Unbeknownst to many outside the law enforcement community, local law enforcement officers have it well within their rights to arrest federal agents under the appropriate circumstances. The idea of a local or state police officer making an arrest of a federal law enforcement agent sounds almost laughable on the surface but the truth is that it is something that happens on occasion.
Last month, for example, an officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Justice Services – which is part of the US Department of the Interior – was placed under arrest by a local Salt Lake City police officer for pointing a firearm at a cab driver after he became belligerent with the man following a night of drinking with his friends.
The driver of the cab feared for his life and drove away, dialing 911 as he did. The next day, the federal officer was located at his home by Salt Lake City police, taken into custody, and charged with felony aggravated assault by the city’s District Attorney. Officials with the DOI admitted in a statement that local police have the right to arrest a federal officer under the appropriate circumstances.
In this particular instance, the officer who was arrested had violated the rights of the cab driver and broken both state and federal laws in the process.
The situation in this particular case was a bit nebulous because the federal officer was off-duty and had been drinking. But as far as state law is concerned, the officer is not immune to arrest for such an act and, all things being equal, should have been placed under arrest even if he had not been drinking and had been on duty.
Under different circumstances, such as if the officer were carrying out his duty and had justifiable cause to point the gun at the cab driver, then local law enforcement would have been in the wrong. But the fact is that law enforcement officers on the state and local levels are sworn to uphold the law and protect the public regardless of whether or not that means arresting officers who belong to federal agencies.