On June 24, 2014, after a two-day trial, a federal jury found that officer Robert Thunder violated Madia Law Client Michael Flowers’ constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Madia Law Attorney Ashwin Madia represented Mr. Flowers at trial, which was presided over by Chief Judge Michael Davis of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Mr. Flowers is a 51-year-old disabled black male who has Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (“AIDS”), a serious and potentially deadly condition that has an extreme effect on daily life activity and enables him to receive “limited mobility” designation on his Minnesota drivers license. A designation of “limited mobility” allows for reduced fare with Metro Transit.
On Saturday, September 25, 2010, at approximately 8:50 in the morning, Mr. Flowers was peacefully riding a southbound Metro Transit light-rail train, en route to referee a football game. Mr. Flowers paid his fare prior to boarding the train, as required.
At approximately that time, the train stopped at the downtown Metrodome station, and Defendant Thunder boarded the train. Defendant Thunder began verifying the fares of riders on the train, checking approximately two individuals’ fares before approaching Mr. Flowers. It is at this point of the incident where the parties’ versions of events began to differ at trial. Mr. Flowers’ Complaint alleged that:
Upon Defendant Thunder approaching him, Mr. Flowers provided his transfer fare without any prompt from Defendant Thunder. Defendant Thunder looked at the transfer, and then looked up at Mr. Flowers and asked him for his identification.
Mr. Flowers provided Defendant Thunder his Minnesota driver’s license. Defendant Thunder then looked Mr. Flowers up and down and said (in an apparent reference to the limited mobility designation on Mr. Flowers’ driver’s license and fare), “What’s the matter with you? You don’t seem disabled to me; what medicine are you on?”
Out of legitimate concern for his rights of privacy and to be free from unreasonable inquiry, Mr. Flowers responded that it was personal, not of Defendant Thunder’s concern, and that he didn’t have to tell him. Mr. Flowers then requested his transfer and fare back, to which Defendant Thunder shouted, “No! Sit down!”
Mr. Flowers, stunned at the sudden and unwarranted anger showed by Defendant Thunder, repeated that he just wanted his fare back. Instead, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Flowers presented no threat, Defendant Thunder drew his Tazer x26 gun and pointed it at Mr. Flowers at point blank range. Mr. Flowers immediately put his hands in the air and Defendant Thunder radioed, “I have a disorderly.”
Defendant Thunder kept his Tazer gun pointed at Mr. Flowers and Mr. Flowers kept his hands in the air. Defendant Thunder told Mr. Flowers he was going to jail; shocked and confused, Mr. Flowers asked, “Why are you doing this?,” to which Defendant Thunder responded, “Because I don’t like you.”
When the train reached the Franklin Avenue station, Defendant Thunder ordered Mr. Flowers to retrieve his bicycle and exit the train. Upon exiting the train, there was another officer and a K-9 unit awaiting their arrival. Defendant Thunder immediately grabbed Mr. Flowers’ arms and pulled them behind his back; Mr. Flowers did not resist. Then, Defendant Thunder forcefully slammed Mr. Flowers over the hood of the awaiting squad and handcuffed Mr. Flowers.
Mr. Flowers asked if he could take his backpack off, but Defendant Thunder refused. Mr. Flowers was then placed in the back of the squad car, with Defendant Thunder taking Mr. Flowers’ cellphone out of the case that was on his hip.
Once in the squad car, Defendant Thunder asked Mr. Flowers for his information and was then brought to the jail in downtown Minneapolis. Upon arriving at the jail, Mr. Flowers was removed from the vehicle and Defendant Thunder used a knife to cut Mr. Flowers’ backpack off. Mr. Flowers told Defendant that he needed critical medication in his backpack; Defendant Thunder said, “That’s not going to happen, this is evidence. You can come get it from the Metro Transit Police station when you get out of jail.”
Mr. Flowers was then given a trespass notice from Metro Transit and told that he wasn’t allowed to use the bus or train system for 30 days.
Mr. Flowers was then stripped of his clothing down to his underwear and booked in Hennepin County jail. Despite repeated requests to use his cell phone address book to obtain a phone number, Mr. Flowers was not allowed access to his cell phone and, as a result, unable to call anyone.
Mr. Flowers was locked up and forced to remain in Hennepin County jail for the entire weekend. Mr. Flowers was unable to communicate with family, friends, or his employer. This caused Mr. Flowers to miss work, resulting in his termination. It also caused great concern and emotional anguish for Mr. Flowers, and for his family and friends—who were unaware of his whereabouts.
Mr. Flowers was not released from jail until after 1:00 PM on Monday, September 27, 2010, after appearing before a Judge and pleading, “Not Guilty” to the charge of disorderly conduct. Later, the State chose not to pursue that charge against Mr. Flowers.