7th Circuit: Suit against Evansville, Kentucky police may proceed

A federal complaint alleging coercion, constitutional violations and falsification at the hands of Evansville and Kentucky police officers investigating a murder will continue after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined qualified immunity was not appropriate for certain claims against the officers.
In June 2012, Marcus Golike’s body was found on the banks of the Ohio River, and an autopsy determined he had died from strangulation. Evansville police detectives began questioning Golike’s foster nephew, William, who was with Golike the night before he died.   

A subsequent conversation with Golike’s brother revealed he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had threatened to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge over the Ohio River. But Kentucky and Evansville police officers requested that William come in for a police interview, during which he gave a consistent account of what had happened the night before Golike’s death — that the two had played chess, and Golike then left.
The officers accused William of being a liar, so he “confessed” that he and his sisters, Deadra and Andrea, were responsible for Golike’s death by punching and choking him to death, dumping his body in the river and using his debit card after the murder.

Deadra also “confessed” after undergoing a similar interrogation, and all three, including Andrea, were arrested based on those confession. But according to a Wednesday 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, the confessions were replete with evidence that could have been proven as inaccurate, and the siblings seemed to be guessing at answers to the officers’ questions until the officers seemed satisfied. Similarly, a summary report omitted a critical detail — a clerk at the store where the teens claimed to have used the debit card said she did not recall the teens coming into the store that night.

Andrea was eventually released, the charges against Deadra were dropped, and William was not found guilty of any of the charges against him.  The siblings then filed a federal complaint alleging constitutional and state-law violations at the hands of the state medical examiner, and Kentucky and Evansville police officers. The Indiana Southern District Court granted authorities summary judgment on all but four of those claims: the siblings’ Fourth Amendment claims against the officers who questioned them; their failure to intervene claims against the Evansville and Kentucky State police departments; Deadra and Williams’ malicious prosecution claims against EPD; and Deadra and William’s due process claims against the interrogating officers.  
In a Wednesday opinion, 7th Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood, taking the facts of the case in the light most favorable to the Hurts, agreed with the district court that there were material factual disputes precluding immunity on the false arrest claims and undermining even arguable probable cause to arrest them.  Similarly, because a trier of fact could reasonably determine the Evansville police defendants were aware of Fourth Amendment violations against the siblings, the denial of summary judgment on the failure to intervene claim was also proper, the chief judge wrote in William Hurt, Deadra Hurt and Andrea Hurt v. Matthew Wise, et al., 17-1771, -1777.

The appellate court then upheld denial of summary judgment on William’s malicious prosecution claims against EPD, finding the falsified police reports could have prolonged his prosecution. With respect to Deadra’s claim, however, the court found that William Arbaugh and Jason Pagett — two officers involved in the investigation — were entitled to qualified immunity because they allegedly falsified a report after her charges were dismissed.
Finally, the 7th Circuit determined William and Deadra did not suffer from a substantive due process deprivation through their interrogations, but the court did uphold the denial of summary judgment on their involuntary confessions claims. Specifically, the court found the officers had forced Deadra into an involuntary confession by telling her she would spend time in jail and would “hang” if she did not tell the truth. William received similar statements, and a trier of fact could find those statements to be threats, Wood wrote.

“Perhaps, as the officers argue in their briefs, a trier of fact might come to the opposite conclusion and think that they were pushing, but doing nothing that crossed a constitutional line,” Wood wrote. “It is not for us to resolve that question. It must await further proceedings.”

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