Jamison v. McClendon

Decision Date04 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. 3:16-CV-595-CWR-LRA,3:16-CV-595-CWR-LRA
Citation476 F.Supp.3d 386
Parties Clarence JAMISON, Plaintiff, v. Nick MCCLENDON, in his individual capacity, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi

Victor I. Fleitas, Victor I. Fleitas, P.A., Tupelo, MS, for Plaintiff.

Gregory Todd Butler, Phelps Dunbar, LLP, Jackson, MS, for Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

Carlton W. Reeves, United States District Judge

Clarence Jamison wasn't jaywalking.1

He wasn't outside playing with a toy gun.2

He didn't look like a "suspicious person."3

He wasn't suspected of "selling loose, untaxed cigarettes."4

He wasn't suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.5

He didn't look like anyone suspected of a crime.6

He wasn't mentally ill and in need of help.7

He wasn't assisting an autistic patient who had wandered away from a group home.8

He wasn't walking home from an after-school job.9

He wasn't walking back from a restaurant.10

He wasn't hanging out on a college campus.11

He wasn't standing outside of his apartment.12

He wasn't inside his apartment eating ice cream.13

He wasn't sleeping in his bed.14

He wasn't sleeping in his car.15

He didn't make an "improper lane change."16

He didn't have a broken tail light.17

He wasn't driving over the speed limit.18

He wasn't driving under the speed limit.19

No, Clarence Jamison was a Black man driving a Mercedes convertible.

As he made his way home to South Carolina from a vacation in Arizona, Jamison was pulled over and subjected to one hundred and ten minutes of an armed police officer badgering him, pressuring him, lying to him, and then searching his car top-to-bottom for drugs.

Nothing was found. Jamison isn't a drug courier. He's a welder.

Unsatisfied, the officer then brought out a canine to sniff the car. The dog found nothing. So nearly two hours after it started, the officer left Jamison by the side of the road to put his car back together.

Thankfully, Jamison left the stop with his life. Too many others have not.20

The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law – even at the hands of law enforcement. Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called "qualified immunity." In real life it operates like absolute immunity.

In a recent qualified immunity case, the Fourth Circuit wrote:

Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives.21

This Court agrees. Tragically, thousands have died at the hands of law enforcement over the years, and the death toll continues to rise.22 Countless more have suffered from other forms of abuse and misconduct by police.23 Qualified immunity has served as a shield for these officers, protecting them from accountability.

This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court. Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer's motion seeking as much is therefore granted.

But let us not be fooled by legal jargon. Immunity is not exoneration. And the harm in this case to one man sheds light on the harm done to the nation by this manufactured doctrine.

As the Fourth Circuit concluded, "This has to stop."24

I. Factual and Procedural Background25

On July 29, 2013, Clarence Jamison was on his way home to Neeses, South Carolina after vacationing in Phoenix, Arizona. Jamison was driving on Interstate 20 in a 2001 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class convertible. He had purchased the vehicle 13 days before from a car dealer in Pennsylvania.

As Jamison drove through Pelahatchie, Mississippi, he passed Officer Nick McClendon, a white officer with the Richland Police Department, who was parked in a patrol car on the right shoulder.26 Officer McClendon says he decided to stop Jamison because the temporary tag on his car was "folded over to where [he] couldn't see it." Officer McClendon pulled behind Jamison and flashed his blue lights. Jamison immediately pulled over to the right shoulder.27

As Officer McClendon approached the passenger side of Jamison's car, Jamison rolled down the passenger side window. Officer McClendon began to speak with Jamison when he reached the window. According to McClendon, he noticed that Jamison had recently purchased his car in Pennsylvania, and Jamison told him that he was traveling from "Vegas or Arizona."

Officer McClendon asked Jamison for "his license, insurance, [and] the paperwork on the vehicle because it didn't have a tag." Jamison provided his bill of sale, insurance, and South Carolina driver's license. Officer McClendon returned to his car to conduct a background check using the El Paso Intelligence Center ("EPIC"). The EPIC check came back clear immediately. Officer McLendon then contacted the National Criminal Information Center ("NCIC") and asked the dispatcher to run a criminal history on Jamison as well as the VIN on his car.

