Is lying to police about a driver’s conduct fairly attributable to employment duties as a parking enforcement officer? The Tenth Circuit was recently called upon to answer this question.
In Schaffer v. Salt Lake City Corp., Diana Schaffer parallel parked in a no parking zone and ticketed by two parking enforcement officers. When Schaffer returned, the officers were arguing with a different woman and Schaffer briefly intervened before starting to drive off.
The officers were double-parked next to the car in front of Schaffer, and the two officers were standing alongside it. As Schaffer started to drive off, the officers began banging on Schaffer’s truck yelling that she “almost” hit them and that she “hit their car.”
Schaffer drove off, but the officers escalated the matter by reporting to police that Schaffer had, in fact, hit them and their car. According to the officers report, there was no “almost” about it.
Schaffer was later arrested for aggravated assault and criminal mischief. She then filed a federal civil rights case alleging the two officers lied when they told police that Schaffer actually hit them because a radio dispatch caught the entire discussion, including the admission that Schaffer “almost” hit them.
However, in rejecting Schaffer’s civil rights claim, the Tenth Circuit held that lying to police was not sufficiently connected with the scope and duties of parking enforcement officials to constitute state-action.
As stated by the Tenth Circuit, “any citizen can report suspicious activity to the police and repeat that testimony in court; in doing so, the parking enforcement officers exercised no power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [the parking officers were] clothed with the authority of state law.”
The decision clarifies that for state action to lie, the complained of conduct must have some connection with the power and duties vested by the state.
Although the Tenth Circuit rejected the civil rights claim, a jury did acquit Ms. Schaffer of the criminal charges.
The opinion does not say what became of the ticket.
If you have questions about civil rights, police misconduct, or other issues that involve an abuse of power, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.