Amrine v. Brooks

Decision Date08 April 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-2104.,07-2104.
Citation522 F.3d 823
PartiesJoseph D. AMRINE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. George R. BROOKS; Thomas J. Brown, III; Richard Lee, Defendants, John C. Hemeyer; Marilyn Schmutzler, Public Administrator and Personal Representative of the Estate of George Brooks, Defendants-Appellees, Twin City Fire Insurance Company; Missouri Department of Corrections, Interested parties. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kansas City Branch, Not Parties-Amici on Behalf of Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Todd Kennedy, Oliver & Hedges, LLP, San Francisco, CA, argued (Quinn E. Urquhart, San Francisco, CA, Arthur A. Benson II, Jamie Kathryn Lansford, Kansas City, MO, on the brief), for appellant.

Jonathan S. Franklin, Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP, Washington, DC, for amici curiae National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and NAACP-Kansas City Branch, in support of appellant.

Bruce Farmer, Oliver Walker Wilson, LLC, Columbia, MO, argued, for appellee Hemeyer.

Emily Kalmer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, MO, argued (Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., on the brief), for appellee Schmutzler.

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, MURPHY, Circuit Judge, and JARVEY,1 District Judge.

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

After obtaining habeas relief from the Missouri Supreme Court, Joseph D. Amrine brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against prison investigator George Brooks,2 deputy sheriff John Hemeyer, prosecutor Thomas J. Brown, III, and prosecution investigator Richard Lee for their roles in the investigation which led to his conviction for murder and sentence to death. The district court3 denied Amrine leave to file a third amended complaint and granted summary judgment to defendants Brown and Lee on the basis of prosecutorial immunity and to Brooks and Hemeyer on the basis of qualified immunity. Amrine appeals from the dismissal of his claims against Brooks and Hemeyer. We affirm.


Amrine was convicted in April 1986 of the murder of fellow inmate Gary Barber in the Missouri state penitentiary. Barber was stabbed to death at approximately 2:30 p.m. on October 18, 1985 in a multipurpose room, in which he as well as Amrine and 40 to 50 other inmates were spending their recreation period. Amrine had learned from inmate Terry Russell the previous week that Barber had been spreading a rumor about having had sex with Amrine when he was passed out from drinking alcohol. When Amrine and Russell confronted Barber about the rumor, Russell and Barber ended up fighting. Both Barber and Russell were placed in detention cells and not released until 10:00 a.m. on October 18, the day of the killing.

At the time Barber was stabbed Officer John Noble was guarding a locked door which was the only entrance in and out of the multipurpose room. Amrine claims that Russell was also in the room, but appellees contend that he was not. Around 2:25 p.m. Officer Noble saw Barber chase another inmate from the back of the room to the front near where Noble was standing. Noble saw an "ice-pick type weapon" in Barber's hand and only realized that Barber had been stabbed when he collapsed near him. Noble retrieved the weapon from the floor, opened the locked door, and called for Sergeant Dobson who was stationed just outside the room. Dobson went in and ordered an immediate lockdown of the room so that no inmate could either leave or enter. Prison guidelines required officers to compile a list of every inmate in a lockdown room. The rest of the prison was also locked down.

Officer Danny Bowers entered the multipurpose room after the lockdown, and Noble pointed out Russell as the inmate whom Barber was chasing. Officer Bowers took Russell from the room out into the hall, searched him, and later escorted him to an office for questioning. The parties disagree about whether Noble correctly identified the person Barber was chasing. Noble asked the inmate Barber was chasing for his name; he replied "Russell." Brooks and Hemeyer contend, however, that it was Amrine who answered with Russell's name. The two men apparently had similar skin tone, physical characteristics, and hairstyle. Officer Noble testified in a 2006 deposition that he was certain that the person Barber was chasing was Russell.

Appellee George Brooks, an investigator for the Missouri Department of Corrections, learned of the stabbing almost immediately. He spoke to Officer Noble, who told him that Barber had been chasing Russell, that Barber and Russell had been fighting, and that both had just been released from confinement earlier that day. Officers searched the multipurpose room several times while the inmates were still in the room, and no blood or other physical evidence was found except where Barber collapsed. Brooks performed his own search of the room and found nothing. Brooks ordered that all inmates be searched as they left the room and that the room be searched again afterwards. Officers also searched the area outside the room without success.

