Richmond, VA—The ACLU of Virginia today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on behalf of a Manassas Park business owner who says that he was subjected to police harassment and unlawful search in retaliation for his complaints about a local detective.
David Ruttenberg, owner and operator of Rack-N-Roll in Manassas Park, alleges that after he complained about the detective to his supervisor, the detective attempted to ruin his business by fabricating drug deals on the premises. The campaign of harassment culminated in a warrantless June 4, 2004 raid in which approximately fifty officers, many in SWAT gear, swarmed the bar and held the patrons at gunpoint while searching fruitlessly for drug evidence.
Ruttenberg alleges that the police were unable to obtain a warrant for the search because they could not establish probable cause of crime on the premises, so they recruited Alcoholic Beverage Control agents in a bid to disguise their search as an “administrative inspection.” ABC agents are permitted to conduct such inspections of ABC-licensed businesses without a warrant.
“Police officers should not be able to use the pretext of ‘administrative inspections’ as an end-run around the Constitution’s warrant requirement,” said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg. “And citizens should not have to fear that if they complain about the actions of police officers, they will be subjected to the kind of harassment alleged in this case.”
The ACLU brief argues that if Ruttenberg’s claims are true, the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by using the pretext of an “administrative inspection” to conduct a full-on raid of the Rack-N-Roll without a warrant, and violated the First Amendment by retaliating against Ruttenberg for his complaints about a detective. Ruttenberg is entitled to have his day in court to prove that these violations occurred, the brief argues.
Ruttenberg sued the officers responsible for the raid in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, but the judge dismissed his case, stating that his claims did not amount to a constitutional violation. The case is now on appeal.
The case is Ruttenberg v. Jones, Case No. 07-1037. The ACLU brief is available at www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/ruttenberg_amicus.pdf.
Contact: Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia (804) 644-8022