McAllister v. Johnson

Decision Date15 August 2022
Docket Number1:19CV13
PartiesANTON THURMAN MCALLISTER, Plaintiff, v. NOLAN TERRANCE JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

L Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge

This case comes before the Court on Defendants Nolan Terrance Johnson, H.M. Bryant, J.A. Henry, J.F. Sullivan P.M. Felske, Sgt. D.T. Lentz, C.R. Helf, and Chris Ingram's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Rule 12(c) (Docket Entry 58 (the “Motion”)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should deny the Motion.

BACKGROUND

Anton Thurman McAllister (the Plaintiff), acting pro se, initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983) against the Winston-Salem Police Department; Forsyth County, North

Carolina the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and twenty-two law-enforcement officers, alleging that “the officers engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy with Tia Leonard [Plaintiff's] then[-]girlfriend's mother, to have him arrested, charged, and prosecuted for the forcible rape, sexual assault, and felony strangulation of her daughter” (Docket Entry 4 at 1). (See Docket Entry 2 (the “Original Complaint”) at 1-3, 5-8, 32.) Upon screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court allow only certain claims to proceed, based on Plaintiff's failure to state a claim as to some of the officers. (See Docket Entry 4 at 1-2, 14.) The Court (per Chief United States District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder) adopted that recommendation (over Plaintiff's objection (see Docket Entry 6)), such that only Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Nolan Johnson, H.M. Bryant, J.A. Henry, J.F. Sullivan, P.M. Felske, Sgt. D.T. Lentz, C.R. Helf, and Chris Ingram [(collectively, Defendants')] (Docket Entry 7 at 1) survived initial screening.

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff moved to amend the Original Complaint (see Docket Entry 10; see also Docket Entry 10-3 (proposed amended complaint)), which motion the Court (per the undersigned) granted (see Docket Entry 16 at 2 (explaining Plaintiff's entitlement to amendment as matter of course), 6 (directing Clerk to docket proposed amended complaint); Docket Entry 18 (the “Operative Complaint”)). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the undersigned screened the Operative Complaint, noting that [it] present[ed] the same basic claims against Defendants [as alleged in the Original Complaint,] which the Court previously allowed to proceed, but also [sought] to revive the dismissed claims . . . [and] to add claims against [a new defendant].” (Docket Entry 16 at 2-3.) The undersigned recommended that the Court reject that effort, dismissing the revived and novel claims for failure to state a claim. (See id. at 6.) The Court (per United States District Judge Catherine C. Eagles) likewise adopted that recommendation (again over Plaintiff's objection (see Docket Entry 26)). (See Docket Entry 28.)

According to the Operative Complaint:

On February 16, 2015, Defendant Henry approached Plaintiff and questioned him about a matter involving a moped while concealing the true purpose of the questioning (i.e., “serious allegations against [Plaintiff] (Docket Entry 18 at 14)). (See id. at 11, 14.) After Plaintiff “refused to go with [Defendant Henry] without probable cause” (id.), Defendant Henry conspired with Defendant Bryant to transport Plaintiff to the police station (see id. at 14-15), where Defendant Johnson and Defendant Sullivan elicited a confession from Plaintiff (see id. at 16-18). During the exchange that led to that confession, neither Defendant Johnson nor Defendant Sullivan provided Plaintiff with Miranda warnings. (See id. at 16, 18.) Defendant Henry similarly deprived Plaintiff of such information and denied him assistance by counsel. (See id. at 14.) Defendant Bryant failed to remedy that misconduct by Defendant Henry. (See id. at 14-15.) In connection with his effort to obtain a confession from Plaintiff, Defendant Sullivan also misinformed Plaintiff about the nature of the charges he faced. (See id. at 17-18 (explaining that Defendant Sullivan denied rape accusation against Plaintiff).)

Plaintiff's confession led to his wrongful arrest and detention on (unspecified) excessive bail. (See id. at 13-15.) During the 18 months that elapsed before Plaintiff went to trial on charges of rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, and strangulation, Defendants engaged in other wrongdoing. (See id.) In particular, Defendant Johnson (i) falsified a police report, (ii) allowed Plaintiff's accuser to continue purchasing and using heroin, (iii) mishandled evidence at the crime scene, and (iv) wrongfully deleted pictures and information from Plaintiff's Facebook account (including potentially exculpatory evidence). (See id. at 16-17.) Additionally, Defendant Felske improperly coached Plaintiff's accuser and allowed her to tamper with the crime scene. (See Id. at 18-19.) Defendant Helf accompanied Defendant Felske to meet with Plaintiff's accuser and likewise failed to preserve evidence. (See id. at 20.) Defendant Lentz, as a supervisor, “aid[ed] and abett[ed] [Defendant] Felske and [Defendant] Helf” in the foregoing misconduct. (See id. at 21.) Finally, Defendant Ingram disregarded exculpatory evidence at the crime scene and fabricated investigative reports. (See id. at 24.)

