Fourth Amendment

Cops Held Two Innocent Boys at Gunpoint, Forced Them to Lie on the Ground, Handcuffed Them, and Searched Them. That's Fine, the 8th Circuit Said.

The Institute for Justice wants the Supreme Court to review the case—and to clarify the proper scope of "investigatory stops."


On a rainy January evening in 2018, 14-year-old Weston Young and his 12-year-old brother, Haden, were walking home from their grandparents' house in Springdale, Arkansas, after a family dinner. A police officer ordered them to stop, pointed a gun at them, forced them to lie on the ground, handcuffed them, and, together with a colleague, searched them. Their mother and stepfather tried to intervene, explaining who the boys were, where they had been, and where they were going. But the officer, Lamont Marzolf, rebuffed both of them, seemingly uninterested in information suggesting that he was treating two innocent boys like criminals.

"Neither [Weston] nor [Haden] did anything wrong" that night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit later observed. "The boys simply happened onto the stage of a dangerous live drama being played out in their neighborhood because of criminals fleeing police nearby. [Weston] and [Haden] acted bravely, respectfully, and responsibly throughout the encounter, and their family would rightly be proud of them. Likewise, their family acted responsibly and respectfully during what would have undoubtedly been a frightening experience. In this situation, though, Officer Marzolf was doing his job protecting the people of Springdale from fleeing criminal suspects under challenging conditions."

Whether Marzolf was "doing his job" within the parameters dictated by the Fourth Amendment is at the center of a case that the Institute for Justice is asking the Supreme Court to consider. The organization's petition, which it filed this week on behalf of Casondra Pollreis, Weston and Haden's mother, argues that the 8th Circuit erred when it concluded last August that Marzolf's actions were constitutional. Pollreis' lawyers say the appeals court's decision exemplifies a troubling tendency to expand an exception that the Supreme Court carved out of the Fourth Amendment in 1968, when it allowed "investigatory stops" based on "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. According to the 8th Circuit, the line between such a stop and an arrest—which requires probable cause, a standard that Marzolf clearly did not meet—"can be hazy."

If so, Institute for Justice attorney Robert McNamara says, that is only because the Supreme Court has stood by as lower courts have approved increasingly severe and invasive treatment based on reasonable suspicion. "Through silence and inaction, the Supreme Court has allowed the doctrine of 'stop and frisk' to morph into 'stop, drop, handcuff, and hold at gunpoint,'" McNamara says. "As the number of involuntary encounters between citizens and government officials has soared in recent decades, the rules protecting citizens from abuse in those encounters have withered. The Fourth Amendment is not 'hazy' when it comes to our basic right to go about our business without being assaulted by government agents who've lost their cool."

'Fleeing Criminal Suspects' Who Walk Toward a Police Car

As U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks explained in a 2020 decision addressing Pollreis' constitutional claims against Marzolf, the "dangerous live drama" to which the 8th Circuit referred began when police received a tip. Jennifer Price, who was wanted on drug charges, reportedly was staying at 2100 Lynn Street in Springdale with Tomas Silva, "a gang member and a prior suspect in cases involving guns and drugs." Silva and Price ended up fleeing police, along with "two males, one shorter and skinnier than the other," in a Chevrolet Cobalt that crashed after police tried to pull it over. The four occupants "fled the disabled car," two running north and two running south.

Marzolf responded to a call asking officers to help catch the suspects. Per instructions, he drove to the intersection of Luvene Avenue and Lynn Street. As he did that, he heard over his radio that Silva "had a gun" the last time police encountered him. "Shit," Marzolf responded. "Almost immediately after that," Marzolf saw Weston and Haden slowly walking abreast on the sidewalk along Lynn Street. His sole basis for suspecting that they might be two of the runners, aside from their general proximity to the scene of the chase, was that one of them (Weston) was taller than the other (Haden).

Other details did not support that suspicion. Weston and Haden were walking, not running, and Marzolf later conceded in a deposition that they did not seem out of breath, as you would expect fleeing suspects to be. The boys were walking toward Marzolf's vehicle, which was clearly a police car because its blue lights were flashing. As the 8th Circuit noted, the two brothers were completely cooperative throughout the encounter, which likewise did not jibe with the idea that they were running from the police.