According to Officer McClendon, he walked back to the passenger side of Jamison's car before hearing from NCIC.28 He later admitted in his deposition that his goal when he returned to Jamison's car was to obtain consent to search the car. Once he reached the passenger side window, Officer McClendon returned Jamison's documents and struck up a conversation without mentioning that the EPIC background check came back clear. Thinking he was free to go after receiving his documents, Jamison says he prepared to leave.

This is where the two men's recounting of the facts diverges. According to Officer McClendon, he asked Jamison if he could search his car. Jamison asked him, "For what?" Officer McClendon says he responded, "to search for illegal narcotics, weapons, large amounts of money, anything illegal," and that Jamison simply gave his consent for the search.

According to Jamison, however, as he prepared to leave, Officer McClendon put his hand over the passenger door threshold of Jamison's car and told him to, "Hold on a minute." Officer McClendon then asked Jamison – for the first time – if he could search Jamison's car. "For what?" Jamison replied. Officer McClendon changed the conversation, asking him what he did for a living. They discussed Jamison's work as a welder.

Officer McClendon asked Jamison – for the second time – if he could search the car. Jamison again asked, "For what?" Officer McClendon said he had received a phone call reporting that there were 10 kilos of cocaine in Jamison's car.29 That was a lie. Jamison did not consent to the search.

Officer McClendon then made a third request to search the car. Jamison responded, "there is nothing in my car." They started talking about officers "planting stuff" in people's cars.

At this point, Officer McClendon "scrunched down," placed his hand into the car, and patted the inside of the passenger door. As he did this, Officer McClendon made his fourth request saying, "Come on, man. Let me search your car." Officer McClendon moved his arm further into the car at this point, while patting it with his hand.

As if four asks were not enough, Officer McClendon then made his fifth and final request. He lied again, "I need to search your car ... because I got the phone call [about] 10 kilos of cocaine."

Jamison would later explain that he was "tired of talking to [Officer McClendon]."

Jamison kept telling the officer that there was nothing in the car, and the officer refused to listen.

Officer McClendon kept at it. He told Jamison that even if he found a "roach,"30 he would ignore it and let Jamison go. The conversation became "heated." Jamison became frustrated and gave up. He told Officer McClendon, "As long as I can see what you're doing you can search the vehicle."

Officer McClendon remembers patting Jamison down after he exited the car. Both agree that Officer McClendon directed Jamison to stand in front of the patrol car, which allowed Jamison to see the search. As Jamison walked from his vehicle to the patrol car parked behind, he remembers asking Officer McClendon why he was stopped. Officer McClendon said it was because his license plate – a cardboard temporary tag from the car dealership – was "folded up." In his deposition, the Officer would later explain, "When you got these two bolts in and you're driving 65 miles an hour down the highway, it's going to flap up where you can't see it." Jamison testified, however, that it was not curled up and "had four screws in it."31

Officer McClendon later testified that he searched Jamison's car "from the engine compartment to the trunk to the under-carriage to underneath the engine to the back seats to anywhere to account for all the voids inside the vehicle."

As he started the search, NCIC dispatch called and flagged a discrepancy about whether Jamison's license was suspended. Officer McClendon told the dispatcher to search Jamison's driving history, which should have told them the status of Jamison's license. NCIC eventually discovered that Jamison's license was clear, although it is not apparent from the record when Officer McClendon heard back from the dispatcher.

According to Jamison, Officer McClendon continued speaking to Jamison during the search. He brought up "the 10 kilos of cocaine," asserted that the car was stolen, asked Jamison how many vehicles he owned, and claimed that Jamison did not have insurance on the car. Jamison kept saying that there was nothing in his car. At one point, Jamison heard a "pow" that "sounded like a rock" coming from inside the car, so he walked up to the car to see what had caused the noise. Officer McClendon told him to "Get back in front of my car." During the search, Jamison also requested to go to the bathroom several times, which Officer McClendon allowed.

Officer McClendon admitted in his deposition that he did not find "anything suspicious whatsoever." However, he asked Jamison if ...

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  • An Unqualified Defense of Qualified Immunity
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    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy No. 21-1, January 2023
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