Conservative 5th circuit slams 2 HPD officers for believing a drunk driver over a Good Samaritan

Miya Shay Image
Saturday, May 25, 2024
5th circuit slams 2 HPD officers for believing a drunk driver over a Good Samaritan
Records show when the officers got on scene, they believed the drunk driver's side of the story. The criminal case was dismissed months later in 2019, but the damage to Good Samaritan's life was already done.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A major rebuke of two Houston police officers' actions by one of the most conservative federal courts in the country.

In a case that's sure to reverberate, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that two Houston police officers lied during a 2019 DWI case. Their lies were so blatant that they no longer have qualified immunity.

The ruling found that officers Michael Garcia and his partner Joshua Few, in many of their basic duties, believed the suspect in the case instead of the drunk driver.

It all started back in 2019, when Austin Hughes, a former police officer in Michigan, was working as an Uber driver and driving along the 610 W. Loop.

It was early in the morning, and Hughes saw a drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic. He called 911 while following the driver.

When the driver crashed into the side of the highway, Hughes pulled up behind him, and performed a citizen's arrest.

Records show when the officers got on scene, they believed the drunk driver's side of the story. Eventually, they arrested Hughes and he was charged with a felony.

The criminal case was dismissed months later, but the damage to Hughes' life was already done.

He filed a civil case, represented by attorney Courtney Warren, which led to the extraordinary rebuke this month.

"This case is going to open the door for a lot of people who are wrongly accused," Paul Doyle, an attorney who represented Hughes in his criminal case that was dismissed, said.

Doyle is shocked as anyone that the Fifth Circuit came down with a scathing ruling. He had assumed that a civil case would not go far because officers generally have qualified immunity for wrongdoing in civil cases.

"I'm glad I was wrong," he said.

In the 21-page document, a portion reads:

For those who worry that qualified immunity can be invoked under absurd circumstances: Buckle up.

...when police officers arrived at the scene, they let the drunk driver go and then arrested Good Samaritan Hughes. (Seriously.) Piling insanity on irrationality, the officers then charged Hughes with a felony for impersonating a peace officer. Hughes spent thousands of dollars defending against the frivolous criminal charges before the City of Houston dropped them. Then Hughes brought this suit against the two officers who victimized him. The district court denied qualified immunity. We affirm. (Obviously.)

Another section of the ruling puts the case this way:

This case does not involve excessive force, or split-second decisions, or the chaos of a chase. Rather, it involves a simple, clearly established rule that all officers should know at all times ... Do not lie.

"What this case says is no. If you lie this blatantly, you don't have immunity, and you don't have these protections. So, hopefully it will cause the bad officers that do this type of stuff, because there are so many good ones, to think twice before putting the case on someone," Doyle said.

The Houston Police Officers' Union told ABC13 that it believes the officers acted correctly, pointing out it was the District Attorney's Office who accepted the charges against Hughes. In addition, it says no internal affairs complaints were ever filed. Both Garcia and Few remain on the job today at HPD.

City Attorney Arturo Michel says the statute of limitations would prevent any criminal prosecution of the officers. He says he will speak with acting HPD Chief Larry Satterwhite about any additional training or other corrective actions that could be taken.

The case is now remanded back to federal trial court, where civil penalties could be assessed. Hughes, who remains in Houston, did not want to comment on camera.

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