Monday August 9, 2021
By Andrew Wimer
Hamdi Mohamud spent over two years in jail after getting tangled in an officer’s web of lies. But after all criminal charges against her were dropped, her lawsuit against that officer was thrown out. Why? Merely because the local police officer had been deputized as a federal officer during her bogus investigation. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear Hamdi’s appeal, she will never be able to hold the officer accountable in a court of law. And just as bad, the officer who had Hamdi arrested has never been charged for her lies and is still on the St. Paul police force pulling in a six-figure salary.
Hamdi, like many others in greater Minneapolis, is a refugee from Somalia. She came to the United States with her family when she was a child. Now she’s fighting to vindicate her constitutional rights and make change that will benefit people across America.
Her trouble with the law started when she was 16 and on her way to the mall like any other American teenager. Hamdi was with two friends when they ran into a former roommate of one of these friends—Muna. With no love lost between the two, an argument soon escalated into a fight with Muna pulling a knife at one point. Hamdi and her friends called 911, and a Minneapolis police officer responded. But while the officer was getting their statements, Muna had fled the scene and called St. Paul police officer Heather Weyker.
What Hamdi and her friends didn’t know was that Muna was a confidential informant Weyker was using to build a trumped up criminal case that spanned several states. Weyker, in an effort to shield her informant, called the Minneapolis officer and lied, telling him that the fight was an attempt by Hamdi and her friends to intimidate a witness.
Hamdi Mohamud spent two years in federal prison after a local police officer framed her for a crime she did not commit. INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE
Instead of seeing their attacker arrested, Hamdi and her friends found themselves in the back of squad cars. Weyker soon doubled down on her lies by concocting a federal criminal complaint. The complaint was filled with “facts” that Weyker knew to be lies, but it was enough to get the girls charged. Hamdi ended up having to spend two years in jail.
Meanwhile, Weyker’s interstate crime ring fell apart in spectacular fashion. A federal court chastised Weyker for—among other offenses—lying to a grand jury, lying during a detention hearing, and lying on a victim’s compensation fund application. No one was found guilty in the crime-ring case, and all the charges against Hamdi were dropped.
Weyker’s lies stole years from the lives of Hamdi, her friends, and other defendants. But Weyker was never prosecuted. In fact, she was only put on leave and then eventually returned to the force in a non-investigative position, collecting a hefty salary and eventually drawing a big pension.
Detaining someone on false charges is a grave constitutional violation and it’s precisely why the Reconstruction-era Congress included the right to sue for damages in the Ku Klux Klan Act. At the time, recently freed slaves were facing a constant barrage of attacks from members of the KKK and their allies in state and local government. Today, that statute still exists as Section 1983 (for some excellent history of this, check out the Bound by Oath podcast). Hamdi sued officer Weyker, seeking compensation for the trauma she suffered because of the officer’s lies.
A federal district court denied Weyker qualified immunity and allowed Hamdi’s lawsuit to move forward. Yet, when Weyker appealed, an appeals court said the officer couldn’t be sued at all since she had been deputized as a federal official. Section 1983 only allows suits of state officials. The door, however, isn’t completely shut for Hamdi’s attempt to secure justice.
Heather Weyker PHOTO: Pioneer Press
There is Supreme Court precedent for receiving damages when your Fourth Amendment right to be secure in your “person” is violated, although subsequent decisions have placed strict limits on so-called Bivens suits. The Institute for Justice is now asking the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court and let Hamdi’s suit move forward.
Unfortunately, Hamdi is far from alone in struggling to receive justice when a federal officer violates rights. Kevin Byrd’s lawsuit against a Homeland Security officer was thrown out even though the officer was arrested after he threatened Kevin at gunpoint. Jose Oliva’s suit against the Veterans Affairs hospital security guards who permanently injured him was also tossed out of court before it could be presented to a jury.
Constitutional rights are meaningless if government officials can violate them without any accountability. Hamdi, and others who have been similarly wronged, deserve their day in court.