Although Marzolf later claimed he was worried that one or both of the boys might be armed, he had been told that the one suspect known to carry a gun, Silva, was Hispanic, while Weston and Haden are white. Silva was "wearing a blu[e] jacket with maybe a gr[a]y hoodie under," along with black jeans. Marzolf described the boys as wearing "black hoodies and khaki pants and jeans." Haden was carrying "a white backpack." In any case, Marzolf admitted in his deposition that he "was going to stop any individuals along that area that I was working because that's what your job is on the perimeter."

A dashcam video shows what happened next. When Marzolf sees Weston and Haden, he turns on his high beams and aims them at the boys. Stopping the car, he calls out, "Hey, what are you guys doing?" Weston responds and points to his home, but his words are not audible on the recording. "Hey, stop, stop," Marzolf commands. "Turn away from me." The boys follow his instructions as he points his gun at them. He asks for their names, which they give him.

Marzolf's attitude is clear from the way he responds when Pollreis, who has seen this shocking scene unfold from her front yard, politely approaches him. "Officer, officer, may I have a word with you?" Pollreis says. Although her next words are hard to make out in the recording, Marzolf says, "Yeah, I can hear you." He can hear her, but he is in no mood to listen.

"What happened?" Pollreis asks. "They're my boys."

Marzolf repeatedly orders Pollreis to "step back." She is dismayed. "Are you serious?" she asks. "I am serious," Marzolf says, drawing a Taser and pointing it at her.

"Where do you want me to go?" Pollreis asks. "I want you to go back to your house," Marzolf says.

"Are you serious?" Pollreis asks again. "They're 12 and 14 years old." Marzolf's reply is both inaccurate and telling. "I'm looking for two kids about this age right now," he says, "so get back in your house."

'Is One Taller Than the Other?'

Contrary to Marzolf's claim, the suspects were not described as "two kids about this age." The two named suspects, Price and Silva, were both in their twenties. The others, according to the 8th Circuit, were "two men." Furthermore, it is clear from this exchange between Marzolf and Pollreis that he understood Weston and Haden lived nearby with their mother, which was inconsistent with his purported belief that they might be the "fleeing criminal suspects."

While Pollreis is trying to find out what is happening to her sons and why, Marzolf reports over his radio that "I've got two juvenile individuals, dark hoodies and pants." The officer who initially tried to arrest Price asks Marzolf to "detain both of them," then adds, "Is one taller than the other? The short one should be short and skinny." When Marzolf confirms that one of the "juvenile individuals" is indeed shorter than the other, the other officer replies, "Yeah, hold onto them please."

Marzolf tells the boys to lie face down on the ground with their arms out, which they do. "Oh, my God," Pollreis responds when Marzolf tells her to go home. "You're OK, guys," she tells the boys. "I promise."

After Marzolf calls for backup, the boys' stepfather tries to intercede. "Officer…can I have a word with you?" he says. "Not right now," Marzolf responds.

Pollreis' husband explains that "those are my kids" and that "we just left her parents' [house] right there." He offers to connect Marzolf with "witnesses" who can confirm that the boys were doing nothing wrong. "That's fine," Marzolf says. "I just need to find out who these kids are right now." But he already knows who they are. The stepfather repeats their names, just in case.

After Officer Adrian Ruiz arrives, Marzolf handcuffs both boys. When a sergeant shows up, Marzolf tells him, "Sarge, you've got a parent back there," which again suggests that Marzolf refused to let the boys go even though he accepted their account of what they were doing: walking home.

The sergeant asks the handcuffed boys if they were running from the police. They say no. He asks, "What are you doing down here?" One of the boys replies, "We were at our grandparents'…and started walking home." The sergeant asks for their names, which they give yet again.

At this point, Marzolf starts frisking Weston and searching the pockets of his pants. "Were they running?" the sergeant asks. "No, they were just walking, sir," Marzolf replies. "OK, so these guys probably aren't them?" the sergeant suggests. "Probably not," Marzolf concedes. "I mean, we had both parents come out…"

The boys' grandparents approach the police and once again confirm the account that Marzolf already seems to have accepted. During that conversation, Ruiz frisks Haden and searches his backpack, because why not? Finally, the sergeant orders the officers to uncuff the boys and let them go.

