Williams v. City of Port Arthur, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:10-CV-823

Decision Date01 June 2012
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:10-CV-823
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

Pending before the court is Defendants City of Port Arthur, Texas (the "City"); Chief Mark Blanton ("Chief Blanton"); Officer Calvin Walker ("Walker"); Lieutenant Martin Blitch ("Blitch"); Major Dennis Odom ("Odom"); and Sergeant Ken Carona's ("Carona") (collectively, "Defendants") Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (#24). Defendants seek summary judgment as to Plaintiff Johnathan Williams's ("Williams") claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000h-6 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and state law. Having reviewed the pending motion, the submissions of the parties, the pleadings, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that the summary judgment motion should be granted.

I. Background1

On December 29, 2010, Williams, an African American who is a former police officer with the Port Arthur, Texas, Police Department (the "Department"), filed the instant lawsuit against Defendants after his employment was terminated through an indefinite suspension order issued on October 28, 2009. He asserts claims for race discrimination and retaliation as well as state law causes of action for assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; libel; slander; negligent supervision, training, and retention; tortious interference with a prospective business relationship; and violation of the Texas Whistleblower's Act ("TWA"). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Williams's original complaint on February 1, 2011. After obtaining leave of court, Williams amended his complaint on April 25, 2011, asserting many of the same causes of action.2

In his Amended Complaint, Williams appears to seek recovery under the following legal theories: employment discrimination (disparate treatment based on race) and retaliation in violation of Title VII; civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; procedural due process; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; slander; tortious interference with a business relationship; and violation of the TWA. He bases his claims on several incidents (detailed below) that allegedly occurred during his tenure as a Port Arthur police officer.

A. The Profanity Incident

First, in July 2008, Williams was reportedly suspended for five days after using profanity toward a citizen who physically assaulted him. A witness described Williams, who was off-duty at the time, as the initial aggressor. In his affidavit dated January 27, 2012, Chief Blanton stated that, during the investigation of this matter, it was revealed that Williams "struck the individual on the face and pull[ed] [out] his gun." At a Disciplinary Review Board ("DRB") hearing held August 3, 2009, Williams admitted fault for this incident and appeared to concede that the discipline was warranted, stating "[y]eah I messed up the first time, I did; I took that, I didn't lie to you. I came in here and told the truth just like I'm telling the truth in this DRB."

Nonetheless, Williams complains that, with regard to the Profanity Incident, he was treated differently than Joe Paul ("Paul"), a white Port Arthur police officer, who was not disciplined for his involvement in a "large biker gang fight." Williams claims that he informed Chief Blanton of Paul's actions but was told that: (1) only the incident involving Williams was being investigated by the Department because Williams's altercation was caught on video whereas Paul's was not; and (2) Williams "need not worry about other officers and how the Department investigates there [sic] misconduct." Contrary to these assertions, however, Chief Blanton testified that the Paul incident was investigated by the department, although no disciplinary action was taken. During that investigation, officers reviewed the video, which was inconclusive as to any wrongdoing on the part of Paul, a witness stated that Paul did not assault anyone, and the alleged victim refused to cooperate with the investigating officers.

B. The Beard Incident

In September 2008, Williams allegedly visited his family doctor regarding facial bumps caused by shaving. He was reportedly told to keep his beard neatly trimmed at a "length no longer than 3/4 inch"3 and was given a doctor's note excusing him from following the Department's policy requiring officers to be clean-shaven. According to Williams, his immediate supervisor, Blitch, required him to get a second opinion. After receiving the same recommendation, Blitch and Odom allegedly directed Williams to get a third opinion, warning him that if he failed to do so, he would face disciplinary action for disobeying a direct order. Williams contends that several unidentified white police officers were permitted to have beards and goatees without obtaining two doctor's excuses to prove they were unable to follow departmental policy. Defendants, however, insist that Williams was never disciplined for violating any such policy.

C. The Insurance Fraud Incident

Williams next avers that, in December 2008, after he accidentally slammed his thumb in the door of his patrol car, Blitch and Odom had Williams investigated for insurance fraud. Several officers reportedly were asked to give written statements concerning this matter. Williams does not allege any facts about the written statements or the results of the fraud investigation. Chief Blanton testified that Tommy Gibson, a black officer, made the fraud allegations against Williams and that, in any event, "Williams was not disciplined, in any way, relating to the incident where he injured his thumb on the door of his patrol car, or for any alleged insurance fraud." Consistentwith Chief Blanton's recollection, Williams later admitted the fraud investigation "didn't go anywhere."

Williams also asserts that, at an unspecified time, an unidentified white officer intentionally "shot up" his squad car and another unidentified white officer was banned from a fitness gym for spying on female patrons.4 Neither officer was disciplined or went before a DRB, according to Williams. In response to these averments, Chief Blanton stated in his affidavit:

I am unaware of any complaints regarding a white officer who shot up a police car, or a white officer that was kicked out of a gym for spying on female patrons and a related trespass warrant. I am aware of an incident in 1978 where a civilian shot and his bullet grazed my patrol car, which was investigated, and I was cleared of any wrongdoing. I am also aware of a civilian employee who was spying on females, and he was either fired, or give[n], and took, the opportunity to resign.
D. The Game Warden Incident

In January 2009, Williams was allegedly sent before a DRB for failing to place an arresting officer's name (the game warden) in a police report. According to Williams, it was not his duty to record the name of the arresting officer; rather, he claims it was an unidentified detective's responsibility. The detective, however, was reportedly not required to appear before a disciplinary review panel. In response, Chief Blanton testified that, although the Game Warden Incident was investigated, a "charge of neglect of duty [against Williams] was not sustained," and he was never disciplined for failing to place the game warden's name in a police report.

E. The Memorial High School Incident

On June 1, 2009, Officer Walker filed a departmental complaint against Williams for his actions during an off-duty job at Memorial High School in Port Arthur that day. According toWalker, after he and Williams broke up a fight between two sixteen-year-old students, the officers disagreed over the proper police protocol. At some point, Williams cursed and shoved Walker. Nonetheless, Williams maintains that Walker grabbed and shoved him as well as cursed several times at Williams by calling him a "young punk."

During the Department's investigation of this incident, several reports and statements were collected and interviews were conducted, revealing, among other things, that Memorial High School administrators were disturbed by Williams's behavior that day. After reviewing the investigator's report, on July 28, 2009, a disciplinary review panel unanimously recommended Williams's termination, noting in its memorandum: "in Officer Williams['s] statement he said that if Anger Management was suggested he would not attend because he stated he did not need it. To maintain his employment with this Police Department would be negligent supervision." The next day, Williams filed his own complaint against Walker arising out of the same incident at Memorial High School.

F. The August 3, 2009, DRB Hearing

A DRB hearing concerning the Memorial High School Incident was held on August 3, 2009. During his interview, Williams acknowledged that Walker placed his hand on Williams's shoulder on two separate occasions in an attempt to talk about how to handle the situation. He also admitted "to refusing to talk to Walker about [their disagreement], [and] cursing at and pushing Officer Walker, knocking him into a cart and into a wall." According to Chief Blanton, "Williams's version of events, . . . submitted in two separate statements written over [six] months apart, was . . . contradictory, [and] could not be satisfactorily explained in the August 3rd DRB interview." Curiously, Williams stated during this same hearing that he killed seven people in athree-day span while serving in the military in Afghanistan. Williams later admitted to Chief Blanton that he lied about having served in Afghanistan and about having taken any lives.

Regarding this hearing, Williams alleges that he did not receive...

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