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Ryals v. City of Hanahan

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

October 29, 2018

Cary Ryals, Plaintiff,
City of Hanahan, Sgt. Dodd, Sgt. Elwood, Officer Norton and Officer Altman, Defendants.


          Bristow Marchant, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action was originally filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, Beaufort County, following which it was removed to this United States District Court by the Defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331, 1332 and 1441. The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P., on June 15, 2018. After receiving an extension of time to respond, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the Defendants' motion on July 20, 2018, following which the Defendants filed a reply memorandum on August 6, 2018.

         The Defendants' motion is now before the Court for disposition.[1]

         Background and Evidence

         Plaintiff is a state prison inmate currently housed at the Kershaw Correctional Institution. Plaintiff alleges that prior to his incarceration, he lived with Julie Welch. Plaintiff's claims relate to an alleged restraining order involving Welch, with the named natural Defendants (all police officers with the Defendant City of Hanahan) allegedly violating his constitutional rights through actions they took relating to the restraining order. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants charged him with violations of a restraining order that he was never actually served with, and that the Defendants also failed to serve him with a notice of trespassing even though they arrested him on that charge. Plaintiff then alleges that the Defendants falsely stated in court that he had refused transport to a hearing on a restraining order violation, resulting in him being convicted of violating the restraining order for failing to appear. Plaintiff alleges however, that the Defendants never went to the jail to pick him up. Plaintiff also alleges that the Defendants “intentionally violated the Plaintiff's civil rights and abused the process in order to charge the Plaintiff with a felony of Harassment 2nd”, and that the Defendants generally have a history of harassing him and violating his rights. Plaintiff further alleges that as part of his criminal charge investigation and processing, the Defendants failed and refused to read him his Miranda[2] rights.

         Plaintiff's asserted claims are for false arrest and imprisonment (Count 1) in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983[3], and state law violations of abuse of process (Count 2) and malicious prosecution (Count 3). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. See generally, Amended Complaint.

         In support of summary judgment in the case, the Defendant Travis Dodd has submitted an affidavit wherein he attests that during the time period relevant to Plaintiff's claims he was employed as a police officer with the City of Hanahan Police Department. Dodd attests that on June 5, 2014 he met with Julie Welch in reference to a complaint of harassment she had made against the Plaintiff. Dodd attests that Welch complained that Plaintiff had called, texted, and sent letters to her after being instructed that all communication from him was unwanted. Dodd further attests that Officer Ronnie Scheetz had already advised the Plaintiff on May 27, 2014 not to contact Ms. Welch, and that during the interview Welch provided documentation to show that she had previously reported this type of activity and that Officer Sheetz had already advised the Plaintiff not to contact her as of May 27, 2014. Dodd attests that Welch further provided copies of call logs, texts, and letters that the Plaintiff had sent her, and stated that she wished to seek criminal charges. Dodd attests that Welch was issued a case number and a copy of a Crime Victim Information Sheet. See also Defendants' Exhibits 3, 4 and 5.

         Dodd attests that during a subsequent arrest of the Plaintiff on a separate charge of trespassing on or around June 17, 2014, Plaintiff was served with Courtesy Summons No. 2014C082030019 for unlawful communication based on the June 5, 2014 incident. See also, Defendants' Exhibit 6. Dodd attests that the Courtesy Summons was heard in the Hanahan Municipal Court on July 2, 2014, and that the Judge found that probable cause existed for the charge and ordered that a warrant be issued on that charge. See also, Defendants Exhibit 7. An arrest warrant was issued the following day. See also, Defendants Exhibit 8. Dodd attests that Plaintiff was then served with this warrant that same day, while he was incarcerated at the Berkeley County Detention Center, and advised of the bond hearing date and time. Dodd attests that Plaintiff was subsequently found guilty of the charge of unlawful communication on September 25, 2014. See also, Defendant's Exhibit 2. See generally, Dodd Affidavit.

