Beckett v. Ford, 062410 FED6, 09-3719

Docket Nº:09-3719
Opinion Judge:McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:DALE BECKETT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. JACK FORD, Mayor of Toledo; STEVEN FORRESTER, Sergeant, Toledo Police Department; HARRY BARLOS, Commissioner of Lucas County; TINA SKELDON WOZNIAK, Commissioner of Lucas County; MAGGIE THURBER, Commissioner of Lucas County; CHRIS ANDERSON, Assistant County Prosecutor, aka James Anderson; GARY CROFT, Chairman, O
Judge Panel:BEFORE: SUHRHEINRICH, McKEAGUE, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 24, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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DALE BECKETT, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

JACK FORD, Mayor of Toledo; STEVEN FORRESTER, Sergeant, Toledo Police Department; HARRY BARLOS, Commissioner of Lucas County; TINA SKELDON WOZNIAK, Commissioner of Lucas County; MAGGIE THURBER, Commissioner of Lucas County; CHRIS ANDERSON, Assistant County Prosecutor, aka James Anderson; GARY CROFT, Chairman, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; JIM BEDRA, Parole Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; SANDRA CROCKETT, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; PETER DAVIS, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; KATHLEEN KOVACH, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; ROBERT MASZCZYNSKI, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; CYNTHIA B. MAUSER, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; BETTY MITCHELL, Board Member, Ohio Adult Parole Authority; REGINALD WILKINSON, Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction; JESSE WILLIAMS, Warden, Allen Correctional Institution, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 09-3719

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 24, 2010

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO

BEFORE: SUHRHEINRICH, McKEAGUE, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

Following a successfully habeas petition, Dale Beckett, who had previously been convicted in Ohio state court of the 1996 murder of drug dealer Ronald Cunningham, brought actions against numerous defendants from the City of Toledo, Lucas County, and the State of Ohio under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Ohio law. As the centerpiece of his case, Beckett claimed that various individuals conspired with a key witness to frame him. Following the grant of summary judgment to all state defendants, and Beckett's voluntarily dismissal against three of the County defendants, the district court was left with Beckett's claims against Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Anderson, Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, and Toledo Police Sergeant Steven Forrester. On September 28, 2007, the district court granted Anderson's motion for summary judgment; on May 11, 2009, the district court granted Ford and Forrester's motion for summary judgment. Beckett now appeals, arguing that the court improperly cloaked Forrester and Anderson with absolute prosecutorial immunity and ignored several critical affidavits.1 As almost all of the statements in the affidavits on which Beckett relies are inadmissible hearsay, as Anderson was protected from liability for any alleged wrongdoing by absolute prosecutorial immunity, and as there was probable cause for Beckett's prosecution, we affirm the district court's award of summary judgment to both Anderson and Forrester.

I.

Ronald Cunningham, a suspected drug dealer, was shot to death in Toledo, Ohio on February 17, 1996; Toledo Police Sergeant Steven Forrester was assigned as the lead investigator into Cunningham's murder. Around May 5, 1996, Dale Beckett, who had been convicted of an unrelated weapons charge, entered prison in Ohio. In prison, he encountered Matthew Williams, allegedly a long-time acquaintance, who had entered prison on February 25, 1996 after violating parole. According to police reports, in May of 1996 Williams called Forrester from prison, and stated that he had information in the case. Forrester interviewed Williams on June 7, 1996, at which time (again according to police reports) Williams told Forrester about a plot by Phil Spivey, the manager of a car wash, to hire Beckett to kill Cunningham. According to his notes, Forrester also spoke with Reginald Atkins, who stated that he had seen Beckett in the area of the murder earlier in the evening, and Norma Eaton, who stated that she had seen Beckett run past her on the night of the murder. Beckett was indicted on September 30, 1996, in part on the basis of testimony from Williams and Eaton, for committing murder in violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 2903.02.

Beckett's trial began in February of 1997. In a decision in 2000, the Ohio Court of Appeals summarized some of the evidence from trial:

Ouida Gordon, Cunningham's girlfriend, testified that Cunningham had been unemployed and sold drugs to support himself. Gordon further testified that [Beckett], Cunningham, and she had often socialized together and sometimes with Tony Pierson. She last saw Cunningham on February 16, 1996. He left her mother's house around 1:30 p.m., acting nervous, because he owed James Spivey $40. She saw him again around 4:00 p.m. and spoke to him briefly to give him $20 toward the money he needed to pay off his debt. Cunningham was standing on the corner of Prospect and Detroit Avenues in his usual area for selling drugs. She saw him again early the next morning from 1:30 to 2:30 a.m. at a friend's home. On cross-examination, however, she testified that Cunningham stayed until 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. Cunningham left to get some drugs while Gordon slept on the couch. Gordon testified that Cunningham called her about one week before his death and told her how [Beckett] had hunted him down to collect on a debt. He further told her that he had given [Beckett] a greenish-tan trench coat as payment. She testified that [Beckett] also had disagreements with others over drug deals.

