The Ludington Torch published an article of first impression on a story coming from the 6th Ward of Ludington, wherein an officer made contact with a man walking down the sidewalk wearing a shark costume (Laws & Jaws).  From our perspective after reading the press release given to local media, the unnamed officers involved appear to have used coercion to see the man's identification, and once they had it, they appear to have misused the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) to find out the man had an outstanding bench warrant out of Kent County. 

Without have any type of probable cause at all, using the LEIN in such situations can be a crime for the officer's involved, and a violation of the man's civil rights.  As we indicated, the Ludington Torch sent a FOIA to the LPD in order to review the report and the body cam footage of the incident in order to find out the truth of what actually happened and whether the shark-man was improperly targeted by the LPD, or perhaps the unlikely scenario where he had freely given out his name and the fact that he had an outstanding warrant against him at the time.

We received the FOIA response including the body cams of the two LPD Officers involved, Noah Noble and Austin Morpis and found out that the record was just as scary as we thought.  Here's Noble's body cam footage followed by a transcript of what transpired before Officer Morris got on scene for 'backup', it shows the lack of any sort of probable cause leading up to the arrest of sharkman, who we find out is a guy named Timothy Zeller:

LPD Noah Noble: (1:10 in) "I'm Officer Noble, we're just out her looking for a lost puppy.  Have you seen any?  

Timothy Zeller:  No, just a weird guy with a shark's head.

Noble:  I like that costume.  Why are you wearing that for?

Zeller:  'Cause I thought it would be funny.

Noble:  Oh; I feel like I've seen you before... (audio edit for two seconds)

You'll notice that Noble leaves out the 'lost puppy' angle in his report and it's left out of their press release.  We get an indication that this is the case later on and with this brief edit of radio traffic having LEIN info on it.  Officer Noble knew the identity of Zeller at that point and had already had dispatch in progress of doing a LEIN check on him, this becomes evident later on.

Noble:  What's you up to tonight out here?

Zeller:  I'm going to drop a pair of shoes off (waves the pair of shoes he is holding).  

Noble:  Ok, where you headed to?

Zeller:  Steve's house.

Noble:  Ok, you haven't seen a small black lab though?  We're all looking for him out here.  (No) No, where you coming from?

Zeller:  My house.

Noble:  Your house, is your house down on Danaher?

Zeller:  You should know where I live.

Noble:  Right down here, right?  Yeah, because it was missing like from the 500 block.  We're thinking it went this way.

Zeller:  I'm on the 600 block...

At this point, Noble asks discretely under his breath on his radio, unintelligible but it sounds as if he is asking for LPD's other unit, Morris.  Small talk used for delaying the subject from moving along continues for a minute before Officer Austin Morris shows up.  The officer's report up to that point is quite enlightening as to what didn't actually happen:

Zeller never voluntarily gave his name, that's for certain.  Noble never asked dispatch after he had made contact to run a file on him; this seems to have been done before contact was made.  But even had he asked for a name and ran a file, there was an important thing missing here that made Noble's action-- less than noble. 

It was the lack of probable cause to use the LEIN system to run his file.  There are many scholarly articles on the topic, but let's just use the one that all Ludington officers can see in their 2020 policy manual:

Ignoring the typo of using 'a foot' rather than 'afoot', there was no probable cause to run Zeller's name at that point.  Every American, even in Ludington has the right to walk on the sidewalk to get from his home to a friend's home to return a pair of shoes without being stopped by a cop without pretense, who invents a lost puppy story in order to search LEIN files with the hopes of finding dirt.

This time, they find a bench warrant out of Kent County that is less than 5 weeks old.  So what do we have here before Morris shows up?

A lost puppy as a red herring, Noble knowing Zeller enough to run a file without asking for his name or ID, no probable cause, Zeller surprised that Noble did not know where he lived, a falsified police report.  Morris' arrival gives us more to figure out what's really happening here:

After trying to confuse Zeller by changing questions on him, Morris asks whether Zeller has anything on him, words that we all know are prerequisites for a search, noting that nothing has yet came back from dispatch about the warrant. 

LPD's Austin Morris:  (2:55 in) Well because like I told you the last time that I spoke to you on Danaher, remember when you were on your bike, a lot of these people have been telling me that drugs are coming from your house (edit 3 seconds).  Do you mind if I search your person?

This is followed by Zeller's denial of a consensual search and another loss of audio where the bench warrant information comes through, at which point, Morris makes a body search incident to arrest for the outstanding warrant.  Morris words prior to any conceivable cause for holding Zeller up from returning his shoes makes it fairly clear what happened here and why the report was missing this material or actually misreporting it.  

Noble and Morris were fully aware that a recent warrant had been put out by a faraway county in regard to someone they suspected was dealing drugs (Zeller has never been convicted of any drug crime other than for marijuana before it was legal).  Contact was made and stalling tactics were performed by Noble in order to have a pretext to arrest Zeller.  The police report was tailored to leave out this prior knowledge, but it added three issues in the process.

First, filing a false police report, lying by omission or commission, is a crime in Michigan

Second, misusing the LEIN is a crime in Michigan.  A Michigan court recently found that Richmond Police Chief Thomas Costello intentionally used the state computer network for police officers to get non-public information on someone without probable cause.  Noble admitted in his falsified police report his misuse of the LEIN by asking dispatch to run Zeller's file without any kind of probable cause ever noted.  

Third, Zeller's arrest and imprisonment was unlawful due to the misuse of the LEIN either during this incident or before this incident.  Due to the clear violations of his rights, this shark has an excellent chance of getting some redress for his civil rights being infringed by the LPD acting under the color of law, while violating quite dramatically a couple of laws.  

It's immaterial whether Zeller is a bad person for failing to make his child support payments or for having a past record that isn't as clear as yours or mine.  What is material is that two Ludington officers so brazenly exploited the system in violating Zeller's rights, and that they thought the scenario was amusing enough to broadcast it in the area's lapdog media outlets without fear of reprisal from those who still believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  

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This type of policing is done with approval from the administration. Even the guy being stopped knew what the police were up to because they contradict themselves so many times. The police knew who was wearing that costume before they made contact with him. I support the police and want them to enforce the law as long as they are doing it in a legal way. It's obvious the police didn't stop this guy because he was wearing a costume. They wanted to search him and came up with this scheme to get around the Constitution. If this guy were in fact dealing in drugs then the police should be doing their job by enforcing the law legally and ethically not by side stepping around the Constitution.

Both of us would love to see all drugs taken off the street and both of us support the police enough to offer fair criticism and compliments when it's due, but we can agree that this is not the way to get drugs off the streets or gain support for local police.  

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