Thomas v. Frederick, Civ. A. No. 87-1950.

CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana
Writing for the CourtMILDRED E. METHVIN, United States Magistrate
Citation766 F. Supp. 540
Decision Date04 June 1991
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 87-1950.
PartiesEugene THOMAS, Sr., et al. v. Russell FREDERICK, et al.

766 F. Supp. 540

Eugene THOMAS, Sr., et al.
v.
Russell FREDERICK, et al.

Civ. A. No. 87-1950.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette-Opelousas Division.

June 4, 1991.


766 F. Supp. 541
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
766 F. Supp. 542
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766 F. Supp. 543
Christian Goudeau, Anne Elizabeth Watson, Sandoz, Sandoz & Schiff, Opelousas, La., Michael M. Essmyer, Houston, Tex., for plaintiffs

Chester R. Cedars, Gauthier & Cedars, Ltd., Breaux Bridge, La., T. Allen Usry, Usry & Weeks, Metairie, La., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MILDRED E. METHVIN, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION.

The plaintiffs are black citizens who instituted this suit alleging that their constitutional rights were violated, and that they are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1988. Plaintiffs also claim relief under Louisiana tort law.

Plaintiffs are Eugene Thomas, Sr.; his wife, Mary Verina Thomas, now deceased1; and two of their major children, Eugene Thomas, Jr. and Ada Thomas Washington. At the time of the events in question, Eugene, Sr. and Mary were long-time residents of Parks, Louisiana, a village in St. Martin Parish. They lived in a home neighboring the homes of Eugene, Jr. and his wife, and Ada and her husband. Other members of the Thomas family also resided in the immediate area.

Defendants are Russell Frederick and John Pourciaux, Deputy Sheriffs with the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Department, and Sheriff Charles Fuselier, both in his individual and official capacities.2 Defendants are white.

This matter was tried before the undersigned magistrate judge by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A three-day bench trial was conducted on October 29, 30 and November 1, 1990, and all post-trial briefs have been filed. The court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are set forth below as required by Rule 52(a) F.R.C.P.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT.

A. BACKGROUND.

In 1986, Eugene Thomas, Jr. was running for the second time for police chief of Parks. The white incumbent, Gary P. Bienvenu, Sr., had defeated Thomas in 1982 by a vote of 169 to 123 (58% to 42%), in a race in which Thomas had done very little campaigning. Thomas was doing much more campaigning in 1986, and since two-thirds of the registered voters in Parks were black, he felt he had a good chance of winning.

At that time, Russell Frederick had been a deputy sheriff for St. Martin Parish for a number of years. He was well-acquainted with the Thomas family, particularly Eugene, Jr., who had been a police officer for the City of St. Martinville for several years in the late-1970's. Relations between Frederick and the Thomases had been generally friendly until Eugene, Jr. announced his candidacy against Bienvenu in 1986. Frederick was a personal friend of Bienvenu's and actively supported him during his campaign. In fact, Frederick advised Eugene, Jr. on several occasions not to run against Bienvenu.

As the election neared, relations between Frederick and Eugene, Jr. deteriorated. One Friday evening in late August, 1986, Frederick and several other people had gathered for a few drinks in the yard of a neighbor of Eugene, Sr. and Mary Thomas. When Eugene, Jr. arrived to visit his parents, Frederick made several racial remarks, referring to Eugene, Jr. as a "nigger" and stating he was a "damned fool" if he thought he was going to beat Bienvenu in the election. After further exchanges, Eugene, Jr. telephoned Sheriff Fuselier to

766 F. Supp. 544
report that Frederick had become abusive. The following Monday, Frederick telephoned Eugene, Jr. at his job and told him that unless he withdrew his complaint, "it would be doomsday before you see light again." Eugene, Jr. thereafter telephoned the sheriff and withdrew his complaint against Frederick

Shortly after this incident, Frederick was in a grocery store owned by Betty Courville. Courville sought Frederick's advice concerning two checks—one for $18.00 and one for $29.53—which had been given to her by Eugene Thomas, Jr. on August 6, 1986, and which had been returned by the bank with the notation, "account closed." Courville had not contacted Eugene, Jr. regarding the returned checks either by mail or by telephone.

