July 29, 2021

Kevin Byrd awoke one night to a phone call informing him that his ex-girlfriend had been in a bad car crash and might not live. He soon learned that she and her then-boyfriend were kicked out of a restaurant and that the boyfriend had been driving when they hit a parked Greyhound bus at 70 mph.

Kevin went to the restaurant to ask about what had happened leading up to the crash. When he was about to drive out of the parking lot, the boyfriend’s father, Ray Lamb, approached Kevin’s vehicle. Lamb was a Department of Homeland Security officer. He pointed his gun at Kevin through the car windshield, tried to smash the driver’s side window with the gun, and told Kevin he would “put a bullet through his f–king skull” and “blow his head off.” He then pulled the trigger, but thankfully it jammed. A security recording of the incident documents the encounter. Kevin called 911 for help. Agent Lamb called 911, too, to have Kevin arrested so he would stop looking into his son’s drunk driving.

When officers arrived, Lamb displayed his federal badge, and officers detained Kevin in a squad car. After officers watched the surveillance video of the incident, however, they arrested Lamb for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and let Kevin go.

Kevin sued Lamb for violating his Fourth Amendment rights by threatening him with a gun and unlawfully detaining him. Like in Hamdi’s case, the trial court concluded that Lamb’s conduct was so clearly unconstitutional that qualified immunity could not shield him from the lawsuit. On appeal, however, the 5th Circuit ruled that because Lamb held a federal badge, that alone shielded him from being held accountable; as a result, Kevin’s case was dismissed.

Also, like the 8th Circuit, the 5th Circuit reasoned that Kevin’s case presented a different set of facts than those the Supreme Court has recognized allow federal officers to be held liable for constitutional violations. But as one judge on the panel observed, this decision furthers a rights-without-remedies regime: “If you wear a federal badge, you can inflict excessive force on someone with little fear of liability.”

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