When Marzolf gets back into his car, he can be heard saying, "Dumb." Then he sighs. "That sigh," Institute for Justice attorney Keith Neely archly observes in a video about the case, "is the sound of a police officer realizing he's just violated someone's constitutional rights."

He Didn't 'Threaten to Blow Their Brains Out,' So What's the Big Deal?

The entire encounter lasted about seven minutes, which was about seven minutes longer than it should have. Judge Brooks agreed with Marzolf that the initial stop was based on "reasonable supicion," which gives you a sense of how weak that standard is in practice.

In Terry v. Ohio, the 1968 case in which the Supreme Court first allowed investigatory stops without probable cause, an officer had observed two men repeatedly walk back and forth in front of a Cleveland store, peering into the display window each time and conferring in between with each other and a third man. Suspecting that they were casing the store and planned to rob it, the officer stopped the men and received a mumbled reply when he asked what they were up to. He frisked one of the men and discovered a pistol in his overcoat.

The Court held that the stop and the search were constitutional because they were based on "specific and articulable facts" that justified the officer's suspicions. It said police may stop someone when they reasonably suspect he is engaged in criminal activity and may pat him down when they reasonably suspect he is armed. But as the Court later emphasized, that weaker standard applies to such investigatory stops only because they are "so substantially less intrusive than arrests that the general rule requiring probable cause to make Fourth Amendment 'seizures' reasonable could be replaced by a balancing test."

Although Weston and Haden's completely innocent behavior bore little resemblance to the suspicious conduct described in Terry, Judge Brooks thought stopping them was reasonable in the circumstances. But he said Marzolf subsequently may have crossed the line between an investigatory stop and an arrest. "At the point the boys were handcuffed," he wrote, "there is a genuine issue of material fact in dispute as to whether a de facto arrest occurred and whether such a de facto arrest was supported by probable cause."

Brooks also thought Pollreis should be allowed to pursue her claims that Marzolf violated the Fourth Amendment by prolonging the seizure past the point where any reasonable suspicion had dissipated, by frisking Weston, and by using excessive force against both boys. The judge noted that the 8th Circuit "has held that the right not to have a gun pointed at a compliant subject was clearly established at least by February 2016," two years before Marzolf's encounter with Weston and Haden.

Two members of a three-judge 8th Circuit panel disagreed, saying Marzolf was entitled to qualified immunity because all of his actions were consistent with the Fourth Amendment. To give you a flavor of the reasoning underlying that conclusion, the majority thought holding the boys at gunpoint did not amount to excessive force because, unlike officers in earlier cases, Marzolf "did not point his gun behind either boy's ear" and did not "threaten to blow their brains out." Dissenting Judge Jane Kelly, by contrast, thought that "the stop escalated to an arrest without probable cause," that Marzolf "unlawfully searched" Weston, and that he "used excessive force by continuing to point his gun at [Weston and Haden] as they lay on the ground."

'I Was Terrified for Them'

Even if you think the initial stop was justified by reasonable suspicion, Marzolf's decision to prolong and intensify the boys' detention even as it became increasingly clear that they were innocent of any wrongdoing is hard to fathom. As Brooks pointed out, "the objective facts that came to light after the initial stop did not support a reasonable suspicion that [Weston and Haden] were the fleeing suspects."

Marzolf forced the boys to the ground after they and Pollreis told him who they were. He kept pointing a gun at them even after they were lying on the ground. He handcuffed them after Pollreis' husband confirmed that the boys were walking home following dinner at their grandparents' house, which "provided a very logical alibi," as Brooks noted. And Marzolf frisked Weston, who was still handcuffed, even as two more people, the boys' grandparents, gave the same account. Marzolf supposedly was worried because the 14-year-old had tried to "adjust his shirt or belt" (as the 8th Circuit described it) while he was lying on the ground.

"I'll never forget the feeling of watching my boys being held at gunpoint," Pollreis says. "I was terrified for them. No mother should have to witness that. We're asking the Supreme Court to fix this so that no one has to go through what my boys and I went through."

The Institute for Justice argues that the case is a "good vehicle" for the Court to clarify what Terry allows. "The fact that a police officer has gotten away with handcuffing two clearly innocent children and holding them at gunpoint makes it high time for the Supreme Court to revisit Terry," Institute for Justice attorney Marie Miller says. "The Supreme Court must make clear that police cannot flagrantly violate someone's Fourth Amendment rights without being held accountable. If the courts refuse to enforce the Fourth Amendment, we cannot expect the rest of the government to follow it."

