J. DUANE GILLIAM, Guardian of the Estate of Leon Brown; RAYMOND C. TARLTON, Guardian Ad Litem for Henry Lee McCollum, Plaintiffs - Appellees,
KENNETH SEALEY, both individually and in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Robeson County; ROBERT E. PRICE, Administrator C.T.A. of the Estate of Joel Garth Locklear, Sr., Defendants - Appellants, and HENRY LEE MCCOLLUM; LEON BROWN; GERALDINE BROWN RANSOM, Guardian of Leon Brown; KIMBERLY PINCHBECK, as limited guardian and conservator of the estate of Henry Lee McCollum, Plaintiffs, and ROBESON COUNTY; TOWN OF RED SPRINGS; KENNETH SNEAD; JOEL GARTH LOCKLEAR; LARRY FLOYD; LEROY ALLEN; ESTATE OF LUTHER HAGGINS; GERALDINE BRITT HAGGINS, as Administratix/Executrix of the Estate of Luther Haggins; PAUL CANADY, Administrator C.T.A of the Estate of Luther Haggins; FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER-TIMES; ASSOCIATED PRESS; WTVD TELEVISION LLC; CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, Defendants. J. DUANE GILLIAM, Guardian of the Estate of Leon Brown; RAYMOND C. TARLTON, Guardian Ad Litem for Henry Lee McCollum, Plaintiffs - Appellees, and HENRY LEE MCCOLLUM; LEON BROWN; GERALDINE BROWN RANSOM, Guardian of Leon Brown; KIMBERLY PINCHBECK, as limited guardian and conservator of the estate of Henry Lee McCollum, Plaintiffs,
KENNETH SNEAD; LEROY ALLEN, Defendants - Appellants, and ROBESON COUNTY; TOWN OF RED SPRINGS; KENNETH SEALEY, both individually and in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Robeson County; JOEL GARTH LOCKLEAR; LARRY FLOYD; ESTATE OF LUTHER HAGGINS; GERALDINE BRITT HAGGINS, as Administratix/Executrix of the Estate of Luther Haggins; PAUL CANADY, Administrator C.T.A of the Estate of Luther Haggins; ROBERT E. PRICE, Administrator C.T.A. of the Estate of Joel Garth Locklear, Sr.; FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER-TIMES; ASSOCIATED PRESS; WTVD TELEVISION LLC; CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, Defendants.
Argued: March 20, 2019
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. Terrence W. Boyle,
Chief District Judge. (5:15-cv-00451-BO)
R. Morgan Jr., WOMBLE BOND DICKINSON (US) LLP, Winston-Salem,
North Carolina, for Appellants.
Catherine E. Stetson, HOGAN LOVELLS U.S. LLP, Washington,
D.C., for Appellees.
Bradley O. Wood, WOMBLE BOND DICKINSON (US) LLP,
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for Appellants K. Sealey and
H. Stein, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NORTH CAROLINA,
Raleigh, North Carolina; Matthew W. Sawchak, Brian D.
Rabinovitz, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh,
North Carolina, for Appellants K. Snead and L. Allen.
Desmond Hogan, Kirti Datla, David W. Maxwell, Elizabeth C.
Lockwood, Matthew J. Higgins, HOGAN LOVELLS U.S. LLP,
Washington, D.C., for Appellees.
NIEMEYER, THACKER, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.
THACKER, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
case stems from the wrongful conviction of two brothers, both
teenaged boys with severe intellectual disabilities, for the
rape and murder of an 11 year old girl in 1983. Henry
McCollum and Leon Brown ("Appellees") spent 31
years in prison and on death row before being exonerated
based on DNA evidence linking another individual, a man who
was known to officers at the time of the investigation, to
the crime. Following their release from prison, Appellees
brought this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging
that the state and county law enforcement officers
investigating the crime violated their Fourth Amendment and
due process rights.
officers moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified
immunity. The district court denied their motion, and this
appeal followed. Because Appellees have alleged facts
sufficient to show that the officers violated their clearly
established Fourth Amendment and due process rights, we
affirm the district court's denial of qualified immunity.
Underlying Crime and Investigation
year old Sabrina Buie went missing on the evening of
September 24, 1983, in Red Springs, North Carolina. Two days
later, her body was discovered in a soybean field near a
convenience store in Red Springs. She was found naked from
the waist down, with her bra pushed up over the back of her
head. Her panties were shoved down her throat with a stick,
and she had been sexually assaulted.
Springs Police Department and the North Carolina State Bureau
of Investigation ("SBI") worked together to
investigate the case. SBI Agents Leroy Allen and Kenneth
Snead and Robeson County Detectives Joel Garth Locklear and
Kenneth Sealey (collectively, "Appellants") were
assigned to the case. While processing the crime scene,
Appellants discovered three Schiltz Malt Liquor beer cans,
three match sticks, one Newport cigarette butt, and two
wooden sticks reddened with blood.
