Dodd v. Simmons, 070616 FED6, 15-6145

Docket Nº:15-6145
Opinion Judge:COOK, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:WALTER EARL DODD, JR., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JERRY SIMMONS, Defendant, and CHARLES PIERCE, Officer, Defendant-Appellant.
Judge Panel:BEFORE: GUY, BATCHELDER, and COOK, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 06, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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WALTER EARL DODD, JR., Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

JERRY SIMMONS, Defendant, and CHARLES PIERCE, Officer, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 15-6145

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 6, 2016

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

BEFORE: GUY, BATCHELDER, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

COOK, Circuit Judge.

The Simmons family and the Dodd family dislike each other. But their low-profile feud escalated into a criminal case when members of the Simmons family falsely told City of Centerville Police Officer Charles Pierce that Earl Dodd brought a gun to an otherwise non-violent confrontation. Officer Pierce arrested Earl for aggravated assault, but the charges were dropped when the Simmonses' deception surfaced. Earl sued Officer Pierce for false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a jury awarded Earl $75, 000 in compensatory damages. Officer Pierce appeals, and we REVERSE the judgment of the district court denying his qualified-immunity defense.

I.

Johnathan Merle Dodd and Jennifer Racheal Simmons had a child together, and custody disputes plagued their families' relationship thereafter. After a Saturday visitation with his child, Merle drove to the Centerville McDonald's, where Racheal and other members of the Simmons family were eating. To avoid the Simmonses, Merle pulled into a parking spot to eat. The Simmons family noticed him, and a heated argument ensued. Someone called the police, and Merle called his father Earl. Before he arrived, Earl placed his handgun, which he customarily wears on his side in a holster, in his car's center console. Earl joined the fracas, grabbing his own crotch and telling the Simmonses to "get away from me."

Two Centerville police officers, Shane Witherspoon and Danny Roberts, arrived at the scene and interviewed Earl and the Simmonses. Deeming the incident a family dispute, the officers made no arrests, charged no one with a crime, recommended no further investigation, and wrote no reports.

A few days later, Racheal petitioned for an order of protection against Earl, claiming that he threatened her and her family at McDonald's and "had a gun on his side with his hand on his gun [the] whole time this was going on." When the circuit-court clerk granted the petition, Racheal and her family took the order of protection to the local jail to obtain an arrest warrant for Earl. Jerry Simmons, Racheal's father, was the only police officer on duty there, and he called Officer Pierce to the jail to speak to his family. Officer Pierce then asked two members of the Simmons family-Pam Simmons and Cory Chandler-to write statements describing the McDonald's fight. Their statements agreed: with one hand on his holstered gun and the other on his crotch, Earl threatened to "take care" of Cory. Officer Pierce also talked to Officers Roberts and Witherspoon about what they observed at McDonald's days earlier. Both opined that "nothing happened"-no crime occurred. Officer Pierce asked Officer Roberts to write a statement, 1 and Officer Roberts complied, noting that the Simmonses "did state that Mr. Dodd did not threaten them with [his] gun but did have his hand resting on this weapon during the exchange of words."

Officer Pierce took the Simmonses' statements to Assistant District Attorney Kate Yeager and also informed her that Officer Roberts "didn't see that really a crime had been committed." Yeager advised Officer Pierce to seek an aggravated-assault warrant, and he heeded the advice. In the warrant affidavit, he summarized the Simmonses' statements-that Earl threatened to "take...

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