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Ali v. Raleigh County

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

May 14, 2019

MARQUEL ALI, Plaintiff,
v.
RALEIGH COUNTY, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court has reviewed Defendants Gary Epling and Jason Redden's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 242), Defendants Gary Epling and Jason Redden's Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 243), the Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 271), Defendants Gary Epling and Jason Redden's Reply to the Plaintiff's Response to Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 291), Defendants Raleigh County and Steven Tanner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 244), Defendants Raleigh County and Steven Tanner's Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 245), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendants Raleigh County and Tanner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 267), Defendants Raleigh County and Steven Tanner's Reply to the Plaintiff's Response to Defendants Raleigh County and Steven Tanner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 288), Defendants City of Beckley and David Snuffer's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 246), Defendants City of Beckley and David Snuffer's Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 247), the Plaintiff's Response to Defendants City of Beckley and David Snuffer's Memorandum and Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 269), Defendants City of Beckley and David Snuffer's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to their Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 287), Defendant Kenneth Pack's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 248), the Memorandum in Support of Defendant Kenneth Pack's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 249), Plaintiff Marquel Ali's Memorandum in Support of Response in Opposition to Defendant Pack's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 266), Defendant Kenneth Pack's Reply to “Plaintiff Marquel Ali's Memorandum in Support to Response in Opposition to Defendant Pack's Motion for Summary Judgment” (Document 292), all attached exhibits and the Amended Complaint (Document 23). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motions for summary judgment should be granted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 23, 2017, the Plaintiff, Marquel Ali, initiated this suit with a Complaint (Document 1). On August 23, 2017, Mr. Ali filed an Amended Complaint (Document 23) against the Beckley Police Department, the City of Beckley, Gary Epling, David Snuffer, Kenneth L. Pack, Raleigh County, the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department, Jason Redden, Steven Tanner, and the West Virginia State Police. Mr. Ali's amended complaint sets forth eleven counts: Count I - Race Discrimination, Count II - Color Discrimination, [1] Count III - Discrimination and Interference with Plaintiff's Right to Equal Benefit of the Law in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Count IV - Warrantless Arrest Pursuant to False Tip in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count V - Conspiracy to Interfere with Constitutional Rights in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), Count VI - Neglect to Prevent Conspiracy to Interfere with Plaintiff's Rights, Count VII - False/Wrongful Arrest and Improper Investigation and Prosecution in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count VIII - Abuse of Process, Count IX - Malicious Prosecution, Count X - Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Count XI - Outrage. After the Court's ruling on the motions to dismiss, the remaining Defendants are: Steven Tanner, former Sheriff of Raleigh County; Gary Epling, detective with the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department; Kenneth Pack, officer with the West Virginia State Police; David Snuffer, officer with the Beckley Police Department; and Jason Redden, parole officer with the West Virginia Division of Corrections. These remaining claims are against the Defendants in their individual capacities only.

         FACTS

         The genesis of Mr. Ali's suit begins with his employment with the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department. On March 18, 2014, Raleigh County hired Mr. Ali as one of its deputies.[2] Mr. Ali is an African American male.[3] Before hiring Mr. Ali, then Sheriff Tanner interviewed him. The interview lasted only a few minutes, and during the interview Mr. Tanner asked Mr. Ali “do you think you'll fit in here[?]” (Ali Dep. 242:8-9, Document 273-1). In February 2015, Lt. Halstead evaluated Mr. Ali's performance as a deputy sheriff and concluded that it was “satisfactory.”

         On March 3, 2015, Jane Doe made a complaint against Mr. Ali.[4] After filling out a complaint form, Jane Doe made a statement to Captain Larry Lilly of the Raleigh County Sheriff's Office. Jane Doe alleged that on February 21, 2015, Mr. Ali and another officer responded to a call at Jane Doe's house for domestic violence. The officers arrested Jane Doe based on a bench warrant from Wyoming County. While in the back seat of the police car, Jane Doe alleged that Mr. Ali had “something hanging with his stuff in it which had two prescription pill bottles and his ticket book and reports.” (Statement of Jane Doe, pg. 1, Document 273-2). She admitted “I went through it and I put the pills and stuff in my hoodie and I thought I was going to use like some leverage over him like so he wouldn't give me a bunch of charges.” Id. Mr. Ali alleged that she attempted to escape and got the pills from the glove box of the car.[5] While Jane Doe was in custody, she alleged that Mr. Ali was on a video call talking about the domestic violence incident and the incident involving the pills. During the statement, Jane Doe also alleged that she knew of Ali selling marijuana in high school, although she never purchased marijuana from him. While Jane Doe was giving her statement, Captain Lilly began asking questions, which he stated were a part of an internal investigation. At that point, Jane Doe stated:

