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Sanders v. Kemper County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 15, 2014

RALPH SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
KEMPER COUNTY and SHERIFF JAMES MOORE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

This matter came before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [55] and the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [58]. For the reasons more fully set out below, the Court is of the opinion that the Plaintiff's Motion should be denied, and the Defendants' Motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

FACTS

On December 29, 2010, officers from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Kemper County Sheriff's Department found Ralph Sanders sitting in his car on Highway 21 in Preston, which is located in Kemper County, Mississippi. According to Kemper County Sheriff James Moore, MBN Officer Lt. Kevin Gregory informed Moore that Gregory had a warrant to arrest Sanders for the sale of crack cocaine. The officers pulled over and asked Sanders to get out of his car. Sheriff Moore says that Officer Gregory then arrested Sanders on the outstanding warrant, and an MBN officer and some Kemper County deputies searched Sanders's car. They found marijuana in the car, and Sanders was also charged with possession of marijuana. Sanders has admitted that neither Gregory nor Sheriff Moore was directly involved in the search; they were questioning Sanders about drug sales in the area while the search was occurring. After his arrest, Sanders was transported to the Kemper/Neshoba Regional Correctional Facility.

Sanders allegedly sold crack cocaine to an undercover agent on September 10, 2010, but a warrant for his arrest for that crime was not issued until December 29, 2010, which is the day that his car was searched. The affidavit supporting the warrant was sworn to by Lt. Gregory. The affidavit states that the sale took place on Highway 21 in Preston, which is in Kemper County, and it is the same location in which Sanders was found on the day of his arrest.

According to Sanders, no one showed him a warrant at the time that he was arrested or served a warrant on him. He testified, both at a hearing before this Court and at his deposition, that, after he was taken to jail, one officer asked another, "What do we charge him with?" The officer responded that he would be charged with sale of crack cocaine and possession of marijuana. The warrants for the September sale of cocaine and possession of the marijuana found in his car were issued on the same date, and both warrants show that they were served on December 30. This is consistent with Sanders's testimony that Officer Gregory served both warrants on him in jail on the day after his arrest.

Sanders's initial appearance was held in the Justice Court of Kemper County on January 4, 2011, for the charge of sale of cocaine. His bond was set at $25, 000.00 and he was appointed counsel for that charge. The documents related to that appearance indicate that the charges were filed by Officer Gregory, but they do not mention the charge for possession of marijuana. Sanders remained in the Correctional Facility on those charges from December 29, 2010, until March 2, 2011, when he was released on a recognizance bond. Sanders says that he came to court on two occasions after his release, but his case was not called. According to him, he checked with a court employee to see whether his case was on the docket for the next court date, and she told him that it was not. In any event, the parties agree that he failed to appear on that date, and he was charged with contempt of court in October, 2011.

Sanders was indicted for the crime of sale of cocaine on October 11, 2011. On October 18, 2011, a bench warrant was issued that stated that Sanders was "charged with the crime of Sale of Cocaine in Kemper County, for failure to appear pursuant to condition of appearance bond...." The warrant does not mention the possession of marijuana charge. On January 4, 2012, a Kemper County Circuit Judge signed an agreed order cancelling the bench warrant, prepared by the District Attorney and defense counsel. On May 1, the court entered an "Order of Nolle Prosequi, " which stated that the State had moved for the order "due to video showing a 3rd party actually making the sale and no information as to who this witness/defendant is or why he was not charged...." There is no indication in the record before the Court as to the disposition of the marijuana possession charge.

Sanders filed this lawsuit on November 29, 2011, alleging the following facts as relevant to his claim of a deprivation of his constitutional rights:

Charge with sale of cocaine Dec. 29, 2010, follow order of meeting court date May 3, 2011 name wasn't called. Court or appointed attorney told me nothing return next term; July 2011, 3/days name wasn't called and no return date again Oct, 2011 next term called and my name wasn't on court docket Oct 10, 2011. 4 days later Oct. 14, 2011 arrested at my job for failure to appear (287) days later with a warrant and indictment that do not carry seals and likewise my understanding is the limit to indict is 3-quarter of a year (275) days or 6 months 180 days. This is over 285 days. I never heard of such. The indictment nor bench warrant have a seal on them. 78 more days would be a (1) year. The limit to issue Indictment had expired.

Sanders asked for the following relief, "That the court prepare documents correctly, in a timely manner. Make-up for loss of job, pain and trouble at their jail. (1) million dollars for all stress, loss of family time and holidays and lost wages." At a hearing before this Court, Sanders said that his primary claim was false arrest, although he also mentioned illegal search and seizure.

ANALYSIS

The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on grounds that Sheriff Moore is entitled to qualified immunity and that Sanders has not enunciated a constitutional claim against Kemper County. They argue that there is no constitutional claim against Sheriff Moore because the arrests were made pursuant to valid arrest warrants. They also argue that there can be no constitutional violation related to the search because it was incident to the arrest on the charge of selling crack cocaine. Moreover, they argue, Sanders cannot make out a claim against the Sheriff for failure to timely indict him, as Moore was not responsible for indicting Sanders. With regard to Kemper County, the Defendants ...


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