Court: Deputies may face personal liability in false-arrest case

July 1, 2016

Two Kosciusko County sheriff’s deputies may face personal liability stemming from a wrongful arrest and false imprisonment case, a federal judge has ruled.

Kosciusko deputies Floyd Knafel and Rick Shepherd are among many defendants Clifford Clevenger named in a civil rights lawsuit filed last year. Clevenger alleges he was falsely arrested, battered and wrongly jailed after he went to North Webster Elementary School to have lunch with his son. As a result of his arrest, Clevenger claims he was terminated from his employment of the prior seven years.

Clevenger was in the midst of a divorce from his wife who taught at the school in 2013, the year the arrest took place. A protective order had been issued against him, but that order had been rescinded by the court. His ex-wife also agreed to his request to have lunch with their son and confirmed this with school officials while Clevenger was in the office, according to the complaint.

Nevertheless, Clevenger’s complaint charges that school authorities forbid him to meet his son, and police refused to acknowledge the court order he provided them that showed the protective order had been voided.  

“At this point, plaintiff indicated he want[ed] to leave and got up from the chair. Officer Knafel then in a rude and angry manner, placing Plaintiff in fear, hit Plaintiff’s cell phone out of Plaintiff’s hand …” the complaint says. When Clevenger asked Knafel why he did so, the complaint said Knafel told him it was because Clevenger was going to be arrested. Clevenger was taken to jail and booked on suspicion of invasion of privacy and violation of a protective order, but those charges were soon dropped and he was released, according to the record.

Police “could have looked at the plaintiff’s ‘pink paperwork,’ contacted the court, but they did not, and therefore, lacked probable cause. …  Further, they failed to advise the Plaintiff of his Miranda rights,” the complaint asserts.

Knafel and Shepherd asked Chief Judge Philip Simon of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana to find they were immune from personal liability under state law because they were acting within the scope of their employment, and that the Indiana Tort Claims Act allows Clevenger to sue only their employer.

“Clevenger, for his part, says that he is arguing in the alternative – the deputies may or may not be immune, depending on the scope of their employment,” Simon wrote Tuesday. “As such, he believes his claims against the deputies should stand. … I agree with Clevenger.”

Simon denied Knafel’s and Shepherd’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings in an order issued Tuesday. He ruled Clevenger has an argument that the officers acted willfully and with wanton disregard for the law, conduct that would not be covered under the ITCA.

“Accepting all factual allegations as true, Clevenger told Knafel the protective order had been vacated, showed Knafel paperwork to that effect, and had his story corroborated by his wife — the very person who obtained the protective order against him. In response, Knafel told Clevenger that he was going to arrest him anyway, hit his phone out of his hand, and arrested him. Shepherd similarly ignored Clevenger’s explanations. That’s enough for Clevenger to plausibly claim that Knafel and Shepherd were aware their course of misconduct would result in probable injury to Clevenger, yet exhibited indifference to the consequences anyway — in other words, that they acted willfully and wantonly.  So I can’t find that his claims are per se barred here.    

“Clevenger has alleged enough to allow his claims against the officers to proceed to the next stage,” Simon wrote.



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