It's just the fact that he's a cop that just irks me, like he's just a regular “Nigger” off the street. At the end of the day the “Nigger” went from selling weed to, just because he didn't get caught, just think about it if I never would have got caught selling dope I could be a cop right now, bottom line. Do you know what I'm saying he just didn't get caught that's the only difference, things should change for him.

(Statement of Jane Doe, pg. 12, Document 273-2). She also alleged that Mr. Ali associated with drug dealers in Beckley. Id.

         On March 11, 2015, then Sheriff Tanner requested that Captain Lilly conduct an internal investigation of Mr. Ali based on Jane Doe's statement. That same day, Mr. Ali was suspended pending the investigation. The internal investigation sought to address three allegations made by Jane Doe: “1. [i]mproper handling of evidence, 2. [l]eaving a prisoner unattended, [and] 3. [i]mproper use of handcuffs.” (Raleigh County Sheriff's Office Report, Pg. 2, Document 273-4). After conducting the investigation, Captain Lilly concluded that the exact origin of the pills was unknown, although Mr. Ali claims that they were recovered at the scene of a crash a week earlier. Captain Lilly also concluded that there was no documentation to support this claim. He did not make a conclusion with respect to the improper use of handcuffs. Finally, he concluded that Jane Doe was not left unattended, because another Deputy Sheriff was a short distance away from the car. (Id. at 10-11).

         On March 17, 2015, Mr. Ali was terminated and timely filed a grievance with the Raleigh County Civil Service Commission (“Civil Service Commission”). On June 2, 2015, the Civil Service Commission held a hearing on Mr. Ali's grievance regarding his termination by Mr. Tanner and Raleigh County. During the hearing, Mr. Ali contended that Mr. Tanner and Raleigh County discriminated against him because of his race. The parties were required to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to the Commission by June 22, 2015.

         In November 2014, prior to his termination, Mr. Ali had arrested Thomas Short for shoplifting. Mr. Short gave Mr. Ali his brother's identification. Mr. Short, still posing as his brother, pled guilty and was convicted. Mr. Short's brother did not know he was convicted of a crime until he sought to renew his driver's license. On June 16, 2015, Mr. Short's brother went to the Beckley office of the West Virginia State Police to file a report and spoke with troopers K.A. Filer and Wood. On June 23, 2015, (the day after proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law were due to the Commission) Trooper Aaron Wood called Mr. Ali to inform him that a complaint was filed against him and asked Mr. Ali if he was able to meet in Beckley to discuss the matter. Mr. Ali indicated that he was not able to meet that day.

         On June 23, 2015, parole officer Jason Redden received a phone call from Ella Coppola, Jerell Johnson's mother.[6] At the time, Mr. Johnson, who is Mr. Ali's cousin, was living with Ms. Coppola. After calling Mr. Redden, Ms. Coppola met with him and reported that Mr. Johnson was dealing drugs and storing drugs in her home. Mr. Redden contacted Detective David Snuffer, and asked the Beckley/Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force Unit (“Task Force”) to assist in apprehending Mr. Johnson.

         As a condition of his parole, Mr. Johnson was on a GPS monitoring system. Mr. Redden and the Task Force were going to Ms. Coppola's house, where Johnson was living, but when parole officer Redden attempted to confirm that Johnson was still there, the GPS indicated he was not home and on the move. Initially, Redden and the Task Force went to a Family Dollar store to locate Johnson, but by the time they arrived, Mr. Redden realized that he was no longer at the store.[7] Fletcher Johnson picked up Mr. Johnson at the Family Dollar store and drove him to apartments on Hubbard Street (“the apartments”). While Mr. Johnson was at the apartments, he retrieved a bag of drugs located near a dumpster.[8]

         After the Task Force did not locate Johnson at the Family Dollar store, they went to a car wash on Hubbard Street. While at the car wash, the Defendants again tried to locate Johnson, and concluded that because the GPS indicated that he was moving from location to location, he apparently was in a car. At this point, the GPS indicated that Mr. Johnson was located at or near the apartments. Based on this information, Detective Epling drove around the apartment complex in an unmarked police car looking for Mr. Johnson. Detective Epling did not see Mr. Johnson but did see Mr. Ali in a white car.

