Qualified immunity for removal from vehicle and subsequent arrest


(If you are new to 1983 actions, click here for help)

Ward Sturgis Williams appeals the dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit on the grounds that Officer Austin Reed and Sergeant Thomas Gross were entitled to qualified immunity and that he failed to state a claim against Johnson County. He argues that Officer Reed and Sergeant Gross are not entitled to qualified immunity because they did not have reasonable suspicion to detain him or to remove him from his vehicle and because they lacked probable cause to arrest him. The 5th affirmed.


At the time that he approached Williams, Officer Reed knew that there had been an incident involving violence and a knife and that the man who wielded the knife was seated in a black car at the scene. Based on the 911 call and his observations on arriving at the scene, Officer Reed had reasonable suspicion to believe that Williams may have committed a crime and, therefore, had reasonable suspicion to detain Williams at the time he initiated contact with Williams.

The court’s next inquiry is whether Officer Reed’s and Sergeant Gross’s subsequent actions in ordering Williams out of the car and patting him down were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference. In this case, the officers were aware that Williams, at one point, had a knife in his possession; however, it was unknown whether the knife was still in Williams’s possession. As such, the officers could have reasonably believed that their safety or the safety of the bystanders was at risk by allowing Williams to remain in his vehicle unrestrained and possibly armed. See Michelletti. Thus, they did not violate Williams’s Fourth Amendment rights.

With respect to the warrantless arrest, the information obtained by the officers during their investigation provided probable cause that Williams had committed aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This included their observations as well as statements taken from witnesses at the scene. Because the officers’ investigation provided them with probable cause to arrest Williams, they did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.