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  1. >>seemingly uninterested in information suggesting that he was treating two innocent boys like criminals

    likely creating cop-haters too.

    1. I've told a story here before about being pulled out of a car at gunpoint by a local deputy.

      The event and those of the year after (I reported it, and was "known" by ALL the locals after that) have very much soured me on police. I have very good friends who were sheriffs deputies, highway patrol, and border patrol, and I'll tell them straight I don't trust police.

      I'm white, lived in middle class neighborhoods my whole life, and have no criminal record beyond one speeding ticket in 1989 (dismissed) and parking ticket about a decade ago. And I don't trust cops. There's something very wrong about this, but there it is.

      1. Cops do what politicians order. Hired thug does not attract the most capable intellects, granted, and looter prohibitionist politicians are not raising the bar on that. Then again, some people believe politicians do what the voters want them to do...

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        2. Cops "doing what politicians order", or "just following orders" scares the bejeebers out of me. Politicians over the last 20+ years have issued some damn crazy orders, and on occasion police of various stripe have proven willing to incarcerate or kill over issues that merit neither incarceration nor death. Cops are given a stick and a gun and a pair of handcuffs, and are rarely called upon later by their superiors about how they elected to employ those tools "in compliance with their orders"!

          And not to make this an anti-cop screed, the officer in question in this case was between a rock and a hard place. He was looking for two suspects, at night, one of which was reported to be armed (with the reasonable inference being that he just might be willing to use his weapon). Stopping the two kids to determine, for sure, who they were and what they were doing under the circumstances was not unreasonable. Having them prone out and "detaining" the the two in handcuffs as a single officer on the scene at night was also not unreasonable though it would certainly have been unpleasant and disagreeable to the two boys.

          However, the two kids were "clean" - they had both reason and right to be where they were (and fortunately they were compliant else this encounter could have gone sideways in a really bad way). There was and is no basis for discipline of the officer. However, when innocent suspects are made to stop, drop, get cuffed, and have a weapon pointed that them they deserve later to be made whole if they suffered any loss (e.g., spoliation of articles of clothing). "Immunity" smells too much of "Kings Right" to be a very appetizing concept, though in all but egregious and blatant cases of abuse, the department rather than the individual officers should bear liability for making whole those who suffer loss or injury.

          As a closing thought, I would point out that if the police did not scurry behind and were not allowed to misuse "qualified immunity" for actions that were knowingly egregious or blatantly illegal, the public might be more willing to cut them some slack on actions such as were taken in this case. The court-made doctrine of qualified immunity does not work to the long-term advantage of the police as agency, as it creates more of an "us versus them" mentality in the police and in fact, creates distrust if not outright hatred of police in those who have been abused or ill-used without fair redress.

    2. You’d rather more people died in police custody?

      Most people who are killed by cops do so at the beginning of the interaction before or during the restraint process.

      If we still want police to catch bad guys, they have to stop and communicate with people who turn out to be innocent regardless of what bystanders say at the time.

      Police are going to need to develop and use a quickly installed immobilizing but respectful restraint device/process to use on all detainees for everyone’s safety.

      It will likely involve cuffs on hands and feet and a seated, lying or leaning posture to prevent falling.

      Instead of bashing the cops for doing their jobs, and gleefully rioting when someone gets hurt, how about helping them do it better?

      1. And maybe they can take a few fashion notes from your favorite jackboots while they're at it, yeah?

      2. It will likely involve cuffs on hands and feet and a seated, lying or leaning posture to prevent falling.

        And illegal searches of persons and effects after determining the people the cop has detained are not who he was looking for, right?

        1. Either the cops have a valid reason for detainment or not.

          This is what needs to be focused on and clarified to prevent abuse.

          My point is, if there’s going to be detainment, do it safely for everyone.

  2. The Supreme Court must make clear that police cannot flagrantly violate someone's Fourth Amendment rights without being held accountable.

    "Oh, very well. We're sorry."


    Multiple people arrested in NYC for trying to eat in Applebee’s without a vaccine pass

    1. They should have just smashed the storefront, stole the food and lit the place on fire and painted a BLM logo on the street out front, then they'd have had police protection.