Seizing upon this opportunity to publicly discredit Eugene, Jr., Frederick over the next several days obtained and filled out the necessary forms to effectuate his arrest. Frederick arranged for a local justice of the peace, Bobby Champagne, to visit Courville's store early on the morning of Tuesday, September 16, 1986, where a reluctant Courville signed the formal complaint and Champagne signed the arrest warrant. Champagne then delivered the documents to Frederick at the Sheriff's Department.

At no time prior to the execution of the arrest warrant did anyone contact Eugene, Jr. regarding the returned checks. Although there was some testimony to the contrary, the court found it unconvincing. Champagne, the justice of the peace, testified that he was "pretty sure" he spoke to Eugene, Jr. about the checks before he signed the warrant, and that Eugene "probably" told him he'd take care of it. Courville testified that she tried to contact Eugene, Jr. by telephone, but was unsuccessful. She stated that in previous similar instances, the Sheriff had advised her to send a certified letter to the maker of the check. She did not send any written notification to Eugene, Jr.

The testimony of both Champagne and Courville was hampered by memory lapses and contradictions. For example, Courville indicated in a pretrial deposition that Frederick had pressured her to sign the complaint against Eugene, Jr. At trial, however, she denied any coercion by Frederick. The court had the distinct impression that both witnesses had gone along with Frederick's plan somewhat reluctantly, but that to admit it would have been to diminish their own roles and increase Frederick's, damaging the defense. Frederick continues to hold a commission as a deputy sheriff for the parish on a part-time basis, and Sheriff Fuselier remains in office. The testimony of both Courville and Champagne was given little weight.

B. THE EXCESSIVE FORCE CLAIM.

After obtaining the warrant from Champagne, Frederick called Deputy Pourciaux to serve as back-up for the arrest of Eugene, Jr. Sometime between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Frederick and Pourciaux parked their separate vehicles in front of Eugene, Jr.'s home. Although Frederick was dressed in plain clothes and drove an unmarked car, there is no dispute that he was known to the plaintiffs as a deputy and was acting in his official capacity. Pourciaux was in uniform and drove a police vehicle.

As the deputies exited their vehicles, Frederick saw Mary Thomas walking toward her mother's house, located next door to Eugene, Jr.'s house. Frederick called to her and they had a brief friendly conversation during which Frederick asked Mary to go get Eugene, Jr. The deputies remained standing beside their vehicles on the street while Mary went to Eugene, Jr.'s house.

Eugene, Jr. and Mary returned to the street where Frederick, in a friendly manner, told Eugene that he had "two checks on him that had bounced." Eugene responded with some incredulity since he had not been notified either by the bank or Betty Courville, in whose store he had been the night before, that there was any problem. At Eugene, Jr.'s request, Frederick showed him the checks which had been stamped "account closed." Eugene again protested that there must be some mistake, since he had received a recent bank statement which showed no problem with the

766 F. Supp. 545
account. In fact, as the parties stipulated at trial, the bank had committed an error in stamping the checks "account closed". The account was still open, although there were insufficient funds to cover the checks due to a miscommunication between Eugene, Jr. and his wife

With Frederick's permission, Mary and Eugene went into Eugene's house to retrieve the bank statements and canceled checks which would prove that the account had not been closed. After retrieving some of the documents, Eugene went outside to speak to Frederick. After a brief conversation, Eugene returned to the house as Mary went outside with other documents to show Frederick, including some checks on the same account which had recently cleared the bank.

Mary showed Frederick the documents, explaining that the account clearly was not and had not been closed over the time period in question. Frederick responded that Mary should not interfere in "police business." Frederick further remarked that Mary was "too damn smart" and "you-all always have an excuse for everything." When Mary continued to press her point, Frederick grabbed her by the arms, swung her around and shoved her violently against the side of his car. He continued to hold her against the car as Mary's daughter, Ada Washington, screamed for help. When no one came, Ada ran up to Frederick from behind and hit him on top of the head with her fist. Startled but not hurt, Frederick released Mary, who fled to her mother's house. At no time did Frederick tell Mary that she was under arrest.