         The Defendant Jon Ellwood has submitted an affidavit wherein he attests that during the relevant time period he was a corporal with the City of Hanahan Police Department. Ellwood attests that on June 17, 2014 he responded to 1304 Weaver's Way in reference to a complaint of trespassing. Ellwood attests that while he was en route to that location, he was advised via radio that the Plaintiff was at this location and was creating a disturbance by yelling at the homeowner and victim, Julie Welch. Ellwood attests that he was further advised that Plaintiff was currently on trespass notice for this residence, and that upon his arrival he observed the Plaintiff standing in the garage of the residence. Ellwood attests that the homeowner (Welch) appeared visibly shaken and upset, and that he [Ellwood] separated the Plaintiff from the victim's residence and detained him by applying handcuffs. Ellwood attests that he explained to the Plaintiff that he was being detained based on the trespass notice against him for this residence, which was still active, but that he was not formally arresting him until he had investigated the situation fully. Ellwood attests that he then questioned the Plaintiff as to how he came to arrive at the residence, and that Plaintiff provided him with suspicious and conflicting information. Ellwood attests that he also questioned the victim (Welch), who was visibly shaken up and in tears, and who indicated that Plaintiff had been repeatedly harassing her through unwanted phone calls and text messages. She further told Ellwood that immediately upon Plaintiff's arrival at her residence, she informed Plaintiff that he could not be there, but that Plaintiff had replied “I know that but I just need to talk to you”. Ellwood attests that as a result of his investigation, he determined that probable cause existed in that Plaintiff had come to the residence uninvited and that he was trespassing. Ellwood further attests that as there was a valid and active trespass notice in place, and based on the statements from the homeowner, Plaintiff's actions constituted Trespass After Notice when coupled with Plaintiff's refusal to leave. Ellwood attests that Plaintiff was then arrested on that charge, and that while en route to the Detention Center he served the Plaintiff with a Courtesy Summons and citation for Trespass After Notice, which was set to be heard on July 2, 2014 at the Hanahan Municipal Court. Ellwood attests that, upon information and belief, Plaintiff thereafter pled guilty to the charge of Entering the Premises Without Warning on September 25, 2014, based on this incident. See also, Defendants' Exhibit 2. See generally, Ellwood Affidavit.

         The Defendant Mathew Altman has submitted an affidavit wherein he attests that during the relevant time period he was an officer with the Hanahan Police Department. Altman attests that a restraining order was issued against the Plaintiff on or about July 14, 2014, prohibiting Plaintiff from contacting or communicating with Ms. Welch in any format. See also, Defendants' Exhibit 10. Altman attests that on or about August 24, 2014 he met with Ms. Welch, who advised him that she had received a communication from the Plaintiff on a web based social media cite. Welch was also able to provide a photograph copy of the Plaintiff's social medial request to her. See Defendants' Exhibit 11. Welch further advised Altman that Plaintiff had contacted both her neighbor and her ex-husband attempting to talk about her. Altman attests that as a result of this incident, a municipal judge found probable cause and issued an arrest warrant for the Plaintiff on a charge of violating the restraining order. See also, Defendants' Exhibit 12. Altman attests that Plaintiff was subsequently automatically found guilty of this charge on December 10, 2014 after he refused to be transported to the hearing. See generally, Altman Affidavit.; see also Defendants' Exhibit 12 [Court Docket No. 22-18, p. 4].

         Finally, the Defendant Michael Norton has submitted an affidavit wherein he attests that during the relevant time period he was an officer with the Hanahan Police Department. Altman attests that on August 29, 2014 (sic) the Plaintiff contacted the victim Julie Welch by calling her and leaving a phone message after having been served with a restraining order. Norton attests that he responded to the victim's address on August 30, 2014, at which time Welch provided him with a copy of the restraining order, which was current. Norton attests that Welch had also saved the voice mail from the Plaintiff, which he was able to listen to. Norton attests that the voice mail was time stamped Friday, August 29, 2014, at 9:48 p.m. Norton attests that he attempted to contact the Plaintiff using the telephone number he had called from, but with negative results. Based on these facts, a municipal judge found probable cause for the charge of violation of restraining order, and issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. See also, Defendants' Exhibit 14. Norton attests that Plaintiff was automatically found guilty of this charge on December 10, 2014, after he refused to be transported to the hearing. Id. [Court Docket No. 22-20, p. 3]. Norton further attests that he could not have lied to the Court with respect to Plaintiff's refusal to be transported (as Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint), as he had left the employment of the Hanahan Police Department on October 15, 2014, and was therefore not even a police officer at the time of Plaintiff's hearing. See generally, Norton Affidavit.