      1. I hereby nominate Officer Lamont Marzolf for a Barney Fife Memorial Police Work Prize.

    2. Best comment:

      Police: “Are you eating sir?”

      Ppl: “no, we are just looting food”

      Police: “Okay then. Good night sir”

    3. Caption should have read: multiple people read the unfair rule on the door of the restaurant, entered anyway, feigned surprise when they were refused service, acted “a fool” in front of low paid help, and got police called to remove their sorry asses.

      The rules are stupid, but when you leave it to aspiring actresses/waiters to decide constitutional questions at the door of a restaurant, they’ll follow the rules. For $10/hour plus tips, it’s just not worth it to them to risk being caught by an undercover health inspector.

  4. A police officer ordered them to stop, pointed a gun at them, forced them to lie on the ground, handcuffed them, and, together with a colleague, searched them. Their mother and stepfather tried to intervene, explaining who the boys were, where they had been, and where they were going. But the officer, Lamont Marzolf, rebuffed both of them, seemingly uninterested in information suggesting that he was treating two innocent boys like criminals.

    Law enforcement doesn't enforce the law. They enforce their will. That means never being wrong and never backing down. And of course the courts will back them. Police are officers of the court after all.

    1. Holy fuck you're an idiot. Drink harder.

      Cops don't write laws. They have discretion in enforcing, but that's it. Pols write laws.

  5. Glad to see the fourth is now treated like the first and second.
    Equal protection under the law (none).

    Welcome to the revolution.

  6. This wouldn't have happened if they were white.

    1. If they weren't white, they'd be dead. QED

      1. And the comments would be making excuses for it, que ken Schultz

    2. This happened BECAUSE they were white.

      Had they been black, it would’ve been very obvious that these were not the two WHITE SUSPECTS.

  7. I don’t think this is the best case of LEO overreaction, in terms of lack of probable cause, but if the officer did in fact point the gun at them in the circumstances as described, he should be fired, at the least.

    1. It's probable that two people fleeing the scene of an accident on foot had time to stop, change their clothes, catch their breath, change their race and age, and then stroll calmly back towards an obvious police car?

      1. Clothing descriptions are notoriously inaccurate. Especially for suspects who’ve fled a crime scene.

        Trained observers often mistake age, clothing, height, weight, hair/facial hair, facial features, tattoos, and headwear, even with time to study suspects.

        Clothing is easy to switch or shed, especially on a “dark and rainy night” in January 2018, when this occurred. In weather like that everyone wears outer clothing that can be removed.

        Any two light skinned males would have fit the description and it would have been reasonable to detain them.

  8. Major problem in this case is the officer's quick urge to draw his gun. He shouldn't have done that.

    Sullum, however, seems upset that he even bothered to pause to check out two kids walking after dark while there's two suspects in the area who have been fleeing. If there's armed men fleeing police in my neighborhood I don't want police to just decide not to stop anyone for fear of getting the wrong people. Parents yelling at cops isn't immediate proof of anything, either, because parents of criminals will also yell at cops that the kids didn't do anything wrong.

    Just keep your gun in your holster unless you're given an actual reason to draw it, officer. Gun safety rule #1-don't point it unless you're ready to pull the trigger.

  9. The parents were a lot more temperate than I'd have been if it were my children. I'd have probably ended up, not just in cuffs, but making a trip downtown, perhaps with multiple bruises from police truncheons.

    1. Have you seen the footage, then? I was looking for it. There's a few seconds clipped in the video released by the Institute of Justice but I'd like to see actual footage of the full incident just to get a better idea of what was happening.

  10. Long hair, headband... two triggers for ku-klux rednecks with green teeth. Those youngsters are lucky to be alive.

  11. We get it Hacob, you demand perfection from others but accept none for yourself or your fellow travellers. Any neighborhood you live in should be policed exactly as you demand; perfect knowledge before any interaction, no budget and no force allowed beyond a stern request.

    The cause isn't one worthy of criticism and improvement but you so overstate the abuses as to be comical and compound your error by being completely partisan in your application of demands.

  12. Marzolf's decision to prolong and intensify the boys' detention even as it became increasingly clear that they were innocent of any wrongdoing is hard to fathom.... Marzolf forced the boys to the ground after they and Pollreis told him who they were. He kept pointing a gun at them even after they were lying on the ground.

