Renee S. Williams, Bankruptcy Trustee (originally named as Seneca Thornton) Plaintiff-Appellee
Dean Mannis, Individually and in His Official Capacity Defendant-Appellant Arkansas Municipal League; Stuttgart Police Department; Mike Smith, Police Chief, Individually and in His Official Capacity; Steven Bobo, Deputy Police Chief, Individually and In His Official Capacity; City of Stuttgart; Arkansas County; Arkansas County Sheriffs Department; Alan Cheek, Sheriff, Individually and In His Official Capacity; Bobby Dumond, Individually and In His Official Capacity; Lloyd Pace, Individually and In His Official Capacity; Arkansas State Police; Scott Russell, Individually and In His Official Capacity Defendant's,
Submitted: March 13, 2018
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Pine Bluff
WOLLMAN, SHEPHERD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.
2014, Seneca Thornton was employed as a patrol officer by the
Stuttgart (Arkansas) Police Department. On August 19, 2014,
he was summoned into the Arkansas County (Arkansas)
prosecutor's office and informed that "audio and
video evidence" suggested that Thornton had purchased
Xanax illegally from a confidential informant. In spite of
this evidence, the prosecutor told him that because the
police chief "had a lot on his plate, " the
prosecution was willing to forego any charges if Thornton
would "just resign and turn in his badge . . . and he
would be free to go work somewhere else." Thornton
declined the invitation to resign and was eventually both
fired and charged in the Arkansas County Circuit Court with
purchasing Xanax from a confidential informant. At trial
Thornton was acquitted of all charges.
brought this action against the City of Stuttgart, the
Arkansas Municipal League, Arkansas County, three law
enforcement agencies, and several law enforcement officers
from the agencies involved in the investigation. Thornton
alleges that Appellant Dean Mannis and other law enforcement
defendants conspired to destroy Thornton professionally and
personally by framing him on knowingly false drug charges.
Thornton claims that the defendants were motivated by a
racial animus as he was the only African-American patrol
officer employed by the Stuttgart Police Department.
number of defendants were dismissed out of the case on motion
for various reasons, and eventually summary judgment was
sought by Mannis, the City of Stuttgart, Stuttgart Police
Department Chief of Police Mike Smith, Stuttgart Police
Department Deputy Police Chief Steven Bobo, and Arkansas
State Police Special Agent Scott Russell. The motion was
granted as to all defendants but Mannis. Mannis sought
summary judgment on theories of qualified immunity and state
statutory immunity. The district court denied Mannis's
motion in part and allowed to proceed a claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for deliberate conduct that shocks the conscience
and a state law claim for outrage.
jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal of a denial of
qualified immunity because it involves a question of law.
See Jackson v. Gutzmer, 866 F.3d 969, 975 (8th Cir.
2017) ("The pretrial denial of qualified immunity is an
appealable final order to the extent it turns on an issue of
law."). We have supplemental jurisdiction on the state
statutory immunity claim. See Trammell v. Wright,
2016 Ark. 147, 489 S.W.3d 636, 638 (Ark. 2016) (interlocutory
appeal of denial of immunity is allowed as "the right of
immunity from suit is effectively lost if a case is permitted
to go to trial"). We reverse.
the facts in a light most favorable to Thornton, the
non-moving party. Dean Mannis was a detective with the
Stuttgart Police Department. He also was the employer of a
housekeeper and erstwhile confidential informant, Jennifer
Carpenter. In March 2014, Carpenter told Mannis that she was
familiar with Thornton from his prior work at Wal-Mart and
that she knew he had been involved with illegal drugs three
or four years earlier. She intimated that she was willing to
see if Thornton would illegally purchase drugs from her.
Carpenter's motivation was plain: she was facing two
pending felony drug cases, and she wanted to help herself
out. Mannis's motivations are disputed, but he had
suspicions that Thornton was living beyond his apparent means
as a patrol officer.
days later, Carpenter told Mannis that she had received text
messages from Thornton asking for Xanax. Mannis helped
arrange a controlled sale, and on March 9, 2014, a meeting
took place between Carpenter and Thornton. Prior to the
meeting, Carpenter and the vehicle she was driving were
searched, and law enforcement confirmed that she was in
possession of Xanax. When Carpenter arrived at Thornton's
house, he was in the front yard talking to a neighbor.
Thornton walked over to the vehicle, opened the front
passenger door, stuck his head inside, and spoke to Carpenter
for a short time before she drove away. According to
Thornton, Carpenter said she was running low on gas and had
to leave. Following the encounter, Carpenter and the vehicle
were searched again, and no Xanax pills were found. Law
enforcement did not stop Thornton or make any attempt to
verify that he was in possession of the Xanax. Thornton
denies ever receiving Xanax from Carpenter.
after the initial encounter, Carpenter told Mannis that
Thornton was interested in buying more Xanax. After speaking
to Thornton on the phone, Carpenter and Thornton met at the
Wal-Mart parking lot on March 27, 2014. Thornton testified
that, during the phone call, Carpenter told him she was going
through some personal problems and that she wanted to talk to
him. Once again Carpenter was searched, given Xanax, and
dropped off at the store by law enforcement. A short time
later, Thornton arrived, and when Carpenter saw him, she
exited the store and got into his car. According to Thornton,
Carpenter told him she was shopping with a friend and needed
to go back into the store. She exited the vehicle and was
shortly thereafter searched, and no Xanax was found on her.
Thornton denies having received any Xanax, and he was never
searched or stopped by law enforcement. While efforts had
been made to obtain audio and video surveillance of the
alleged transaction, no usable evidence was obtained.
Thornton was summoned to the Arkansas County Attorney's
office, he met with prosecuting attorney Robert Dittrich who
informed him that he was the subject of a drug investigation.
Dittrich indicated the county was interested in resolving the
matter quietly and if he were willing to "quietly
resign, " they would see to it that they did not limit
his ability to work. Thornton refused to resign, and in early
September 2014, Mannis obtained an arrest warrant. Thornton
voluntarily surrendered as soon as he became aware of the
warrant. He was charged in Arkansas County Circuit Court with
obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, a felony; unlawful
use of a communication device, a felony; and possession of
alprazolam, a misdemeanor. Thornton was fired by the
Stuttgart Police Department the next day.
case was tried to a jury in January 2015. Neither felony
charge survived a motion for judgment of acquittal at the
close of the state's evidence. The jury deliberated for
only forty-four minutes before returning a not guilty verdict
on the remaining misdemeanor charge. Following the acquittal,
Thornton was rehired by the Stuttgart Police Department.
According to Thornton, after he was rehired, three
individuals approached ...