Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit By California Vice Principal Arrested for Gun on Campus

A federal judge recently dismissed claims by a former vice principal that the police violated his rights when they arrested him for having a gun at school, despite his having a permit for concealed carry.Filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the former vice principal argued that two officers and the city of Bakersfield were liable for false arrest, negligence, and Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure violation because they lacked probable cause. A U.S. District Judge disagreed and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding the officer acted reasonably under the circumstances.

The plaintiff was the vice principal at a junior high school for roughly five years, and he had been in the Bakersfield school system for nearly 30 years. At the time of the arrest, the California Gun Free Zone Act prohibited the possession of unauthorized firearms within 1,000 feet of school grounds without the permission of school authorities. However, the Act had an exception for law enforcement and those with concealed carry licenses.

In December 2013, the plaintiff applied for and obtained a license to carry a concealed weapon from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department because he wanted to protect himself and his family. After receiving the license, he began carrying a loaded pistol to school almost every day and did not inform his supervisors, even though the District required permission from anyone who wanted to bring a gun to school. In August 2014, he showed his gun to another teacher and said “I will get them before they get me,” which made the teacher shocked and unsettled. The teacher reported the incident to the principal, who was already concerned about the plaintiff, given an earlier exchange in which he told the principal he was “messed up in the head.” The principal reported the incident to a school administrator, and soon afterward, a Bakersfield school resource officer took the plaintiff into custody. He was released from Kern County Jail just six hours later.

Since no charges were filed, the plaintiff moved to file suit and resigned from the school system.

In granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the judge agreed that the officers were incorrect to arrest the plaintiff. However, she held that the officers did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights because their actions were reasonable. By his own words, there was reason to believe he was suffering from serious mental agitation. Moreover, he failed to obtain permission to have the gun on campus, despite the well-known fact that bringing a gun absent permission was not permissible, he evidenced poor judgment in allowing the loaded gun to be accessible, he left his backpack in an unsecured location, and he told various faculty members that he was “messed up in the head” and indicated he was going “to get them first.” Taken together, this evidence established probable cause for the arrest. Since there was no constitutional violation, the plaintiff’s claim against the city also failed.

The judge next held that the plaintiff’s claim for false arrest or false imprisonment failed because he could not show that the officers were acting outside the scope of their duties or that the officers did not have a reasonable belief that the arrest was lawful at the time. Specifically, the officers believed that the plaintiff had violated California’s Gun Free Zone Act and had probable cause to believe he had violated a separate criminal statute by having a loaded, unsecured weapon on school grounds.

The plaintiff’s negligence claims also failed, the judge explained, since the officers acted reasonably to avoid Fourth Amendment liability, and the plaintiff did not identify a specific statute that served as a basis for his negligence claims against the city.  The judge concluded that since the evidence demonstrated that the officers had a reasonable belief that the plaintiff violated California’s Gun Free Zone Act, the defendants carried their burden to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact on the claims. Thus, summary judgment was appropriate. The plaintiff may appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit.

The personal injury lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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