Pourciaux did nothing but observe the events, although he came to Frederick's aid when Ada struck him on the head.

When Eugene, Jr. came back outside, Frederick placed him in his vehicle and took him to the Sheriff's Department for booking.

In the meantime, Mary Thomas telephoned Sheriff Fuselier and reported the incident to him. Several other members of the Thomas family also spoke to the Sheriff. Although he responded that he would look into the matter, neither the Sheriff nor any member of his staff has ever contacted the Thomas family regarding the incident.

C. BOOKING OF MARY THOMAS.

At the Sheriff's Office, Eugene, Jr. was booked on two counts of theft by fraud and was released on bond. The entire process...

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35 practice notes
  • Craig v. St. Martin Parish Sheriff, No. 90-CV-1967.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana
    • August 22, 1994
    ...in cases before the same court. MacMillan Bloedel, Ltd. v. Flintkote Co., 760 F.2d 580, 587 (5th Cir.1985). In Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540 (W.D.La.1991), this court reviewed a § 1983 claim against the St. Martin Sheriff Parish Department and Sheriff Charles Fuselier. The court foun......
  • Keith v. Schuh, Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001), Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 1, 2001
    ...1453 (5th Cir. 1984) (false arrest claim); Hunter v. Clardy, 558 F.2d 290, 291 (5th Cir. 1977) (false arrest claim); Thomas v. Fredrick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 557 (W.D. La. 1991) (false arrest and Page 18 prosecution). Even in the cases from other circuits relied upon by defendant Schuh with reg......
  • 95 0787 La.App. 1 Cir. 6/28/96, Varnado v. Department of Employment and Training
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • June 28, 1996
    ...well." Owen v. City of Independence, Missouri, 445 U.S. 622, 651, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1416, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980); Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 559 (W.D.La.1991). Generally, three types of damages are awardable: actual or compensatory damages, nominal damages, and punitive damages......
  • Berry v. City of Phillipsburg, Kan., Civ. A. No. 90-1252-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • June 17, 1992
    ...106 S.Ct. 65 & 40, 88 L.Ed.2d 53 & 33 (1985); Mann v. Purcell, 718 F.Supp. 868, 874 (D.Kan.1989); see also Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 555 (W.D.La.1991) (deputy sheriff who did nothing when another sheriff used excessive force could be jointly Defendant Kester personally p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
35 cases
  • Craig v. St. Martin Parish Sheriff, No. 90-CV-1967.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana
    • August 22, 1994
    ...in cases before the same court. MacMillan Bloedel, Ltd. v. Flintkote Co., 760 F.2d 580, 587 (5th Cir.1985). In Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540 (W.D.La.1991), this court reviewed a § 1983 claim against the St. Martin Sheriff Parish Department and Sheriff Charles Fuselier. The court foun......
  • Keith v. Schuh, Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001), Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 1, 2001
    ...1453 (5th Cir. 1984) (false arrest claim); Hunter v. Clardy, 558 F.2d 290, 291 (5th Cir. 1977) (false arrest claim); Thomas v. Fredrick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 557 (W.D. La. 1991) (false arrest and Page 18 prosecution). Even in the cases from other circuits relied upon by defendant Schuh with reg......
  • 95 0787 La.App. 1 Cir. 6/28/96, Varnado v. Department of Employment and Training
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • June 28, 1996
    ...well." Owen v. City of Independence, Missouri, 445 U.S. 622, 651, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1416, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980); Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 559 (W.D.La.1991). Generally, three types of damages are awardable: actual or compensatory damages, nominal damages, and punitive damages......
  • Berry v. City of Phillipsburg, Kan., Civ. A. No. 90-1252-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • June 17, 1992
    ...106 S.Ct. 65 & 40, 88 L.Ed.2d 53 & 33 (1985); Mann v. Purcell, 718 F.Supp. 868, 874 (D.Kan.1989); see also Thomas v. Frederick, 766 F.Supp. 540, 555 (W.D.La.1991) (deputy sheriff who did nothing when another sheriff used excessive force could be jointly Defendant Kester personally p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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