         In opposition to the Defendants' motion, Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit in which he states that the residence at 1304 Weaver's Way was a residence he shared with his “girlfriend”, Julie Welch, and that he “feels that he should have been served [with the restraining order] other than via phone.” Plaintiff therefore states that it is his belief that he was “unlawfully made to leave his residence . . . .”. Plaintiff further appears to contest that it was actually Officer Scheetz who he spoke with over the phone, stating that the person he had a conversation with only claimed to be Officer Scheetz, a claim he “played along with”. Plaintiff attests that on June 16, 2014, it was Welch who contacted him, stating that they needed to talk. Plaintiff attests that a John Hallman was a witness to this conversation. Plaintiff attests that when he then went to meet with Welch the following day, he was arrested by Officer Ellwood. Plaintiff further states that he admits he contacted Welch using a phone at MUSC, but states that he never used any form of threat against her. He states that the staff at MUSC told him the woman he had called did not want to receive calls from him. Moreover, Plaintiff further states that he does not have a clear recollection of this call, because he was on “heavy narcotic medication” at the time.

         Plaintiff attests that he was found not guilty of the charge of intimidation of a witness, which involved a court official, not any of the claims at issue in this lawsuit. State v. Lyals, Case No. 2016-GS-08-2032. Rather, Plaintiff complains that he was arrested on a charge (apparently involving Welch) when he was coming out of the courtroom trying to defend himself on these other charges. Plaintiff admits that he pled guilty to the two charges referenced by the Defendants, but contends that that was part of an agreement that there would be no further charges brought against him. Plaintiff states, however, that he later “felt uncomfortable with the plea agreement”.

         With respect to the complaint of harassment against him, Plaintiff admits in his affidavit to having called neighbors and Welch's ex-husband because he was trying to get his Social Security card and birth certificate. However, Plaintiff attests that the number he purportedly called the Plaintiff from is not his number. Even so, Plaintiff does admit that he stopped at Plaintiff's place of work “as I did many times throughout out our two year relationship”, but states that since he has been told not to go there anymore he will not ever go back to her place of work. Plaintiff also admits to having sent two cards to Welch, but believes he was entitled to do so because they dealt with a birthday gift for her daughter. Plaintiff further complains about Officer Norton's report and subsequent charge relating to having made a phone call to the Plaintiff, but then appears to concede that he made this phone call because he says he “just got a Beep as if it was a Fax no.” Plaintiff also complains that Officer Altman undertook an incomplete investigation of the Instagram incident, and attests that he does not even do social media. See generally, Plaintiff's Affidavit.

         Plaintiff has also attached numerous exhibits to his response, including a letter he wrote to the Berkeley County Magistrate/Summary Court, a response to an FOI request for phone records and police department records, a copy of a transcript from a General Sessions trial on April 17 - 20, 2017 (which lists Plaintiff as the Defendant in that case, apparently charged with harassment first degree and intimidation of court officials), and copies of depositions dated April 5, 2018 and April 11, 2018.

         Finally, as an attachment to their reply brief, the Defendants have submitted an affidavit from Kris Jacumin, who attests that he is a Captain at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, and that he has reviewed the FOIA responses from the Detention Center that Plaintiff references in an attempt to support his theory that he did not refuse transport to a violation of restraining order hearing held on December 10, 2014. Jacumin attests that Plaintiff misrepresents these FOI findings, because the Detention Center would not have a filed transport request or have an order of transport in its possession; therefore, Plaintiff's assertion that the Detention Center's lack of such documentation proves his allegation (that he did not refuse transport to a court proceeding) is unfounded. Jacumin ...

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