         After his termination, Mr. Ali resided in Huntington, West Virginia, but still drove to Beckley to work as a substitute teacher. On June 23, 2015, Mr. Johnson contacted his cousin, Mr. Ali, and asked for a ride.[9] Mr. Ali met Mr. Johnson at Fletcher Johnson's apartment. Mr. Ali left Fletcher Johnson's apartment and waited in the car for Mr. Johnson. When Mr. Johnson approached the vehicle, he was carrying a plastic grocery bag, and asked Mr. Ali to put the bag onto the backseat, but Mr. Ali told Mr. Johnson to put the bag in the trunk. At this point Mr. Ali and Mr. Johnson headed to a nearby Burger King.

         Mr. Ali and Mr. Johnson were stopped in Ali's vehicle at the Burger King drive thru. The Task Force stopped the vehicle because the GPS indicated that Mr. Johnson's whereabouts were consistent with movement in a vehicle, and at the time, Mr. Ali's vehicle was the only moving vehicle in sight. Mr. Redden states that he had also contacted Ms. Coppola to see if she knew what kind of vehicle Mr. Johnson would be in and was told that Mr. Johnson would be in Mr. Ali's white Chrysler.[10] Mr. Ali drove past the position of the Task Force at the car wash. Finally, the Task Force followed Mr. Ali's car and visually confirmed that Mr. Johnson was in the vehicle. Based on this information, the Task Force blocked Mr. Ali's car in the drive-thru. The Task Force ordered both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ali out of the car at gunpoint and detained them.

         After both exited the vehicle and were detained, Mr. Johnson was taken into custody by parole officer Redden. Trooper Pack explained to Mr. Ali that they were there to pick up Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson admitted to Mr. Redden that he had a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.[11] However, Mr. Pack and others began to notice the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle, so they had K-9 Toby walk around Mr. Ali's car. Toby indicated the presence of more drugs in the trunk of Mr. Ali's vehicle. After the dog alerted to the car, Mr. Ali consented to a search of the vehicle.[12] (Consent to Search form, Document 244-11). When the officers searched the vehicle, drugs were found in the trunk of the vehicle in a blue duffle bag containing a white bag of marijuana, cocaine, and some of Mr. Ali's personal effects. Mr. Ali denied that the drugs were his and Mr. Johnson also initially denied ownership of the drugs, so the police arrested both Mr. Ali and Mr. Johnson. After the arrest, some Task Force members went to Ms. Coppola's house where Mr. Johnson had been keeping more drugs. He told them the location of the drugs and Ms. Coppola consented to a search of the house.

         CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS FOLLOWING ALI AND JOHNSON'S ARREST

         On July 6, 2015, during a preliminary hearing, Mr. Johnson maintained that the drugs located in Mr. Ali's car did not belong to him. The magistrate found probable cause to charge Mr. Johnson with two counts of possession with intent to deliver, and conspiracy. Prior to Mr. Ali's trial, Johnson pled guilty to conspiracy to commit a felony and named Mr. Ali as his co-conspirator, stating that Ali knew what Johnson was doing with the drugs.

         Mr. Ali was tried twice on drug charges related to the drugs found in his vehicle. The first trial began on February 13, 2017. Trooper Pack's wife informed the court that she had seen individuals in court speaking to potential defense witnesses. The presiding judge sua sponte declared a mistrial and scheduled a new trial for May 2017. On May 22, 2017, the second trial began. On May 26, 2017, the jury returned a verdict finding Mr. Ali not guilty on all the charges.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The well-established standard in consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)-(c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 169 (4th Cir. 2014). A “material fact” is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A “genuine issue” concerning a material fact exists when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 180 (4th Cir. 2013); News & Observer, 597 F.3d at 576.

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view all of the factual evidence, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 169. However, the nonmoving party must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. “At the summary judgment stage, the non-moving party must come forward with more than ‘mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another' ...


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