Unconstitutional to Pressure Arrestee to Be Baptized in Exchange for Leniency

Also, the court ruled that qualified immunity would not protect Goforth’s actions if they were true to what Riley claimed. They are clearly unconstitutional. It is not clear whether Riley was forced to undergo the baptism or if her refusal would have resulted in harsher punishments. The court also questioned whether Goforth had known Riley was being coerced. “This is sufficient to prevent summary judgement on the issue.”

Wilkey pulled Riley in front of Diane Smith’s house at 9:15 on February 6, 2019. Wilkey approached Riley through her driver’s side window, and inquired about what was in her car. Riley revealed that she was carrying a marijuana roach inside her cigarette packet.

Wilkey opened Riley’s car door and told her to get out. Wilkey then searched Riley’s body for twenty seconds before handcuffing her. Tyler McRae arrived at Wilkey’s aid while Wilkey handcuffed her. After about a minute of looking, Riley turned around to face Wilkey. Wilkey searched Riley’s pockets before telling her to stand at the rear of his patrol car. Riley said that Wilkey had inappropriately touched Riley’s crotch as he was searching her the second time. Wilkey discovered the cannabis cigarette after searching Riley.

Wilkey searched Riley’s car while Riley waited close to the patrol vehicle. Riley said that Wilkey “tore” Riley’s car while Riley waited nearby the patrol vehicle. [her]Car apart” to search for any other contraband. Wilkey examined the vehicle, and then spoke to Riley in detail about the contraband. Wilkey instructed Riley to take off her shirt, and then shake her bra. Wilkey found no additional contraband.

Next, Wilkey and Riley discussed religion. McRae then left the conversation after about thirty minutes. Riley stated that Wilkey had asked her if she was baptized. With concern, she replied that she might not be ready. Riley’s testimony says Wilkey assured her that she was ready. [was]He spoke to her and told her that if she was baptized, Wilkey would simply issue her a citation so she could go about her day. Riley says Wilkey said that Wilkey would also speak in her place at court, if she was willing to agree. Riley agreed to this because it was her plan.[did not]Want to Go to Jail.” Also, she “thought” [Wilkey] was a God-fearing, church-like man who saw something … in [her]”That God talked to him,” Wilkey testified, saying that it was good to have that belief for just a moment. Wilkey later was quizzed on whether he had “given” the answer. [her]Riley replied:

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Wilkey recommended that Riley visit Smith’s house in order to borrow towels for the baptism. Riley was just there for a short time, but she did speak briefly to her son. Smith asked if Riley could lend them towels. Smith asked Riley if she thought it was safe. Riley responded, “I don’t think so.” “We’ll find out.” Wilkey gave Riley a citation after she emerged from her house, armed with towels. Riley and Wilkey went back to their cars, while Riley followed Wilkey’s car about 12 minutes to Soddy Lake.

Goforth also patrolled that night. Wilkey called Goforth as he drove to Soddy Lake, “and asked” [his]To witness the baptism, I was at Soddy Lake Boat Ramp. Goforth was convinced Wilkey was going to baptize someone he had known personally. Goforth didn’t discover that Riley was a suspect in a crime until Riley arrived on the boat ramp. Goforth claims that Riley was cited for a criminal offense until he arrived at the boat ramp. [Wilkey]If he hadn’t thought of it. [baptizing Riley]Wilkey wanted to “provoke reconsideration”, but he was not able to do so.

Wilkey reached Soddy lake at 10:36 pm and waited several minutes in his car. Wilkey presented Riley to Goforth once he arrived at Soddy Lake. He stated that Riley was ready to be baptized. In preparation for the baptism, Wilkey told Riley, “I’m going to be honest with you, …I’m going to strip down to my skivvies,” but he asked Riley to keep her clothes on. Wilkey stripped Riley of all clothing, except his shirt and his underwear. Riley kept her clothes on except for her shoes. Wilkey quickly submerged Riley into the water, while keeping one hand on Riley’s back and the other on her face.

Goforth recorded the baptism using his cell phone. Goforth says he did it “to safeguard all present and to document the event.” The question of where Wilkey touched Riley during baptism is still up in dispute. Riley said that Wilkey’s arms were touching Riley’s breasts, however, Goforth captured the event on video. It appears Wilkey was holding Riley’s arm. Wilkey, Riley and their time in the water was approximately 1 minute and 20 seconds.

