According to the suit, Sherida Felders was traveling with two passengers from California to Colorado. Ms. Felders, who was stopped for speeding, was "nervous," and "would not maintain eye contact" with Trooper Brian Bairett, who pulled her over. Additionally, Trooper Bairett smelled "a strong odor of air freshener" coming from her vehicle and saw a license plate ring with "Jesus" written on it.
After issuing Ms. Felders a speeding ticket, Tropper Bairett asked if he could speak to her two passengers. Trooper Bairett "perceived inconsistencies between the passengers' narratives and Felder's story regarding details of their trip." Upon these facts, the trooper asked Ms. Felder if he could search her car, which she declined. He then called for K-9 backup to perform a drug sniff on Ms. Felder's vehicle.
Iron County sheriff deputy Jeff Malcom arrived approximately thirty minutes later with his K-9 to perform the search. After Trooper Bairett advised Deputy Malcom that he had probable cause to search the vehicle, Deputy Malcom asked Trooper Bairett to remove the two passengers from the vehicle. Trooper Bairett said that was what he planned on doing, and that when the two passengers exited the vehicle, he would leave the vehicle doors open.
Deputy Malcom took his K-9 to the right side of the car and the K-9 "almost immediately jumped in the vehicle through the open right rear passenger door." Video recorded at the scene does not show whether the K-9 made any sounds or movements before jumping into the vehicle.
After a two hour search of the vehicle, no drugs were found.
Ms. Felders and her passengers then filed suit against Trooper Bairett and Deputy Malcom for violating their rights by performing an unconstitutional search on the vehicle. Deputy Malcom attempted to defend against the suit by claiming that he did have probable cause to search the vehicle, but even if he didn't, the law did not clearly establish that his actions during the sniff violated the Fourth Amendment.
Both the district court and the appellate court rejected Deputy Malcom's argument that he had probable cause to search the vehicle prior to conducting the sniff. The appellate court found that "the information Bairett provided Malcom at most established reasonable suspicion justifying the detention, and Malcom did not independently develop additional facts prior to conducting the sniff that could support the search."
Because the appellate court upheld the district court's finding that Deputy Malcom's search lacked probable cause, the case may now proceed to trial where the jury will determine whether the K-9 alerted to drugs before he entered the vehicle, or if Deputy Malcom facilitated the dog's entry into the vehicle.