    Not that hard to fathom. Cops have been scared shitless for years. All around the world. Remember the guy in London they followed from his home to the subway, had lie face down, and shot in the back? Total paranoia.

  13. The boys were walking toward Marzolf's vehicle, which was clearly a police car because its blue lights were flashing.

    They're coming right at us!

  14. If you don't want to be mistaken for a 20 year old don't be 12.

    1. Especially if you're Black.

  15. Well, maybe Sullum can clarify what he thinks the standard should be.

  16. Start with ending qualified immunity and paying lawsuit awards from the Police Union's retirement fund, not the taxpayer.

  17. Pointing a Taser at the kids’ Mom - hmmm… And frisking a boy lying facedown with his hands cuffed behind his back for making furtive movements to his waistband - that’s a stretch.

    A very bad call by a lone officer asked to pursue fleeing armed criminals. These kids may well be the poster children that regain some 4thA protection against unlawful search and seizure.

    You want to talk about "systemic" anything, talk about systemic underfunding and under-training of police. Gone are the Adam 12 days where each squad had two officers. Radios and body cams don’t cover your six.

  18.  "Institute for Justice attorney Robert McNamara"

    Lol, he should understand that this is all just the fog of war.

  19. He pointed the gun for no reason (just like Alec Baldwin). One needs to be fired for incompetence; one needs to go to jail.

  20. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  21. I want to see a picture of the 12 and 14 year old boys at the time of this stop. They look like men in the picture at the top of this article, but that was 3 years later. Could a guy that looks like an adult at 15 have looked somewhat like a "man" at 12? However, even if the cop could have reasonably thought these kids fit the description of "two men", after he stopped them he clearly became incapable of incorporating any further information.

    Should the Supreme Court establish a minimum intelligence for cops? Because this was a _very_ stupid man with a badge and a gun. IMO, the police department that issued a badge and gun to him and let him leave the station without a supervisor is a greater hazard to the public safety than the alleged criminals they were seeking.

  22. Compare this with another case: A few years ago, the Grand Rapids, Michigan cops received a report that in a group of 5 black boys, one was seen "brandishing" a handgun. There was no further description of any use. So they stopped the first group of 5 black young teen males they found, and searched them for weapons. There were only enough cops to search one boy at a time, so to make sure none of the others pulled out a gun and started shooting, they handcuffed the boys briefly. No weapons or drugs were found.

    There were protests about this - by the same people that want the cops to stop, prone out, handcuff and investigate any adult legally open-carrying with a handgun in a holster. You can't have it both ways. Either the cops stop people, often innocent, for purposes of investigation, or the cops cease enforcing the laws.

  23. Can't get too worked up about this one. There were active criminals on the loose in the area, who reasonably vaguely matched the descriptions of the two stopped boys. In the heat of the moment the cop can't be expected to process every detail correctly (color of hoodie or precise age of the males). And yeah someone coming in trying to invade a stop (mom) needs to be cleared out of the way. Who knows who is who and what the motives are, until it all gets sorted out.

    1. reasonably vaguely matched the descriptions

      Except for their clothes and their races and ages. But they had hoodies and pants on. It's a common fact that only crooks wear pants, right? And one was taller than the other, when we all know that it's more common for any two random people to be exactly the same height! Clearly these two were in fact the perps all along!

      Great work, Holmes.

      1. 20/20.

  24. Had those boys had much more melanin in their skins, Benny Crump would have been on the scene pronto and the whole "black community" would be crapping frozen twinkies. The 8th Circuit would have demanded DOJ oversight. Ha!

  25. This is why stupid people shouldn't have any position of authority whatsoever. When the qualifying identification is "two people one shorter than the other" you know you're dealing with someone with a room temperature IQ. When running across two individuals, statistically, one is going to be shorter than the other. I know identical twins where one is shorter than the other, granted the difference isn't much but it is noticeable from a distance.

    Gee, why don't people trust cops anymore?

  26. This Qualified Immunity rubbish again?

  27. Respecting the judgement/judicial opinions of the 8th Circuit Court that was involved in this case, with due deference to the court, is any warranted, the court needs to have it’s collective head examined.

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