KEMMERER — A federal lawsuit brought against Lincoln County, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and LCSO Deputies Corry Bassett and Rob Andazola has been dismissed. On Tuesday, Jan. 22, U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl found “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and granted the defendant’s request for summary judgment, dismissing the case.
Pensacola, Fla., resident Robert Pierson, a U.S. Marine Corp captain and helicopter pilot, filed the suit after an Aug. 7, 2011, traffic stop outside Alpine, during which he was handcuffed and subsequently released.
The traffic stop was initiated by a 911 call from a concerned motorist to LCSO dispatch reporting a motorcycle that was being driven unsafely and at a high rate of speed. The caller identified himself and provided a phone number and address.
Deputy Bassett, a six-year LCSO veteran, responded to the call and located the motorcycle and Pierson based on the description provided by the aforementioned caller and attempted to pull the driver over. While following the driver for over one mile, Bassett communicated to the dispatcher that the motorcycle might have been trying to evade the stop.
Once pulled over, Pierson was asked for his driver’s license and whether he had any weapons on him. In response to the weapon question, Pierson replied, “I don’t consent to any searches.”
Pierson was open carrying a firearm on his hip which, according to court documents, Bassett could not see until Pierson dismounted the motorcycle to get out his driver’s license. Pierson contended that he was under no obligation to disclose the fact that he was carrying a firearm and that he was not jeopardizing Bassett’s safety.
Bassett handcuffed Pierson, citing concern for his own safety, and explained to Pierson that he was not under arrest.
“We recognize that most people we stop around here have some type of firearm in the vehicle. We have an awareness of firearms and how dangerous they can be. We’re not scared of them,” explained LCSO Sheriff Shane Johnson. “The reality of it is there were things that led up to the stop, which caused the deputy to be in a heightened state of awareness.”
The situation devolved from that point, with Pierson continually reiterating that his constitutional liberties were being violated and Bassett attempting to explain that Pierson was handcuffed to ensure officer safety.
According to Johnson, the combination of Pierson’s slow reaction while being pulled over, having traveled over one mile after Bassett’s lights and siren were activated, and his refusal to answer Bassett’s question about carrying a weapon, were of enough concern to Bassett that he felt it appropriate and prudent to cuff Pierson. The court found no issue with Pierson’s detention.
According to the court’s summary judgment, Pierson claims that he was unlawfully stopped, unlawfully detained, falsely arrested and that his fourth amendment and second amendment rights were violated.
Regarding the traffic stop, the court determined that the tip called in by the identified motorist was sufficient enough to warrant the stop, given the information the caller provided. The court also determined that “it was reasonably necessary for Deputy Bassett to place Plaintiff in handcuffs for officer safety after he was surprised by seeing the gun on Plaintiff’s hip.” Pierson’s claim that deputies Bassett and Andazola threatened violence against him were “insufficient to establish unreasonable seizure” according to the summary judgment. While Pierson had recorded much of the stop on his mobile phone, the exchange during which Pierson claims he was threatened was not recorded.
The court also found no issue with the length of Pierson’s detention — 45 minutes by Pierson’s account and 37 minutes according to LCSO dispatch information and recording — citing precedent that explained, “When a [person]’s own conduct contributes to a delay, he or she may not complain that the resulting delay is unreasonable.” Pierson had requested Bassett call a supervisor to the scene.
Pierson’s claim that he was unreasonably detained because of his handgun, thereby violating his second and fourth amendment rights, was denied by the court, in part because Pierson had been stopped for a reported traffic violation, not his openly carried firearm, a fact not in dispute according to discussion included in the summary judgment.
Johnson expressed frustration and disappointment that Pierson had not directed his complaints directly to the sheriff’s office.
“This guy never contacted the sheriff’s office. If he had a legitimate complaint, or felt like he had, you would think that he would contact me. First thing we heard about it, we were getting sued in federal court,” Johnson explained. “I question the actual concern. If somebody says, ‘You need to improve the way you’re doing work,’ I’m open to those type of things — we’ll take a look at it and see if we could have done a better job. We were never given that opportunity. The first opportunity we had a chance to defend ourselves was when we were putting together paperwork for a federal lawsuit. That’s not typically the way we deal with citizen complaints.”