Anthony Pierson testified that he is currently imprisoned and has had twelve or thirteen felony convictions in the past for various theft and related offenses. He testified that [Beckett] and Cunningham would both stay with Pierson on occasion. Pierson recalled that Cunningham owed [Beckett] money in January 1996. The two had a heated conversation about the money on Pierson's front porch. The debt arose out of a drug deal where Cunningham either messed up or deliberately kept the profits. Prior to this time, [Beckett] had argued with Cunningham about money he owed a friend of appellant. [Beckett] was looking for Cunningham in January 1996, and Pierson sent him to a mission where Cunningham was staying. [Beckett] took some of Cunningham's clothes he found in Pierson's home as "collateral." The next day, they came to Pierson's house and the argument seemed to be resolved. Pierson also testified that he was a passenger in [Beckett's] car in mid-January 1996, the evening of the argument between [Beckett] and Cunningham on the porch. During the ride, Pierson observed a .25 semiautomatic pistol under the front seat arm rest in [Beckett's] car. When Pierson questioned [Beckett] about carrying a gun while under a disability, he stated that he would always carry one.

Matthew Williams, a long-time acquaintance of [Beckett], testified regarding statements [Beckett] had made regarding killing Cunningham. Williams is currently imprisoned for a parole violation and has had several felony and misdemeanor convictions. He testified that [Beckett] stopped him about 1:00 p.m. on February 14 or 15, 1996, and followed Williams to a car wash to talk to him. When Williams got into [Beckett's] car, [Beckett] and Phil, the owner of the car wash, were already in the car. Phil was telling [Beckett] that he wanted Cunningham dead for messing up something concerning money and drugs. Phil was trying to describe Cunningham for [Beckett] because [Beckett] did not know him. As they were talking, Cunningham came out of a nearby convenience store. [Beckett] got out of the car and started walking toward Cunningham and then returned to the car and said "Don't worry about it. That nigger dead." Phil then gave [Beckett] half an ounce of crack cocaine as a partial payment. [Beckett] never did talk to Williams about what [Beckett] had said he wanted to talk to Williams about.

[Beckett] called Williams again on February 21, 1996 about 10:00 or 10:30 a.m. asking for some drugs. During the conversation, he said, "Ain't nobody got to worry about that one thing no more." When Williams inquired further what that meant, [Beckett] said, "That nigger, Cunningham, he dead." Williams arranged to meet [Beckett] that evening to give him some drugs. When Williams approached his house around the appointed time, he saw someone crouched down low beside the house. Williams yelled at the person who then ran. Williams got in his car and chased the person. He saw a car leaving the alley without its lights on and followed it. When he caught up with the car, he found out it was [Beckett]. [Beckett] said that Williams had scared him because he thought Williams was the police. Williams never did give [Beckett] any drugs. Williams returned to prison on a parole violation four days later. Williams saw appellant again in prison. Williams questioned [Beckett] about the rumors on the street that he killed Cunningham. [Beckett] stated that he would kill his mother for the right price. [Beckett] admitted that he was coming home one night and saw Cunningham. [Beckett] stopped Cunningham, made him put his hands in his pockets, and then shot him in the head. Williams testified that he first heard about Cunningham having his hands in his pockets from [Beckett]; but, on cross-examination, admitted that it was general knowledge in the neighborhood. [Beckett] also admitted to Williams that he was hanging around Williams' house that evening in February intending to rob the man Williams was going to hook him up with to buy drugs. [Beckett] intended to shoot the man because [Beckett] knew that the man was not the type to just give up anything. [Beckett] admitted that he was going to shoot Williams too. After hearing that, Williams called Detective Forrester to tell him that [Beckett] had admitted to killing Cunningham.

State v. Beckett, L-97-1073, 2000 WL 234564, at *1-*3 (Ohio Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2000). During the trial, Williams also testified that he had not been "promised anything" and that he was not "being given any special treatment for rendering [his] testimony," even though both Forrester and Anderson had agreed to write a...

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