Deputy, County not liable in wrongful arrest lawsuit

Harris County Vince Ryan’s Office has obtained a summary judgment in favor of Harris County and a Sheriff’s deputy in a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested when he returned to the Red River Dance Hall and Saloon in Tomball after being banned from the bar.

Michael Bradshaw claimed he was arrested in retaliation for a Facebook Messenger conversation he had with an employee of the bar that occurred the night he was banned from the bar in July 2013. In the profanity laden Facebook exchange Bradshaw described his encounter with the deputy, accusing the deputy of being a coward and calling him a “Barney Fife buddy” of the employee.

About six months later in January 2014 Bradshaw returned to the bar.  The deputy handcuffed and arrested Bradshaw for criminal trespass and for an open warrant for driving with an invalid license.  The charges were ultimately dismissed.

Bradshaw filed a civil rights action against the deputy and Harris County claiming that his arrest was without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and in retaliation for his speech on Facebook Messenger in violation of his First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. found there was probable cause for the arrest and therefore no constitutional violation.  The judge wrote that the bar’s owner had prohibited Bradshaw from being on the premises and had authorized the deputy to issue a criminal trespass warning to Bradshaw. A reasonable officer in the deputy’s position could conclude that the plaintiff had committed a criminal trespass.  The Court citing Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent held that if probable cause existed for the arrest the officer’s motive in effecting the arrest was not relevant.

Judge Werlein found that Harris County was also entitled to summary judgment; because the uncontroverted evidence established that the deputy did not violate Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, the County had no liability.

Click here to read the opinion and order.