Judge dismisses lawsuit against Weare police
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Weare Police Department this week, denying a man who does not seem to recognize local government authority $5 million in damages over an arrest he calls a kidnapping.
In September 2011, the Weare police arrested David Johnson for driving after his license had been revoked and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended registration. In February 2012, Johnson was found guilty of those charges.
In January 2012, however, Johnson sued the town of Weare, the police department and Officer Frank Jones in U.S. District Court over his arrest four months earlier.
Johnson, who represented himself in court, alleged the Weare police and the town violated his Fourth Amendment rights by committing false arrest, excessive force and unreasonable search. None of these claims stood up in court, and Judge Steven McAuliffe granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment Wednesday, dismissing Johnson’s lawsuit and closing the case.
In his court filings, Johnson lists his mailing address in East Boston, Mass. At the time he filed his lawsuit, he also stated in his court documents that he was “domiciled in Hillsborough County.” Johnson could not be reached for comment.
A different arrest
According to the judge’s order, the dispute began with the arrest of another individual, not Johnson. The Weare police arrested that man at his property on Dustin Tavern Road on Sept. 22, 2011. The officers, including Jones, returned to that home about 9 that night to search for firearms they believed the owner possessed illegally. When they approached the house, court documents state a black Ford Ranger pickup truck that had not been on the property earlier was parked outside, and the officers saw the truck’s occupant – Johnson – stick his head up and then drop down out of sight.
The officers told the court the homeowner had said no one else had permission to be on the property, and they suspected Johnson might be engaging in illegal activity because he seemed to be hiding.
Court documents state the officers drew their weapons and walked toward the truck. They ordered Johnson to get out of the vehicle and lie on the ground, patted him down and then let him stand up. Johnson told officers he was a friend of the homeowner and had been sleeping in his truck on the property, court documents show.
“The officers ran a check on Johnson’s personal information and determined that both his driver’s license and automobile registration were suspended,” the judge’s order states. “Although Johnson asserted that he did not need a driver’s license or vehicle registration to drive on public roads, the officers were (understandably) unpersuaded.”
(The parenthetical comment in the quote is the judge’s.)
Johnson refers to himself throughout his court filings as a “Free American Sovereign,” a “free american” and as “david: Johnson, Sui Juris, an Art 30 american sovereign of the New Hampshire citizenry.” According to a note in the judge’s order, Johnson’s expressed belief that he does not need a driver’s license or vehicle registration falls in line with the beliefs of the sovereign citizen movement. In his court filing, he also repeatedly referred to the state of New Hampshire and the town of Weare as “corporations,” and he prioritized “commercial law” based on “eternally just, valid and moral precepts and truths” over the statutes of any governments, legislatures, courts or law enforcement agencies.
In his court filings, Johnson claims he had been sleeping in his truck when five or more heavily armed officers woke him by screaming at him and flooding him with bright lights.
‘No valid reason’
“With no probable cause and without provocation, with guns pointed at me, they continued to scream like criminally insane and mentally unstable psychopaths, in a very threatening manner, for absolutely no valid reason,” he wrote in his complaint.
Johnson also claims the officers traumatized his shoulders and handcuffed him too tightly, causing “extreme” pain. His complaint states the officers searched his truck and read his private documents, and then stole his truck by having it towed against his repeated objections. In his complaint, Johnson also referred to Jones as a “rogue agent” and said the police did not inform him of his rights before he was squeezed into the police cruiser in an uncomfortable position.
Officers told the court a lieutenant on the scene decided to place Johnson under arrest, and another officer – not Jones – handcuffed him. Because Johnson is “a large man,” court documents state, the officer used two sets of handcuffs linked together. Jones then escorted him to the police cruiser.
“At no point during the detention or arrest process did I apply any force, excessive or otherwise, against Johnson. . . . I did not strike Johnson, or apply any level of force to him, beyond simply taking him by the arm, walking him to the cruiser, and helping him into the back seat,” Jones testified in an affidavit.
The police then searched Johnson’s truck and called for a tow truck to move the Ford Ranger.
“When it came time to transport Johnson to the police station, Jones assisted him into the back seat of the cruiser,” the judge’s order states. “Because of his large size, officers turned him onto his side and had him lay down in the back seat. The officers all unite in saying that they did this with the least amount of force and physical contact as possible and at no time did they take any action that was designed to cause Johnson any pain or discomfort.”
Johnson complained of shoulder pain during the drive, court documents state, and another officer asked medical personnel to meet them at the department. When he arrived at the police station, Johnson told medical personnel he was experiencing chest and shoulder pain, and they brought him to the hospital.
At the police station, Johnson states in his own court filing that he did not want to go to the hospital because he did not have any money to pay for medical services, but an ambulance transported him to Concord Hospital anyway.
“I was kidnapped from my friend’s private property, accosted, assaulted, held at gunpoint, injured, abused and abandoned at a hospital for no reason whatsoever,” Johnson wrote in his complaint.
With his lawsuit, Johnson was seeking $5 million in damages, according to the judge’s order issued Wednesday. In the suit, Johnson wrote he would accept payment in either banknotes or pure silver.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)