Riley and Wilkey hugged for approximately four seconds once they were out of water.   Riley stated she just wanted to leave the water and hug Wilkey for four seconds. Riley further testified that Goforth smiled at her as she dried off her skin, although Goforth has denied any interaction with her. Riley also stated that Riley was “nicht mehr greifen” at the point that Goforth stared at her while drying off. However, Goforth denied ever having interacted with Riley in this way.[she]You knew that it was nothing to do God [or] … with saving [her or] … with [anyone]to be a positive person. You had power and control.[.]Goforth says that Riley and Wilkey spoke to one another pleasantly.[,]The three of them laughed and joked about the situation and Riley appeared to have taken part in it voluntarily. The three of them returned their vehicles at 11:11 p.m. There was some conversation and laughter before Riley departed, and Goforth and Wilkey continued talking after she left….

A person can be seized by police to contest the government’s actions under the Fourth Amendment if the officer terminates, restrains, or uses force. [her]Freedom of movement by means deliberately applied.” … When a suspected seizure is affected without the use of physical force, there must be both a show of authority from the officer and submission by the detainee. “[W]It is possible for a submission to be considered hat depending on how a person did it before being given authority[.]The Supreme Court noted that the “threatening presence of multiple officers, the holding of a weapon or touching the body of citizens, as well as the “use of language or tone that indicates that the officer might be compelled to comply” could all signify a seizure. This is even if the individual has never tried to flee. However, “[i]If there is no such evidence, an otherwise non-offensive contact of a police officer with a member the public can’t be considered a legal seizure.

Goforth asserts that Riley was not longer held when she arrived at boat ramp for baptism. Riley drove to the lake in her car and she “wasn’t physically restrained.” However, this argument is not supported by genuine facts. The details of the conversation leading to baptism cannot be determined because there is no audio from the dashcam video. Riley disputes this assertion, though Goforth asserts that Riley gave his consent to baptism.

If we look at the facts as they were, Riley could believe that she wasn’t allowed to go until her baptism was complete. Riley was already handcuffed and taken into custody by an officer in uniform driving a police car. Riley had given up marijuana that she didn’t have legal permission to possess. Riley said that Riley consented to her baptism because she was not afraid of going to jail. Wilkey also told Riley that he would baptize her if she consented to it. [her]Citation and [she]It could continue on. [her] business.” Wilkey called Wilkey to request the addition of an on-duty official for the baptism. In these conditions, it is not unreasonable to think that Wilkey would be prevented from leaving if she attempted to do so before the baptism had ended. Accordingly, Goforth is not entitled to summary judgment on the grounds that Riley was not seized for the purposes of the baptism….

Though Goforth’s argument rests primarily on the absence of a seizure, the Court notes that only unreasonable seizures violate the Fourth Amendment…. For the Court to decide whether an officer is reasonable, it must balance “the governmental concern which allegedly justifies official interference” with the intrusiveness that the seizure has on individual rights.

Riley was taken into custody if it is proven that Riley was. The baptism of Riley by an off-duty officer is not in the best interest of government. Contrary to popular belief,[i]The Constitution provides that no government can force anyone to practice religion, support it, or exercise religion in any way. “[I]The State is disengaging its duty to safeguard and protect the inviolable beliefs and conscience of citizens who are being subject to government-sponsored religious exercise. Detainees being baptized by law enforcement officers is directly against the substantial government interest in protecting religious freedom without any government interference. Any … seizure for the purpose of conducting a baptism intruded upon Riley’s liberty without furthering any government interest and was therefore unreasonable….

[C]oerced participation in a Christian baptism—an overtly religious act with no secular purpose—[is] unlawful…. Even if Riley was not coerced into the baptism, … [a]If a state actor wrongly endorses religion, “a reasonable observer will think that this activity is a government endorsement of religion.” The “reasonable observer”, as it is called, must be “deemed knowledgeable of both the background and context of the community as well as of the setting in which the challenged government activity occurred.” Courts have found that government endorsement of religion is possible when an act has an inherently religious nature.

The baptism is unambiguously a religious ritual that doesn’t have any secular purposes. The record does not indicate that the officers intended baptism to be anything other than an exercise in faith and religion. Any reasonable observer would conclude that the effect of the baptism was an unequivocal endorsement of Christianity….

We are very proud of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Howard Brett Manis and Andrew C. Clarke.