Brooks then went to talk with Russell. He stripsearched him, found nothing suspicious, and did not question him about the stabbing. After Brooks received information from a "confidential source" saying that he should investigate Amrine for the murder because there had been talk that morning that he would attack Barber, Brooks verified that Amrine was on the list of inmates who had been in the multipurpose room. He then spoke with Captain Hallford, an officer in the supermax unit where the incident had occurred, who told him that Amrine "was the man we should be looking [at]." Brooks then spoke with Amrine. He stripsearched him and observed a small red spot on his pants and three spots on his undershirt. Brooks took Amrine's clothing into custody; the spots appeared to be blood, but they were not fresh and were never identified as Barber's blood.

Deputy John Hemeyer, Cole County Deputy Sheriff, arrived shortly after Brooks took Amrine's clothing into custody. Hemeyer was involved in all the interviews and investigation from that point forward. Brooks and Hemeyer began to question Amrine at 4:04 p.m. Amrine denied stabbing Barber and said that he had never gotten close to Barber so the spots on his clothing could not be from him. They terminated his interview without asking death penalty qualifying questions although Hemeyer later testified that they had intended to ask them but forgot. Amrine was placed in a detention cell for the investigation of murder.

Brooks and Hemeyer interviewed Russell at 5:35 p.m. Russell admitted to his fight with Barber the previous week. He also said that Amrine had wanted to stab Barber to pay him back for spreading rumors about him but could not do it when Barber was in isolation. Although Officer Noble had told Brooks that he saw Barber chase Russell, the two investigators did not ask Russell any questions about the stabbing. At 8:00 p.m. they took a formal statement from him. He admitted to being in the multipurpose room at the beginning of the recreation period, but he claimed that he was not inside at the time of the stabbing. He stated that he had asked Noble for permission to leave the room to get aspirin and that Noble gave him permission and opened the door for him.4 Russell said that he went to the control center where the sergeant on duty gave him aspirin in a brown medicine bag and that he had been talking with another inmate named "Peebles" at the time Sergeant Dobson yelled for a stretcher. Russell returned to the multipurpose room, and Noble initially refused to let him enter. Russell also claimed that he asked Amrine why he had stabbed Barber and that Amrine said, "I had to do it."

Hemeyer later testified that he had had "doubts" about Russell's story at the time, but he and Brooks never located the brown medicine bag which Russell claimed to have obtained after Noble let him out of the multipurpose room. They also did not talk to the sergeant who purportedly gave Russell the aspirin, did not identify the inmate called "Peebles," and never questioned Officer Noble about the inconsistencies between his identification of Russell and Russell's claim that he was not in the room or between Russell's statement that Noble let him back in the room after the lockdown and Noble's testimony that he let no one reenter.

At 10:30 p.m. on October 18 Brooks and Hemeyer began their second interview with Amrine and asked the death penalty qualifying questions overlooked earlier. Amrine denied stabbing Barber and said that he had been playing cards with other inmates at the time of the attack. After this interview, Amrine was returned to a detention cell and remained in segregated confinement until his trial in April 1986.

On October 21 Brooks and Hemeyer interviewed inmate Jerry Poe, a schizophrenic who told them he feared for his life. Poe said that he believed that his life was threatened because of Barber's killing and that he would only give a statement if he were moved to protective custody. Poe gave a statement about the stabbing which conflicted with other evidence. He was the only witness to testify that someone wiped blood off of Barber's face with a towel, and no towel was ever found. Brooks and Hemeyer showed Poe pictures of inmates and asked him to identify the person chased by Barber. On the day of the stabbing Poe had seen the officers take Amrine from his cell, and he knew that Amrine was a suspect. When Poe was shown an eight year old picture of Amrine, he stated "I want to say that he's the one that stabbed Barber, but I can't be positive from this picture." Brooks asked him to flip over the picture where Poe saw Amrine's name, prison number, and the date of the picture. When asked if he was sure about his identification of Barber's murderer, Poe indicated that he was. After he spoke to Brooks and Hemeyer, he was transferred to the...

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