The federal appeals court based in Denver agreed on Monday that a Colorado Springs police officer had not committed a constitutional violation by walking up to a church that had a "no trespassing" sign, knocking on the door and asking to come in.

Candace Sgaggio alleged that Officer Marcus Allen violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and also her First Amendment right to religious exercise when Allen appeared at the door of her church looking for an at-risk adult. Sgaggio cited the sign by the church's door warning that government officials could not trespass without authorization — claiming Allen's presence interfered with her control over the property.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit explained that standing in a location open to visitors, like a porch, does not amount to a "search," much less an unreasonable one.

"The location of the sign — next to the front door — implies that its prohibitions apply to the inside of the church," wrote Judge Veronica S. Rossman in the April 24 order. "After all, in most (or perhaps all) cases, the sign would be read from the porch itself, and the complaint contains no allegations that the reader would have passed similar signs before entering."

Sgaggio, who led the cannabis-focused Green Faith Ministry, filed suit against Allen, the city of Colorado Springs and multiple government officials after police came onto her property twice in early 2019. Her appeal to the 10th Circuit only addressed Allen's visit, which took place on Jan. 21, 2019.

That night, Sgaggio was inside the church when another member who was staffing the front door said there was an officer "telling me I have to open the door." The member also said church attendees were "freaking out" and the officer had "arrested a member in the parking lot."

Allen was looking for a missing at-risk person who might be at the church. He knocked on the front door but never entered the building. On his way in from the parking lot, he asked a church attendee to wait "for a minute" in his car, although the attendee stayed in his vehicle for a half hour.

Allen's presence allegedly caused the church to be "placed on lockdown." Eventually, a police supervisor arrived and Sgaggio's husband asked both officers to leave. The supervisor confirmed that the man Allen asked to wait in his car was allowed to go inside the church.

Last year, U.S. District Court Senior Judge R. Brooke Jackson agreed to dismiss the lawsuit after finding Allen had not committed a constitutional violation. An officer standing on a porch and asking to come inside a church, wrote Jackson, does not amount to an unconstitutional burden on religious exercise.

As for Sgaggio's allegation that Allen violated her privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment by ignoring the "no trespassing" sign, Sgaggio "cannot plausibly allege that Officer Allen was trespassing as he was walking up to the church through the parking lot," Jackson wrote. "A church is presumptively a place, at least at some times, open to the public. Even assuming that the sign was legible, its placement next to the door implies that its edict applies to the space on the other side of the sign, not the space in front of it."

On appeal to the 10th Circuit, Sgaggio reiterated her belief that Allen restricted members of her church from entering, detained them by prompting a lockdown, and disregarded the sign's directive that government officials can only be present with authorization or a warrant.

"There was an expectation of privacy on the entire spiritual campus," wrote Sgaggio, who represented herself in court.

The appellate panel found no indication the church's parking lot or porch were not open to the public and, therefore, Sgaggio lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy. It also disputed that Allen detained or "seized" Sgaggio, noting he was not the one who ordered the lockdown.

"Indeed, Officer Allen himself was excluded from the church, demonstrating that church staff retained control over it," Rossman wrote.

She added that even though Allen told a church member to wait in his car for a minute, it was not reasonable for Sgaggio to think she would be arrested or detained next.

The case is Sgaggio v. Suthers et al.

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