260 F.3d 946 (8th Cir. 2001), 00-2828, Wilson v Lawrence County

Docket Nº:00-2828
Citation:260 F.3d 946
Party Name:JOHNNY LEE WILSON, PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, v. LAWRENCE COUNTY, MO; DAVID TATUM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; DOUG SENEKER; BILL WEGRZYN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS, BILL MERRITT, DEFENDANT, STEVE KAHRE; ARTHUR OWENS, DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS, JOHN DOES, 2-20, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES
Case Date:August 15, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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260 F.3d 946 (8th Cir. 2001)

JOHNNY LEE WILSON, PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE,

v.

LAWRENCE COUNTY, MO; DAVID TATUM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; DOUG SENEKER; BILL WEGRZYN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS,

BILL MERRITT, DEFENDANT,

STEVE KAHRE; ARTHUR OWENS, DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS,

JOHN DOES, 2-20, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.

No. 00-2828

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 15, 2001

Submitted: April 11, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Before Bye and Beam, Circuit Judges, and Melloy, District Judge.1

Beam, Circuit Judge.

Johnny Lee Wilson brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action against Lawrence County and several law enforcement officials for allegedly violating his

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constitutional rights in conducting a murder investigation, which resulted in Wilson spending over nine years in jail for a crime he did not commit. The district court2 denied appellants' motion for summary judgment asserting qualified immunity. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 13, 1986, Cuba Pauline Martz was found murdered in her home in Aurora, Missouri. An intruder (or intruders) had apparently broken into her home, tied her up, beat her, and then started the house on fire with her inside. The next day, a major case squad composed of officers from several local law enforcement agencies was assembled to investigate the murder. Appellants are law enforcement officers who participated in the squad. The fruit of their investigation was a confession from Wilson, who is mentally retarded. In order to avoid the death penalty, Wilson entered an Alford plea, was convicted of the murder and spent over nine years in prison. In 1995, after conducting an independent investigation, the late Mel Carnahan, then Missouri Governor, granted Wilson a full pardon, stating: "As a result of an intense investigation conducted by my office, I have decided to issue a pardon to Johnny Lee Wilson because it is clear he did not commit the crime for which he has been incarcerated."3 Joint Appendix at 227.

In the days following the murder, officers interviewed Wilson twice. During these initial interviews Wilson consistently stated that he knew nothing about the crime and had been shopping with his mother prior to the fatal fire. Through their investigation, the appellants discovered that Wilson was twenty years old, still lived at home, worked occasional odd-jobs, was mentally impaired,4 had attended mostly, if not exclusively, special education classes in high school and that some people believed he could be "talked into anything."

During this time, the officers began to focus on another local youth, Gary Wall, because he seemed to know early in the evening of April 13 that the victim had been tied and beaten. This was before such information was made public. Officers knew that Wall was a junior in high school, involved in special education classes, and was slightly mentally impaired. They also knew that he had disciplinary problems at his school and had been described as a "very skilled liar" by school officials. As a result of several custodial interrogations in the days following the murder, Wall told the officers on April 18 that Wilson had confessed to Wall that he committed the crime. That same day, Wall passed a polygraph examination regarding this issue. Wilson challenges the efficacy of the polygraph test, based not only on the fact that Wall's statement proved to be false, but also on the insufficient amount of time allowed for the numerous polygraph tests Wall was given on April 18, and the difficulty the examiner had in interpreting the tests.

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Wall has since signed an affidavit asserting: he did not talk to Wilson at the scene of the fire or in the days following the crime and Wilson never confessed to him; the appellants first suggested Wilson's name to him as the criminal (not the other way around as the appellants contend); through leading questions, the appellants "tricked" him into giving details about the crime he did not know; the appellants threatened to put him in jail if he did not implicate Wilson in the crime and promised a reward if he did; and he did not come forward earlier to correct his statement because he was afraid of the police. The appellants contest Wall's account of the interrogations. The tapes of the interrogations, which were supposed to be in the appellants' possession, have inexplicably disappeared.

After extracting the statement from Wall, Deputy Seneker devised a plan to have Officer Owens pick up Wilson under the pretense of having him identify a lost wallet, and then question him about the murder. Owens found Wilson at a local movie theater and transported him to the police headquarters. Wilson was then taken to a windowless interrogation room. Appellants told him that he was not under arrest, but that department policy required them to read him his Miranda rights. Officers Kahre and Merritt interrogated Wilson for an hour. They played him portions of Wall's statement to convince him he had been implicated in the murder. During this time, Wilson denied any involvement and consistently repeated that he had been at the store with his mother prior to the fire.

Then, Deputy Seneker and Officer Wegrzyn took over the interrogation for approximately three more hours. Seneker falsely told Wilson that he knew what Wilson was thinking because he had a psychiatrist analyze him and that they had an eyewitness who could put him at the scene of the crime before the fire. They began to ask Wilson leading questions about the murder, strongly rebuking and threatening him when he gave answers inconsistent with the facts of the crime or was unable to give an answer, and affirming him whenever his answers matched the details of the murder. Ultimately, a collection of discombobulated facts about the murder evolved into a confession. Wilson has stated that he only confessed because he was extremely scared, nervous, anxious, and was pressured to make a confession.

The record does not mention any independent physical or circumstantial evidence linking Wilson to the crime, or corroborating his confession. After Wilson's motion to suppress his confession was denied, he entered an Alford plea to avoid the death penalty and was convicted.

II. ANALYSIS

Wilson asserts four constitutional violations against the appellants: (1) that appellants violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by coercing a false confession from him; (2) that they violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by seizing him for a custodial interrogation without an arrest warrant or any probable cause to believe he had committed a felony; (3) that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights by coercing a false inculpatory statement from Wall and using this unreliable, manufactured evidence against him; and (4) that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights by recklessly or intentionally failing to pursue other leads in the investigation. The district court denied appellants' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity.

A. Jurisdiction Over Interlocutory Appeals

As an initial matter, we must determine whether we have jurisdiction

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over the appellants' claims in this interlocutory appeal. Denials of summary judgment based on qualified immunity are immediately appealable to the extent the appeal seeks review of the purely legal determinations made by the district court. Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313 (1995); see also Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985) (mentioning that a district court's denial of qualified immunity was appealable "to the extent that it turns on an issue of law"). However, "a defendant, entitled to invoke a qualified immunity defense, may not appeal a district court's summary judgment order insofar as that order determines whether or not the pretrial record sets forth a 'genuine' issue of fact for trial," and we would thus have no jurisdiction over the appeal. Johnson, 515 U.S. at 319-20.

The appellants' arguments asserting qualified immunity rest largely on ignoring disputed facts in the record or asking this court to resolve factual disputes in their favor. For example, in asserting qualified immunity against Wilson's claim that they knowingly manufactured false evidence against him by coercing an inculpatory statement from Wall, appellants question the veracity of Wall's affidavit attesting to that fact. We do not have appellate jurisdiction to review the district court's finding that this affidavit, along with other evidence, created a genuine issue of fact for trial-whether officers did in fact manufacture false evidence by coercing Wall. We only have jurisdiction to review whether, given a certain set of facts, Wilson states a valid constitutional claim, and whether the claim was clearly established at the time the alleged violation occurred.

Although much of this appeal constitutes inappropriate attempts to challenge the district court's determinations that genuine issues of fact remain concerning the claims, appellants do raise several legal issues requiring further attention.

B. Qualified Immunity

"[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). In other words, officials are protected by qualified immunity so long as "their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987).

In determining if appellants are...

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