A federal appeals court upheld a $730,000 jury award to a U.S. Secret Service officer who was detained twice by the U.S. Park Police. Nathaniel Hicks won compensatory and punitive damages against two Park Police officers individually, Gerald Ferreyra and Brian Phillips, for the 2015 incident, which began with a gun in Hicks' face and lasted an hour, the Washington Post reports. The Park Police officers argued that the law protects government employees from suits as long as a constitutional violation wasn’t clear from prior cases. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that such lawsuits can be brought against federal officers only n an extremely narrow set of circumstances.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the officers should have known they were violating Hicks’s Fourth Amendment rights. The facts were largely undisputed. Ferreyra saw Hicks’s unmarked car on the shoulder of a road and approached for a “welfare check.” When he saw the gun in its holster on the passenger seat, Ferreyra pointed his service weapon at Hicks and repeatedly yelled, with expletives, “Don’t touch the gun.” Hicks followed orders to roll down the window and identified himself as a Secret Service officer, showing his credentials. Though there was no evidence of a crime, Ferreyra insisted that Hicks wait for a Park Police officer to arrive from 25 minutes away. A motorcade protecting the Secretary of Homeland Security, came and went without Hicks. The Park Police officers maintained they acted reasonably in a confusing situation. Hicks testified, “I felt completely helpless that here I was, an African-American male that was surrounded by all Caucasian officers. I just felt very disgusted at the time and just very upset and scared.”