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DAVID THORNHILL v. TERRY WILSON

APRIL 08, 1987

DAVID THORNHILL
v.
TERRY WILSON, JOHN PITTMAN, W. R. SELMAN AND CITY OF COLUMBIA



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND GRIFFIN

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

The law officer's duty of reasonable investigation collides today with the citizen's interest in freedom from confinement. The defendant officers, responding to increasingly frantic entreaties from an unknown female caller that someone was firing shots in the area of an inhabited camp near the Pearl River, encountered and detained the belligerent

and intoxicated plaintiff for some fifteen minutes of interrogation and investigation. In the context of the plaintiff's suit for false imprisonment, the jury found the officers' actions did not exceed the bounds of reasonableness. Having in mind familiar limitations upon our scope of review of judgments predicated upon jury verdicts, we affirm.

 II.

 A.

 The incident in issue occurred during the evening of December 2, 1983, just outside the city limits of Columbia, Mississippi, in a swamp bordering the Pearl River. The site of the incident was a" camp "on the river owned by the late Henry" Slatts "Pope, a Columbia lawyer. The camp had been leased by Pope to David Thornhill, Plaintiff below and Appellant here.

 At approximately 9:35 p.m. on the evening in question Billy Doyle Patterson, dispatcher with the Columbia Police Department, received a distress call from a young woman. The caller did not identify herself but stated that she was in a house near the Pearl River, that two small children were with her, and that someone was outside shooting in the proximity. Officer Patterson determined that the location was the Slatts Pope Camp and secured directions thereto. Because the Pope Camp was outside the city limits of Columbia, he referred the woman to the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

 A short time later, at 9:47 p.m., the woman called again with a similar report of shooting and a plea for help, but this time with more concern and urgency in her voice. Patterson again referred her to the Marion County Sheriff's Office and then personally checked on the matter by calling the Sheriff's dispatcher. Mike Bosche, the Sheriff's dispatcher, confirmed that he, too, had received a call from the woman and was aware of the problem. Bosche at approximately this time dispatched to the scene Chief Marion County Deputy Sheriff Dalton Bracey and Marion County Constable Gerald Sanders. However, the dispatcher was of the impression that each was a considerable distance from the scene.

 At 10:08 p.m., Patterson received yet a third call from the woman. This time she was frantic. She reported shots were directed into the house occupied by her and her two children. She pleaded for help. Patterson heard gunfire over the phone line. Two shots." Oh, my God, "the woman exclaimed, as if she had been startled by someone. The phone

 line then went dead.

 Patterson again contacted Mike Bosche via intercom. Bosche had previously dispatched Deputy Bracey and Constable Sanders to the scene, but, because of their distances from the scene, they could not reach it for an appreciable time, and Bosche had no other officer who could respond immediately. He reported to Patterson that he had no one available who could lend immediate assistance. Patterson did. The Pope Camp was only a short distance beyond the Columbia city limits. Nearby were city units which could respond almost immediately. Patterson conferred with W. R. Selman, a Columbia alderman who had stopped by the police station. Alderman Selman was one of the Defendants below and is an Appellee here. Patterson described the situation to Selman and advised him that it appeared life-threatening. Selman authorized Patterson to send help.

 Patterson dispatched two officers. Dalton Bracey and Mike Bosche of the Sheriff's office were aware of their dispatch and offered no protest. The senior officer dispatched was John Pittman, another of the Defendants below and an Appellee here, a 53-year-old veteran of sixteen years in law enforcement. Pittman was also at the time serving as a Marion County constable, but his" home "beat did not include the location of the Pope Camp. The second officer, who was in a separate vehicle, was Terry Wilson, a 23-year-old patrolman with two and one-half years law enforcement experience. Wilson is the final Defendant/Appellee.

 Meanwhile, as Officers Pittman and Wilson approached, Thornhill was sitting in his pickup truck near the entrance to the Pope camp, parked on a logging trail off the drive to the camp. He had been drinking. According to his testimony, Thornhill was lying in wait in an effort to catch whoever was responsible for the inordinate amount of gunfire in the vicinity of the Pope camp that night.

 Terry Wilson was the first officer to arrive at the drive leading to the Pope camp. The time was about 10:10 p.m., only several minutes after Billy Doyle Patterson's last contact with the frantic female caller. Wilson proceeded slowly down the drive, peering into the woods with the spotlight of his marked police car. When he arrived within some 30 feet of Thornhill's truck, Thornhill turned his headlights on Wilson's car, which frightened Wilson. Wilson responded by turning his spotlight on the truck, drawing (but not aiming) his service revolver, exiting his car and ...


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