September 27, 1983, while canvassing the neighborhood for
witnesses, Detective Locklear spoke to Henry McCollum, who
denied any knowledge of Buie's disappearance. However,
the following evening, Agent Snead and Detective Sealey
interviewed Ethel Furmage, a high school student, who said
that she had "heard at school" that McCollum
"had something to do with" Buie's murder. J.A.
Shortly after 9:00 that evening, Snead, Sealey, and Agent
Allen traveled to McCollum's home to interview him.
McCollum agreed to ride with the officers to the police
station, where he was fingerprinted and questioned.
exactly happened in the interrogation room is at the heart of
this case and is, as the district court determined, a dispute
of material fact that must be determined by a jury. This is
what we know for sure. At the time of these events, McCollum
was 19 years old, and he suffered from severe intellectual
disabilities. He scored a 56 on an IQ test, where any score
below a 69 indicates intellectual disability. In high school,
McCollum performed at the level of an eight to ten year old.
And in 1990, McCollum was formally diagnosed as
intellectually disabled. McCollum had never been in legal
Miranda waiver form bearing McCollum's
signature is dated September 28, 1983, at 10:26 p.m. At 2:10
a.m. on September 29, McCollum signed a handwritten
confession that was drafted by Agent Snead and witnessed by
Detective Sealey and Red Springs Police Department Chief
Luther Haggins. This confession stated the following:
McCollum, along with four other boys -- Darrell Suber, Louis
Moore, Chris (last name unknown), and Leon Brown -- were with
Buie at approximately 9:30 p.m. on September 24, the day she
went missing. Suber and Chris left the group to buy a
six-pack of beer from the nearby convenience store. When they
returned, Suber, Chris, McCollum, Moore, and Brown discussed
raping Buie, because she had not agreed to have sex with them
voluntarily. After this conversation, Moore left. The rest of
the group walked with Buie to the woods at the edge of a
field and drank beer. Suber and Chris smoked Newport
confession, McCollum grabbed Buie's right arm while Brown
grabbed her left arm. The group of boys then took turns
raping Buie, with McCollum going third and Brown going last.
Afterwards, Suber said they had to do something so that Buie
would not tell the police what they had done. Chris tied
Buie's pink panties to a stick, then used it to choke
Buie to death. While this was happening, McCollum and Brown
held Buie down and Suber cut her with a knife. Then, after
they believed Buie was dead, the boys dragged her body to the
edge of the woods. Suber had blood on his brown corduroy
jacket and gray Nike tennis shoes, and Chris had blood on his
McCollum signed the confession, he was placed under arrest
for Buie's rape and murder.
McCollum's interrogation, his mother Mamie Brown and
brother Leon Brown arrived at the police station. At
approximately 2 a.m. on September 29, and based on
McCollum's written confession, Detective Locklear and
Chief Haggins began to interrogate Brown.
was 15 years old at the time, and like his brother, he had
been diagnosed with severe intellectual disabilities. He
consistently scored in the mid-50s range on IQ tests, and
although he was in seventh grade, he performed at a third
grade level. In 1982, a school psychologist had placed Brown
in a special education class. Like his brother, Brown had not
previously been in legal trouble.
a.m., Brown signed a form entitled "Juvenile Rights
Warning." Then, around 6 a.m., Brown signed a
confession that had been drafted by Detective Locklear.
Following Brown's confession, he was arrested for the
rape and murder of Buie.
confession implicated Suber and Chris, but it differed in
certain aspects from McCollum's confession. Notably,
Brown's confession makes no mention of Moore's
involvement, and it does not reference a stick being used to
force Buie's underwear down her throat.
confessions of McCollum and Brown also contained certain
details that were later proven false. For example, both
confessions stated that Suber and Chris were involved in the
crime and took turns raping Buie, but the police verified
that Suber, Chris, and Moore all had alibis on the night of
the murder. And contrary to the confessions, an autopsy
revealed that Buie's panties were white, not pink, and
she had no stab wounds.