As a result, Plaintiff received an unfair trial that resulted in his conviction of assault on a female (but acquittal of all other charges) (see id. at 13), for which conviction he served 30 months (as a detainee, prisoner, and parolee) (see id. at 26-28). Plaintiff has attributed pain and suffering, as well as a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, to his wrongful arrest, prosecution, and conviction. (See id. at 17.) Based on those allegations, Plaintiff has asserted that Defendants violated the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (See id. at 7.)

Defendants answered the Operative Complaint, denying allegations of wrongdoing and invoking various affirmative defenses. (See Docket Entries 39, 45, 49.) The parties thereafter engaged in discovery. (See Text Order dated Feb. 18, 2020 (adopting Scheduling Order).) A few weeks later, Defendants moved to stay proceedings in this case on the grounds that the criminal prosecution of Plaintiff in North Carolina state court (which formed the basis for the allegations in the Operative Complaint) remained pending. (See Docket Entry 47 (the First Motion to Stay); see also Docket Entries 48 (supporting memorandum), 48-1 (the State Court Order) (denying suppression motion in Plaintiff's criminal case).)

According to the First Motion to Stay, the Operative Complaint relates to an investigation that began on February 16, 2015, and led to the arrest of Plaintiff on the following day. (See Docket Entry 48 at 1 & n.1 (citing State Court Order and search result from government website).) At some point thereafter, Plaintiff was indicted for ‘habitual misdemeanor assault and charges of second-degree rape, second degree sex offense, and assault by strangulation.' (Id. at 1-2 (quoting State v. McAllister, 265 N.C.App. 309, 311, 827 S.E.2d 538, 540 (2019)).) After an unsuccessful attempt to suppress the statements he made to officers the night of his arrest (see id. at 2 (referencing State Court Order)), Plaintiff proceeded to trial, at which a jury acquitted him of all but “assault on a female, the underlying felony for habitual misdemeanor assault [(the ‘Assault Charges')] (id. (quoting McAllister, 265 N.C.App. at 311, 827 S.E.2d at 540)).

Although Plaintiff tendered no notice of appeal, [he] filed a pro se Motion to Modify and Terminate Sentence for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel[,]' [which t]he trial court treated . . . as a motion for appropriate relief . . . and denied . . . without an evidentiary hearing.” McAllister, 265 N.C.App. at 311, 827 S.E.2d at 540. Plaintiff then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which “allowed [the] petition . . . for the purpose of reviewing the verdict and judgment entered in the trial court in Plaintiff's criminal case.” (Docket Entry 48 at 2.) A divided panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals “found no error in the jury's verdict or the judgment entered in the trial court (id.). See McAllister, 265 N.C.App. at 317, 319, 827 S.E.2d at 544, 545 (ruling that conduct by Plaintiff's criminal defense attorney “was not per se deficient under [State v. Harbison, 315 N.C. 175, 337 S.E.2d 504 (1985)] to award a new trial,” such that [t]here [wa]s no error in the jury's verdict or in the judgment entered thereon”). However, one dissenting judge concluded “that there had been a violation of Plaintiff's right to effective assistance of counsel, and that Plaintiff was entitled to a new trial” (Docket Entry 48 at 2). Plaintiff appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court (id.), where, as of March 2020, the matter remained pending.

The Court (per the undersigned) granted the First Motion to Stay. (See Text Order dated May 4, 2020 (noting lack of timely opposition by Plaintiff).) Several months later Defendants filed a notice indicating that, on September 25, 2020, the North Carolina Supreme Court had issued a decision regarding Plaintiff's criminal case. (See Docket Entry 50 (the “Notice”); see also Docket Entry 50-1 (copy of decision).) The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the finding of no error by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, remanding the case to Forsyth County Superior Court, State v. McAllister, 375 N.C. 455, 456, 847 S.E.2d 711, 712 (2020), with instructions to address the issues underlying...

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