Merriman, Tequila, and Citizen Use of Force

The big sports and crime story this weekend involved San Diego Chargers' star football player Shawne Merriman and his television-star girlfriend Tila Tequila:

...Merriman was arrested early Sunday on suspicion of choking and restraining MTV reality show star Tila Tequila, police said.

Shawne Merriman is accused of restraining reality TV star Tila Tequlia as she tried to leave his home, police say.

However, Merriman's attorney denied the allegations, saying more than a dozen other people were at Merriman's house in suburban San Diego, California, at the time of the incident...

Authorities responded to a disturbance call about 3:45 a.m. Sunday from a woman who said she had been choked and restrained by a male, the sheriff's department of San Diego County, California, said in a statement.

When police arrived, "the reporting party identified herself as Tila Nguyen, aka Tila Tequila, and her alleged assailant as Shawne Merriman," the statement said.

"Nguyen told deputies she had been choked and physically restrained by Merriman when she attempted to leave his residence," the statement said.

Nguyen signed a citizen's arrest at the scene, and Merriman was taken into custody on suspicion of battery and false imprisonment, according to the statement.

Deputies didn't see any physical injuries on Nguyen, but she asked to be transported to a local hospital, sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said....

Merriman's attorney, Todd Macaluso, told reporters that Nguyen was "extremely intoxicated and inebriated" and that the player tried to make arrangements for her to leave the house..."
Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk scooped the mainstream media and posted Merriman's probable defense (trying to prevent his intoxicated girlfriend from driving) first.

Florio also had this interesting comment:

...The situation raises an interesting point regarding the lengths to which someone can or should go to stop someone else from driving drunk. In this case, Merriman will claim that he did not cross the line, and the other persons who were at his home are expected to testify to that end...
So what is permitted by law for an individual to prevent another person who is believed to be intoxicated from operating a motor vehicle?

The answer will vary by jurisdiction. I would argue that, in general, unwanted physical contact against the potential driver could be enough to technically violate a law.

Now, I am saying that one should not grab the car keys away from an intoxicated friend? No, I am simply stating that an unwanted touching could be considered illegal.

Fortunately, this is where police officer and prosecutorial discretion enters into play. When I arrived at the scene of a disturbance and found a combative drunk who was being held down next to his car by friends preventing him from driving, the last thing on my mind was charging anyone doing the restraining.

In contrast, if I arrived at the same scene to find the guy on the ground with multiple broken bones and internal injuries, the "just trying to stop him from driving" story would have been much less persuasive.


J. J. in Phila said...

I'm curious; could Mr. Merriman have called the police and asked them to prevent Ms. Nguyen from driving?

Slamdunk said...

JJ: I can only answer this question using the state law that I am familiar with: Yes, if a subject is intoxicated and the officer has a reasonable belief that the person will injure themselves or others if allowed to proceed, the officer could take the person in custody.

Most often, it does not come to that though. Instead, the police will arrive and the person in question is drunk and/or disorderly in a parking lot or some other public place. In that case, if the intoxicated person insists on trying to enter a car to drive, he/she could be arrested for the public intox or disorderly (or if their is some physical control of the motor vehicle without driving--a DUI).

Cindy Beck said...

I jumped right into reading and missed the line about who Merriman and Tila Tequila were, so the whole thing had a pretty funny twist to it. I envisioned a skinny, "Merry Man" and a hefty mud wrestler named "Tila Tequila" in a wrestling match. :)

Probably not what you had in mind when you posted it, but it did give me a chuckle. Thanks for that.

Oh, and thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting!

mappchik said...

I had a giggle at the title, too.

After reading, what a great batch of questions this brings up. JJ asked one, which you answered, about whether Merriman could have called the police.

What if Ms. Tequila hopped into her car while Merriman was calling the police? If she'd been hurt, or injured someone else, he'd bear some responsibility for that, wouldn't he? Even if not legally, that can't be the sort of thing he'd want on his conscience.

I'd personally rather have to answer for 15-20 minutes false imprisonment of an angry drunk while waiting for taxi or LEO than for any part in a alcohol related fatality.

Slamdunk said...

Cindy: Ha, I did not think about that with the selected title.

MC: I think someone calling would be ok legally with just the notification--though I agree that the conscience thing could be difficult. Now if the caller was the one that served the drunk driver the drinks and he/she drove and had a traffic collision--that would change things.

I had some more on this topic, and will post it (as a follow-up post)in the morning.

Natalie said...

You raise some interesting thoughts. When my husband was called to a bar dispute one night, he realized later on that it was between two brothers, both drunk, the lesser one trying to prevent his more intoxicated brother from driving.

I can't remember the charges, but they didn't drive home that night! It seems to me that taking calls where alcohol is involved (or drugs) could become the most dangerous calls because the person is not in control of his or her actions.