Truman v. Orem City, 19-4133

Decision Date25 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-4133,19-4133
Citation1 F.4th 1227
Parties Conrad TRUMAN, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. OREM CITY, a Utah municipality; Orem City Police Department, a division of Orem City ; Orem City Police Officer Thomas Wallace, an individual; Orem City Police Officer William Crook, an individual; Orem City Police Officer Orlando Ruiz, an individual; Orem City Police Officer Art Lopez, an individual; Orem City Police Officer Todd Ferre, an individual; Utah County Attorney's Office, a division of Utah County; Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson, an individual; Officer(s) John/Jane Doe 110, individuals; Attorney(s) John/Jane Doe 1-5, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Dick J. Baldwin, Zimmerman Booher (Troy L. Booher and Beth E. Kennedy, Zimmerman Booher, and Mark R. Moffat and Ann Marie Taliaferro, Brown Bradshar & Moffat, and Lincoln Hobbs, Hobbs & Olson, with him on the briefs), Salt Lake City, Utah, for Appellant.

Jefferson W. Gross (S. Ian Hiatt with him on the brief), Gross & Rooney, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Appellees Orem City, Orem City Police Department, Officers Thomas Wallace, William Crook, Orlando Ruiz, Art Lopez, and Todd Ferre.

Peter Stirba (Ciera Archuleta with him on the brief), Stirba, P.C., Salt Lake City, for Appellees Craig Johnson and Utah County Attorney's Office.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, BRISCOE, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.


This matter is before the court on the Petition for Rehearing filed by Appellee Craig Johnson.

Pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 40, the petition for rehearing is granted in part to the extent of the modifications to footnote 11 in the attached revised opinion. The court's June 4, 2021 opinion is withdrawn and replaced by the attached revised opinion, which shall be filed as of today's date.

Because the panel's decision to partially grant rehearing resulted in only non-substantive changes to the opinion that do not affect the outcome of this appeal, Mr. Johnson may not file a second or successive petition for rehearing. See 10th Cir. R. 40.3

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

Conrad Truman sued state prosecutor Craig Johnson and various Orem City police officers for violating his civil rights by fabricating evidence that was used against him in a murder prosecution. Mr. Truman was prosecuted twice for the murder of his wife. According to Mr. Truman's complaint, the prosecution knowingly falsified measurements of the murder scene to rule out the possibility of suicide or a self-inflicted accidental wound. As a result, the state medical examiner deemed Mrs. Truman's death a homicide and Mr. Truman was indicted and successfully prosecuted for murder. After his conviction, he learned of the mismeasurements and the state court granted him a new trial. In the second trial where proper room measurements were admitted into evidence, Mr. Truman was acquitted.

These events led Mr. Truman to file a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the prosecutor and the police. The district court found that the prosecutor was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law and the claims against the police officers were barred by previous holdings in state court.

Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we disagree with the district court that the prosecutor is entitled to qualified immunity at this stage in the proceedings. At the motion to dismiss stage, the allegations in the amended complaint plausibly allege the elements of a fabrication of evidence claim. As a result, dismissal based on qualified immunity was inappropriate. But summary judgment was appropriate as to the police officers because Mr. Truman forfeited his argument regarding issue preclusion in state court and did not argue for plain error review on appeal.

We therefore REVERSE the dismissal of the fabrication of evidence claim against the prosecutor and AFFIRM the entry of summary judgment in favor of the police officers.

I. Background

Heidy Truman suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head on September 30, 2012. She lived in a small residence with her husband, Conrad Truman, and they were home alone when the shooting occurred.

At the time of the shooting, according to the amended complaint, Mrs. Truman was in the area near the bathroom and bedroom and Mr. Truman was in the kitchen. Mr. Truman alleges he heard a door open, and then a "pop." He walked towards the sound and found Mrs. Truman falling to the ground through the hallway entry to the floor of the kitchen area. Mrs. Truman owned a gun and it was located on the floor next to her. Mr. Truman tried to perform CPR on his wife and then called 911. Paramedics and police officers arrived. Mrs. Truman was transported to the hospital where she ultimately died. At the time, Mr. Truman told police that she may have shot herself or perhaps a shot came from outside the home.

