White v. City of Greensboro, 1:18-cv-00969

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtTHOMAS D. SCHROEDER, Chief District Judge.
Docket Number1:18-cv-00969
PartiesWILLIAM Z. WHITE, Plaintiff, v. THE CITY OF GREENSBORO, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date21 February 2022

WILLIAM Z. WHITE, Plaintiff,

THE CITY OF GREENSBORO, et al., Defendants.

No. 1:18-cv-00969

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 21, 2022


THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, Chief District Judge.

This lawsuit arises out of the arrest and firing of Plaintiff William White, a former Greensboro Police Department officer, after he was investigated for illegal activity stemming from the theft of several commercial-grade lawn mowers. After the criminal charges against White were eventually dismissed, he brought this case alleging numerous violations of both federal and North Carolina law against multiple Defendants across four law enforcement agencies.

The court has already ruled on motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, dismissing all claims except those relating to trespass. Before the court are two motions by the remaining Defendants: a motion to exclude expert testimony or evidence from Anita Holder, White's proffered expert witness, filed by officers of the Greensboro Police Department (“GPD”) -- James Schwochow, Eric Sigmon, Johnny Raines, Jr., William Barham, Brian Williamson,


Jason Lowe, and Lindsay Albert (“Greensboro Defendants”), Defendant Matthew Stalls (“Stalls”), and Defendant the City of Reidsville (“Reidsville”) (Doc. 166); and a motion for reconsideration of the court's previous order denying summary judgment (Doc. 173) filed by the Greensboro Defendants on the basis of public official immunity. White has responded, opposing both motions. (Docs. 169, 175.) Defendants have filed replies. (Docs. 171, 176.) The court heard argument on the motions on January 25, 2022. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to exclude White's expert witness will be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to reconsider will be granted in part and denied in part. Moreover, the present analysis has required the court to revisit its analysis of the dismissal of the Ninth Cause of Action against the Greensboro Defendants in their personal capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that claim will be reinstated.


A. Facts

The background of this case is extensively set out most recently in this court's prior amended memorandum opinion and order. White v. City of Greensboro, 532 F.Supp.3d 277 (M.D. N.C. Apr. 5, 2021). Relevant facts will be discussed as pertinent to each pending motion.

In short, White was a police officer for the GPD from April


2009 until March 6, 2017. (Doc. 111-1 ¶ 3.)[1] On August 22, 2016, the Reidsville Police Department (“RPD”) received a report that several commercial-grade lawn mowers were stolen from Scott's Tractor, a lawn mower dealer in Reidsville, North Carolina. (Doc. 140-1.) RPD Lieutenant Shannon Coates responded to the report and assigned RPD Sergeant Lynwood Hampshire to investigate. (Id., Doc. 140-2 at 16:16-20.) Hampshire would serve as the lead investigator for the duration of the investigation. (Doc. 140-2 at 17:1-3.)

On September 3, Stalls -- who is Plaintiff's step-brother as well as brother-in-law, and a deputy with the Guilford County Sheriff's Office (“GCSO”) -- and his wife, Brittany, went to the Whites' house to care for the White's dogs while the Whites were away. (Doc. 128-2 at 23:21-24:18.) Upon entering the garage where the dog food was kept, Stalls noticed a John Deere mower with a sheet over the seat. (Id. at 23:5-11, 25:25-26:5.) He removed the sheet, sat on the seat, and photographed the mower's vehicle identification No. (“VIN”), also known as the serial number. (Id. at 26:6-27:8; Doc. 128-3 at 5.)

Several days later, and suspecting the mower might be stolen, Stalls checked the mower's model No. against a police database.


(Doc. 128-3 ¶ 7.) Stalls says he did this because White told him he got it from another police officer, the mower looked brand new, and the asking price was half the mower's value. (Doc. 128-2 at 29:4-23.) Stalls's research reflected that the mower had been reported stolen by the RPD. (Id. at 30:3-6.) Stalls then called his stepmother, Anita Holder -- who is White's mother and a former GPD police officer, including interim chief of police (and incidentally White's proposed expert witness) -- for guidance. (Id. at 30:8-9; Doc. 111-2 ¶¶ 7-10.) Holder told Stalls to confront White about the mower, which Stalls did via text message and a phone conversation on September 19. (Docs. 128-2 at 30:11-31:5; 128-3 ¶¶ 7-9.)

