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Armes v. Wren

April 16, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shirley


This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Rule 73(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties, for all further proceedings, including entry of judgment [Doc. 13]. The Court conducted a non-jury trial in this matter on February 6, 2007.

I. Introduction

This is a civil action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the plaintiffs Travis Armes, Gregory Lee Adkisson, Jeremiah Norman, Gary Mitchell Davis, and Travis L. Conlon against the defendants Michael Wren, Robert Gibson, and Morgan County, Tennessee. At the time of the incident which gave rise to this litigation, defendant Wren was a deputy with the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, and Robert Gibson was the Sheriff of Morgan County. The plaintiffs allege that they were arrested without probable cause and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of their constitutional rights. They assert that the County is liable for failing to properly train and supervise Deputy Wren. Additionally, the plaintiffs assert state law claims for false arrest and outrageous conduct.

II. Plaintiffs' Constitutional Claims

A. Arrest Without Probable Cause

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from arrest without probable cause. Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent or reasonable person "in believing, under the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing or is about to commit an offense." Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244, 255 (6th Cir. 2003). "The probability of criminal activity is assessed under a reasonableness standard based on 'an examination of all facts and circumstances within an officer's knowledge at the time of the arrest.'" Crockett v. Cumberland College, 316 F.3d 571, 580 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Estate of Dietrich v. Burrows, 167 F.3d 1007, 1012 (6th Cir. 1999)). The probable cause determination may be based on the collective knowledge of the officers. United States v. Perkins, 994 F.2d 1184, 1189 (6th Cir. 1993).

While the parties did not proffer a summary of the facts testified to at trial, the Court's notes reveal that the testimony introduced at trial established the following facts. Plaintiff Travis Armes testified that he arrived at his home from working out of state at about 12:30 a.m. on September 25, 2004. He was informed by his friends, who were in his garage working on a race car, that officers had already been there on a noise complaint. Plaintiff Gregory Adkisson testified that there were approximately 18 people present at the Armes residence on the night of the plaintiffs' arrest. Adkisson testified that he and some of the other plaintiffs were working on the race car in Armes's garage, and there was alcohol being consumed. Adkisson admitted that the stereo in his car, which was parked outside of the garage, was playing music. When the officers first arrived at the residence, they told him to turn the music off, and he complied. Adkisson testified that he continued to work on the race car in the garage with the garage door open.

Armes testified that there was no noise when he arrived home. Armes testified that minutes after he arrived, officers returned to the property and told the plaintiffs and others present to go into the garage and shut the garage door. Armes and the others complied, but Armes raised the garage door again to go inside his house to get some clothes. He testified that the officers were driving by at that moment, saw him open the door, and arrested the plaintiffs. Armes denied that he was drinking or participating in any loud activity when he was arrested. He testified that none of the other plaintiffs were "acting out of line" at the time of their arrest.

Plaintiffs Jeremiah Norman, Gary Davis, and Travis Conlon testified consistently with Armes and Adkisson. While the plaintiffs conceded that there was drinking, talking, and music playing prior to the officers first arriving on the scene, all of the plaintiffs denied making loud noises or playing music after the officers' initial visit to the Armes residence. The plaintiffs also presented the testimony of two of Armes's neighbors, Tamara Hensley and Mark Turner, who both testified that they did not hear any loud noises that evening.

Kevin Heidel, dispatcher for the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, testified that he received a call on September 25, 2004 at 12:28 a.m. from Sonia Keathly, who complained of "lots of noise" coming from the house next door, which she identified as the residence of the plaintiff Travis Armes.*fn1 Ms. Keathly stated that her child was having difficulty sleeping due to the noise. Heidel testified that officers were dispatched at 12:28 a.m. and arrived on the scene at 12:31 a.m.

Officer Jason Williams was one of the officers dispatched to the Armes residence. He testified that when he and the other officers arrived, he saw sixteen to twenty people, including the plaintiffs, in the front yard, and that there were numerous cars parked on the street. He testified that loud music was playing from the garage. He observed bottles of alcohol but did not see anyone drinking. He testified that the plaintiffs and the other partygoers were told to stay quiet and to keep the garage door closed. The plaintiffs complied with the officers' request, and the officers left. By the time Officer Williams returned to his car, however, he testified that the music had started up again. The officers returned to the scene and asked them to keep the noise level down. They also checked identifications and instructed those who were underage to leave. After this second visit, Officer Williams testified that he drove to a church parking lot about 200 to 300 yards down the street, and within a few minutes, heard loud music again. The officers returned to the property and told the plaintiffs to quiet down. Officer Williams testified that the officers again left, but as they were driving down the street, loud noises were again heard from the residence. When the officers returned to the residence for the fourth and final time, the plaintiffs were arrested.

Deputy Wren testified that when he arrived on the scene, the other officers had already been to the residence twice that evening due to loud noise. On his first visit to the scene, Wren spoke with Travis Armes and advised him to keep the noise level down. While Wren testified that he could not hear any music on his second visit, he did hear loud talking and yelling. He testified that at that point, he entered the garage and arrested the plaintiffs.

Other witnesses called by the defense, including reserve officers Rick Ausburn, Allen Dagley, and Steve Melhorn, confirmed the testimony of Williams and Wren. Ausburn testified that he observed several people outside of the garage drinking alcohol when the officers first arrived. He testified that after telling the plaintiffs and the others to quiet down, he and the other officers went to the church parking lot nearby and could still hear music and yelling coming from the Armes residence. Ausburn further testified that on the officers' third visit (this time accompanied by Deputy Wren), the plaintiffs closed the garage door, but as the officers were leaving, someone opened the garage door and began "hollerin'." Dagley characterized this yelling as a "rebel yell." Melhorn also ...

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