Man Sues Government Officials for Alleged Surveillance Without Warrant

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A Virginia homeowner filed a suit against agents of the state government, claiming they entered his property without a permit, despite numerous “No Trespassing signs”, and stole his camera mounted on a tree.

Josh Highlander said to Fox News Digital, “It almost feels like they believe their power is limitless. I don’t think that’s right.”

Highlander owns 30 acres of wooded land in New Kent County in Virginia. His wife and son, aged six, were playing basketball on the driveway the day before the start of the turkey hunting season, April 8.

He said that when they went to retrieve the ball, they saw a man in camouflage, and Mrs. Highlander and her son rushed into the house to grab Mr. Highlander. “My wife’s got this panic in her eye.”

Highlander initially assumed that the man was a hunting enthusiast, but discovered later that one of its trail cameras had gone missing.

Joseph Gay, an attorney with Institute for Justice (a nonprofit public interest law firm), said that when Highlander reported the camera stolen, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources had taken it and would contact Highlander.

Highlander claimed that he had not received any information about DWR more than two months after the incident. Fox News was contacted by a DWR spokesperson who refused to answer any of their questions, citing the “pending litigation.”

Highlander claimed that DWR could be searching for evidence of hunting infractions on his cameras. Highlander’s older brother had been cited earlier on April 8 for “hunting with bait” in another county.

Lawyers claim that agents found seeds in a field where Highlander was hunting turkeys and determined that they were bait. However, the brother of Highlander is contesting this ticket.

Fox News contacted a DWR spokesperson who refused to answer any of their questions, citing the “pending litigation.”

Joseph Gay, an advocate with the nonprofit Institute for Justice (a public interest law firm), says that there is a fundamental principle at play: “The principle here is that, if ordinary people cannot sneak onto someone’s land to steal their camera then government agents should not be able do this either.”

The question is not whether government agents should be allowed to do this or not, but if they can legally. They seem to believe that they have the right to do so, as evidenced by the increased surveillance activities we see under the USA PATRIOT Act. Or do they really?

Six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Congress acted in panic and passed the “USA/Patriot Act,” a revision of surveillance laws which vastly increased the government’s power to spy on citizens while simultaneously reducing the checks and balances such as judicial oversight, accountability to the public, and the right to challenge government searches at court.

Congress and the Administration did not make any systematic or careful effort to determine if the weaknesses in our surveillance laws contributed to the attacks or if the changes they made would help prevent future attacks. Many of the provisions in the act have nothing to do with terrorism.

Highlander’s lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources was filed early in June. It challenges a Supreme Court decision from nearly 100 years ago that Fourth Amendment protections for warrantless searches and seizure do not apply to open fields.

Virginia is not one of the states that have extended Fourth Amendment rights to land owned by private individuals beyond the immediate area surrounding a house or other dwelling.

Gay said Highlander’s lawsuit seeks to establish that in Virginia, “No Trespassing Signs” should also apply to government officials, without warrants or justification, as well as private citizens.

The Institute for Justice litigates similar cases in other States:

Two Pennsylvania hunting clubs have sued the state, alleging that a wildlife agent repeatedly entered their property to “spy and harass club members”. A Tennessee man claims wildlife officials installed a surveillance cam on his land without his knowledge. Connecticut couple claim that the state’s Energy Department strapped a surveillance camera on a bear to monitor their 117-acre forest property.

Gay claims that Highlander’s situation is different, because state agents did not install a camera on Highlander’s property but instead took the camera he had purchased privately. “We view that as a separate violation of Constitution, and I think that is clearly established in case law across the country as a constitutional violation.”

Highland’s lawsuit seeks only $1 in damages against the three conservation officers who trespassed on his property. It also asks for reimbursement of “costs and expenses”, an order that the wildlife department return his camera, destroy all images recorded by it, and a permanent injunction barring wildlife officials from ever searching his property again without a warrant.

In a related article I wrote on Saturday, a Montana gun store owner claimed that “heavily-armed agents” had targeted him before he opened the doors of his shop on Wednesday. IRS agents are reported to have seized ‘dozens of boxes’ of ATF Forms 4473s containing the required background check information for gun sales. This includes serial numbers.

The Biden administration declined to comment.

It’s a coincidence that the federal government has overreached under the Biden Administration.