On October 7, Hampshire received a call from a couple, the Terrys, who reported they had recently bought a mower from White and who expressed concern about the possibility it had been stolen earlier from Scott's Tractor. (Doc. 140-3 at 1.) On November 2, Hampshire went to the GCSO to meet Wilkins, who had been directed by his supervisor to assist, so the two of them could investigate by conducting a “knock and talk” at White's house. (Id. at 2; Doc. 128-7 ¶ 12.) Upon arriving at White's house, Hampshire and Wilkins knocked on the front door, but no one answered. (Doc. 140-2 at 79:14-18.) Hampshire testified that he noticed cobwebs on the front door and believed it “[did] not look like the primary way they go in and out of the house, ” so he saw the open garage


door and what he viewed as a “clear path” to another door to the house that was “well used, ” knocked on that door, and again no one answered. (Id. at 79:18-80:14.) He pushed what he thought was a doorbell, only to learn it was a garage door button, so he pushed it again to maintain the open garage door, left his business card on the door inside the garage, and left. (Id.) During this time, Wilkins stayed on the driveway and did not enter the garage. (Id. at 134:18-22.) According to White and his wife, Christina, the Whites do not ordinarily use the garage door to enter or exit their home. (Docs. 151-1 at 110:23-24; 151-2 at 77:3-6.)

Prior to going to White's house for the knock and talk, Hampshire learned that White was a GPD police officer. (Docs. 140-2 at 18:3-9; 140-9 at 27:16-28:22.) Hampshire later spoke with Coates, his supervisor, who advised him to contact the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (“SBI”) and GPD's Professional Standards Division. (Doc. 140-2 at 18:3-9.) The SBI was contacted because it is standard practice for the SBI to be involved when a police officer is the suspect in an investigation. (Doc. 140-8 at 170:5-171:3.) Hampshire contacted SBI Agent Destinie Denny, who had worked with the RPD in the past. (Id. at 21:15-22:10.)

Following an investigation, Hampshire several months later applied for and obtained a warrant from a magistrate to search two of White's residences on March 5, 2017. (Doc. 140-12.) Also on


March 5, the investigating agencies[2] informed GPD Chief Wayne Scott that they had probable cause to arrest White for felony possession of stolen property and felony obtaining property by false pretenses, that the agencies were in the process of obtaining search warrants for White's residences, and that they planned to arrest White on March 6. (Doc. 103-1 ¶ 9.) The investigating agencies had updated Scott during their investigation, and GPD's Professional Standards Division was also investigating White's possible involvement in the mower thefts. (Id. ¶ 6.) Scott agreed that the agencies had probable cause to arrest White and decided to terminate White's employment with GPD. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.)

On the morning of March 6, Hampshire conducted a briefing at SBI's Greensboro office prior to executing the search warrants. Present were members from the SBI, Burlington Police Department (“BPD”), GCSO, and the Randolph County Sheriff's Office. (Doc. 140-13 at 1.) Hampshire had prepared an operations plan, which was reviewed by his supervisor Coates, outlining the execution of the search warrants. (Docs. 140-2 at 89:19-23; 139.) Also that morning, White was arrested at work, charged with various crimes, and his employment with GPD was terminated as a result. (Doc. 103-1 ¶¶ 18-19.)

At about 8:00 a.m., the RPD and SBI executed the search


warrant at White's primary residence. Present at the start of the search were two agents from the RPD, including Hampshire as the officer in charge, and two agents from the SBI. (Doc. 139 at 7.) Detective Victoria Underwood of the BPD was present as a BPD liaison officer because the BPD was conducting a simultaneous arrest of Strickland as a result of its investigation into the theft at another seller, Quality Equipment. (Docs. 127-14 ¶¶ 5-6; 140-2 at 140:11-14.) GCSO Deputy Amanda Fleming was present as a GCSO liaison officer because White's house was in Guilford County. (Docs. 139 at 7; 140-2 at 136:12-137:21.) Other officers arrived during the search, including RPD Chief Robert Hassell. (Doc. 140-2 at 91:25-92:4.)

When the officers arrived at White's house, the only persons present in the home were Christina White, the Whites' daughter, and Anita Holder, White's mother. (Doc. 137-7 at 7:23-8:10.) Hampshire allowed Holder to leave with the Whites' daughter. (Id.; Doc. 140-2 at 95:22-96:9.) The search officers proceeded to search the residence. They discovered a John Deere Gator and trailer in White's garage. The Gator was reported as stolen from Wake County, North Carolina, in November 2016. (Doc. 140-13 at 2, 11.) The officers were unable to find a VIN for the trailer, which appeared to have been scratched off. (Id.) Both the Gator and trailer were seized and towed to the RPD impound lot. (Id.)

Hampshire's operations plan directed that, upon discovery of


any GPD equipment or property, Hampshire was to notify RPD Lieutenant Coates, who would in turn notify the GPD to come to White's house to retrieve the property. (Docs. 139 at 11; 140-2 at 87:13-23.) And that is what happened. The investigating officers discovered GPD equipment at White's house, Hampshire notified Coates, and Coates notified the GPD to come to collect the property. (Docs. 139-1 at 3;...

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