After her death, based on what he knew, the medical examiner initially listed Mrs. Truman's manner of death as "could not be determined." But nearly a year later, Orem City police officers and state prosecutor Craig Johnson met with the medical examiner and showed him a PowerPoint presentation outlining their theory of the case—murder. It included a crime scene diagram depicting an approximately seven-foot distance between Mrs. Truman's feet and the hallway entrance where Mr. Truman claimed the shot was fired. Another slide stated Mrs. Truman's body was found over twelve feet away from the spot where Mr. Truman said he saw her after he heard the shot. Contrary to these representations, Mrs. Truman's feet were actually three-and-one-half feet from the hallway entrance and she moved only about nine inches from the spot where Mr. Truman said he first saw her after he heard the shot. Because it is physically impossible for someone who has been shot in the head to walk more than a step or two before collapsing, the medical examiner concluded someone else had shot Mrs. Truman. He then changed her manner of death to homicide.1

After this meeting, Mr. Truman was charged with his wife's murder and with obstruction of justice. Mr. Truman alleges that, at trial, based on inaccurate information provided by the Orem City police officers and the prosecutor in the PowerPoint presentation, the medical examiner testified that Mrs. Truman's manner of death was homicide because she could not have moved the distance from the hallway to where her body lay if the wound were self-inflicted.2

The prosecution also presented the jury a sketch of the layout of the house showing the location of the bathroom, kitchen, and body. On the night of the incident, Detective Thomas Wallace made a hand sketch of the house using a tape measure. When Detective Wallace later prepared a computer diagram of the scene, however, Mr. Truman alleges that Detective Wallace made a transcription error and typed 13.9 feet instead of 139 inches as the length of the hallway in the Truman home. This caused the diagram to inaccurately depict the length of the hallway as being about two feet and four inches longer than it really is. Significantly, the diagram also exaggerated the distance between the location of Mrs. Truman's body and the place where Mr. Truman claimed to have heard the shot. The measurements were used to generate a trial exhibit misrepresenting the dimensions of the rooms and the exact location of Mrs. Truman's body. The exhibit also significantly undermined the possibility of an accident or that Mrs. Truman committed suicide because the inaccurate diagram depicted Mrs. Truman's body as far more than a step or two from the shot location. After considering this evidence, the jury convicted Mr. Truman.

While imprisoned for his wife's murder, Mr. Truman and his legal team discovered the inaccuracies of the evidence used against him. They filed a motion for a new trial in state court. The medical examiner filed an affidavit in which he stated that he "concluded that the gunshot wound could not have been self-inflicted ... based upon the representation by law enforcement that Heidy Truman traveled 12-feet from the location where the shot was fired to the final resting place of her body." Aplt. App. 200. He also explained that "based upon [the] information I received from the prosecution team, in conjunction with what I observed during the autopsy, it was my opinion that ... [t]he wound would have incapacitated Heidy Truman" and "[d]ue to the nature of the wound, Heidy would not have been able to travel far after the wound was inflicted." Id . The medical examiner concluded that "[b]ased on the information provided in the PowerPoint as well as the statements and explanations of members of the prosecution team, I amended my manner of death classification ... from ‘not determined’ to ‘homicide.’ " Id . at 200–01. Upon consideration of the inaccurate diagram used and the flawed testimony of the medical examiner given at the first trial, the state court found that the prosecution introduced evidence such that "the incorrect dimensions presented to the jury in essence removed from its members the issue of reasonable doubt on the theory of suicide" and "had the accurate dimensions been presented to the jury[,] a different result may have resulted." Id . at 120, 608. A new trial was ordered.

Mr. Truman was tried a second time. This time, the medical examiner did not testify and the prosecution did not use an inaccurate drawing of the scene and body location. The second jury acquitted Mr. Truman.

Mr. Truman then brought this § 1983 action against the prosecutor and the police officers involved in his criminal prosecution. He alleges many claims, but relevant to his appeal are his fabrication of evidence claims against the prosecutor and the police officers.

II. Analysis

Mr. Truman contends the district court erred by dismissing his fabrication of evidence claim against the prosecutor because it found he is entitled to qualified immunity. Mr. Truman further asserts error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to the police officers on his...

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