Close this search box.
Home Court An appeals court has rejected the request for legal protection made by police officers who believed a drunk driver over a helpful citizen

An appeals court has rejected the request for legal protection made by police officers who believed a drunk driver over a helpful citizen

Austin Thompson Hughes made a lawful citizens arrest, but two Houston police officers released the drunk driver and arrested him.

Share Article:


Two Houston police officers were denied qualified immunity by a federal appeals court in Texas. They had released a drunk driver and charged a Good Samaritan who had performed a lawful citizen’s arrest with a felony.

Former police officer and current Uber driver Austin Thompson Hughes was accused of impersonating a police officer by Officers Michael Garcia and Joshua Few. The charge was dropped months later, and Hughes sued the officers for violating his constitutional rights. The officers claimed qualified immunity, but their appeal was denied by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

On March 23, 2019, Hughes, with two passengers in his car, noticed a GMC Sierra driving erratically on Interstate 610 in Houston. Law&Crime reported the incident.Hughes, suspecting the driver was drunk, called 911 and followed the truck with his flashers on while speaking with dispatchers. He had two passengers in his car at the time.

The truck hit concrete barriers on both sides of the highway and came to a stop, prompting the call to be transferred to another 911 center.

While still on the phone with a dispatcher, Hughes explained the need to remove the driver from the car to prevent a potential accident. He then described taking the driver’s keys and identification from the vehicle and mentioned the presence of multiple alcohol bottles inside.

Another 911 caller supported Hughes’ statements in a separate call.

22-20621-CV0 by kc wildmoon on Scribd

At one point, the driver left the truck and ran onto the highway. Hughes could be heard yelling for him to stop for his own safety. The dispatcher assured help was on the way and hung up. Hughes decided to handcuff the driver using cuffs he had in his truck. The two Houston police officers arrived 17 minutes later.

The US Court of Appeals highlighted that at no point during the 911 calls did Hughes identify himself as a police officer. The information apparently came from the drunk driver, who also referred to Hughes as “Jesse” and falsely claimed they had been drinking together at a flea market before the 2 a.m. incident, despite there being no after-hours flea market with a bar in the area.

Although Garcia and Few handcuffed the drunk driver, they released him and arrested Hughes two days later, claiming they wanted to inspect his cell phone. He was apprehended in his pajamas at 3 a.m., and after three months of legal battle, Houston prosecutors acknowledged there was no probable cause for his arrest.

The Circuit Court thoroughly reviewed the case in a 21-page ruling that began with the statement, “For those concerned about the misuse of qualified immunity: Get ready.”

The court pointed out that Hughes’ citizen’s arrest was lawful according to Texas law, and emphasized that Garcia and Few favored the drunk driver over the Good Samaritan Hughes, which the court found surprising.

The judges noticed important differences between what actually happened in the case and what the officers reported, such as the drunk man's claim that Hughes said he was a police officer. The judges contradicted the drunk man's claims.

Hughes and the drunk driver had never met; there is no evidence that Hughes accused the stranger of fooling around with Hughes’s wife; Hughes never drove the drunk driver anywhere; multiple independent witnesses and 911 callers (including Hughes’s own, recorded 911 call) and the Uber app screenshots confirm Hughes was not driving the white GMC Sierra; and there is no evidence of a flea market open in Houston at 2:00 a.m., much less a flea market that doubles as a bar where the drunk driver could drink more than 7 beers.

The officers also stated that Hughes's two female friends were driving his Jeep and he was driving the drunk man's truck before they argued and he decided to handcuff him. The judges said this was the drunk man's version of events, not what actually happened.

The appeals court found that Garcia's written statement contained at least eight significant false statements or omissions. They said any reasonable officer would have known that the statement had these errors based on the evidence available.

Even though Garcia wrote the statement, the court pointed out that Few approved it.

The court wrote that it's unclear which part of the case is more astonishing: (1) Officers not charging a severely intoxicated driver and instead bringing felony charges against the Good Samaritan who intervened to protect Houstonians; or (2) the City of Houston still defending its officers’ conduct. In any case, the officers' qualified immunity is denied, and the district court’s decision is AFFIRMED.

The decision allows Hughes's lawsuit to move ahead.

[Featured image: Pixabay]

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Criminal Time is a media organization, we provide regular reports, crime bulletins, crime scene photos, analysis, data, investigations and crime related news.

Our work is costly and high risk. Please support our mission investigating organized crime.

By topic

By country

By person

Criminal Time

© 2024 Criminal Time.

Powered by WordPress VIP