Proceedings and Post-Conviction Relief
were indicted by a grand jury on January 3, 1984, on charges
of first-degree murder and rape. They were tried together in
Robeson County Superior Court in October 1984. The prosecutor
was District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, McCollum was
represented by Earl Strickland, and Brown was represented by
both moved to suppress their confessions. These motions were
denied. The trial court concluded that both McCollum and
Brown had voluntarily gone to the police station; each had
knowingly and intelligently waived his rights; and each had
made statements freely, voluntarily, and knowingly. Appellees
both testified at trial, and each was convicted and sentenced
appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed and
remanded the case for a new trial based on error in the jury
instructions. See North Carolina v. McCollum, 364
S.E.2d 112 ( N.C. 1988). Appellees were then tried separately
in adjacent counties.
was retried in Cumberland County in November 1991. The
Cumberland County Superior Court denied McCollum's motion
to suppress his confession, concluding that McCollum's
constitutional rights were not violated by his arrest,
detention, interrogation, or confession; that his confession
was made freely and voluntarily; and that McCollum waived his
rights freely, knowingly, and intelligently. During the
November 1991 trial, and with McCollum's consent,
McCollum's attorney argued to the jury that McCollum was
present for the rape and murder of Buie, and he asked the
jury to return a verdict of second-degree murder. McCollum
was found guilty of first-degree murder and rape, and he was
again sentenced to death. The North Carolina Supreme Court
affirmed McCollum's conviction and sentence. See
North Carolina v. McCollum, 433 S.E.2d 144 ( N.C. 1993).
The United States Supreme Court denied McCollum's
petition for writ of certiorari. See McCollum v. North
Carolina, 512 U.S. 1254 (1994).
McCollum's trial, Brown was retried in Bladen County
Superior Court in June 1992. Brown's motion to suppress
his confession was denied after the trial court concluded
that Brown knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived
his rights; that his constitutional rights had not been
violated; and that his confession was voluntary. The trial
court later granted a defense motion to dismiss the
first-degree murder charge, finding that Brown had withdrawn
from the conspiracy to commit murder. The jury found Brown
guilty of first-degree rape, and he was sentenced to life in
prison. The North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North
Carolina Supreme Court affirmed Brown's conviction and
sentence. See North Carolina v. Brown, 436 S.E.2d
163 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1993); North Carolina v. Brown,
453 S.E.2d 165 ( N.C. 1995). Brown did not file a petition
for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
2009, Brown sought assistance from the North Carolina
Innocence Inquiry Commission ("NCIIC"), and the
NCIIC accepted his case. The NCIIC then reached out to
McCollum and accepted his case as well. In its investigation,
the NCIIC uncovered DNA evidence on the Newport cigarette
butt found at the scene of the crime. The DNA matched Roscoe
Artis, a man known to Appellants during the investigation of
1984, Artis was convicted of a crime strikingly similar to
Buie's murder: the first-degree murder and rape of Joann
Brockman, also in Red Springs, North Carolina. On October 22,
1983 -- less than one month after Buie's murder --
Brockman's body was found naked except for a sweater and
bra pushed up above her breasts, and an autopsy revealed that
she died from manual strangulation during sexual intercourse.
Artis was arrested the same day, and he was tried in August
1984. The prosecutor for Artis's trial was district
attorney Joe Freeman Britt, and Artis was represented by Earl
Strickland -- both of whom would be involved in McCollum and
Brown's October 1984 trial just two months later.
Appellants Agent Allen and Detective Locklear, who were
involved in the investigation of Brockman's murder,
testified for the state in Artis's trial. Artis received a
death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison. See
North Carolina v. Artis, 384 S.E.2d 470 ( N.C. 1989),
judgment vacated, 494 U.S. 1023 (1990); see also
North Carolina v. Artis, 406 S.E.2d 827 ( N.C. 1991).
tested on other items of physical evidence from the scene of
Buie's murder did not match McCollum or Brown.
Court Proceedings and Pardons
on this DNA evidence, Appellees filed motions for appropriate
relief ("MAR") in the Robeson County Superior
Court. At a hearing on these motions held September 2, 2014,
the NCIIC's investigator testified about inconsistencies
between Appellees' written confessions and the DNA match
to Artis on the cigarette. The state did not contest that the
newly discovered DNA evidence was favorable to Appellees, and
it conceded that Appellees had satisfied the requirements of
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-270(c), which governs the relief
available to petitioners who come forward with favorable DNA
evidence post-conviction. The MAR court held,
"especially when considered together with the rest of
the results of the [NCIIC]'s investigation," the
favorable DNA evidence "tend[s] to establish Henry
McCollum's and Leon Brown's innocence of [the] crime
for which they were convicted and sentenced." J.A. 309.
Accordingly, the MAR court vacated Appellees' convictions
and sentences from Robeson, Cumberland, and Bladen counties,
dismissed with prejudice all charges in the cases, and
ordered Appellees' immediate release.
5, 2015, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory issued full
pardons of innocence to Appellees.
filed this action against Appellants on August 31, 2015. The
amended complaint alleges four claims arising pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983: false arrest, malicious prosecution,
deprivation of due process, and municipal liability. At the
root of these claims, Appellees assert that Appellants
coerced and fabricated Appellees' confessions, and then,
to cover up this wrongdoing, Appellees allege that Appellants
withheld in bad faith exculpatory evidence that demonstrated