Justification for Breaking-into & Searching Parked Vehicle

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
July 21, 2010 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida applauds U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra’s decision in favor of freelance journalist David Lippman in a monumental civil rights case arising out of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) conference held in Miami in 2003. Though the court acknowledged that the law enforcement officials faced significant safety concerns associated with the conference, it ruled that such generalized concerns could not justify breaking into and searching a parked vehicle. Because no ‘safety concerns’ were linked to Lippman individually, the judge wrote “Defendants did not have arguable probable cause or exigency to justify searching Lippman’s truck for a bomb.” The court’s July 20, 2010, order allows Mr. Lippman’s case to proceed against officers from the FBI, Miami Police, and Broward Sheriff Office.

In May 2006, the ACLU of Florida and its Greater Miami Chapter filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lippman after his parked vehicle was searched, seized, and damaged by officers from several law enforcement agencies without probable cause. The ACLU lawsuit cites violations of Lippman’s rights to free press, speech, and assembly, and his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“This opinion represents a huge victory for civil liberties in this post-911 era,” said Benjamin James Stevenson, ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney. “The ‘war on terror’ is not an invitation to the police to search whatever home, car, or person they want. Our constitution protects our privacy and requires them to have an individualized foundation for their suspicions, which was clearly lacking here.”

Documents obtained by the ACLU indicate that Lippman was under Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance for being an unspecified “known protestor w/history” as he traveled from his home in North Carolina to Miami to cover the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. FBI agents recruited the local officers to break into his vehicle and then, after damaging the vehicle and overturning his personal possessions he kept within it, to haul away the vehicle and his possessions.

“With this decision, we will be able to proceed to trial and show that the constitution has not been suspended,” said Jeanne Baker, lead counsel for Mr. Lippman on behalf of the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter. “The manner in which officers dealt with Lippman and his vehicle was unlawful and inappropriate, and we hope this lawsuit will serve as a reminder that violations of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures are un-American and will not be tolerated.”

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Download a PDF of the Third Amended Complaint at:

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