Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Ninth Circuit Revives Conspiracy Suit Against Sheriff’s Deputies
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated part of a lawsuit by a San Diego County woman who claims that her ex-boyfriend, a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy, conspired with another deputy to have her arrested in order to help him win custody of the couple’s children.
The panel reinstated claims by Michelle Cameron against San Diego County and Michelle Craig, a sheriff’s detective. Cameron sued under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, claiming the defendants violated her constitutional rights by trumping up a false charge of misuse of a credit card, then used excessive force in executing a search warrant.
Cameron, a former yoga instructor, said she began dating one of her students, Sheriff’s Deputy David Buether, in 2004. They moved in together, and she gave birth to their first child in 2006 and their second two years later.
She quit her job, she said, because the couple agreed she should stay home with the children. Having no income of her own, she claims, she frequently used Buether’s credit card for household expenses.
Not long after her second child was born, however, she said she learned that Buether was seeing other women, and the relationship soured. After two incidents of domestic violence, Buether obtained a “kick-out” order and she was removed from the house by sheriff’s deputies.
She claims she asked Buether what she was supposed to do without any belongings, and he said she should “do what you need to do.” She later moved in with a friend and used Buether’s credit card to purchase $9,000 in household items for herself and the children.
The couple went into mediation over custody issues, and Buether spent the night at Cameron’s house on a couple of occasions, but Cameron said she refused his request to reconcile. He then demanded she repay him for the furniture, but she refused.
Buether then filed a criminal complaint, claiming that an “unknown suspect” had used his credit card without permission. He told deputies that he thought Cameron might be responsible.
Craig was assigned to the case. After confirming that the items had been purchased online and shipped to Cameron’s residence, she obtained and executed a search warrant. Finding the items, she arrested Cameron.
Cameron claims the warrant was executed by Craig and six to 10 deputies, at 7 a.m., with guns drawn. She testified she was grabbed by the arms and shoulders and was bruised when she was roughly handcuffed, even though she did not threaten or endanger the deputies and did not resist arrest.
Buether notified the custody mediator that day of the arrest. Cameron told Craig, who had worked with Buether for several years, although they denied being social friends, that she believed she was authorized to use the card to purchase household items.
She was released from jail after five days. Prosecutors declined to file charges.
U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia granted summary judgment for the defendants, other than Buether, who did not join in the motions, and whose own motion for judgment on the pleadings was denied as moot.
Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., however, in his opinion for the Court of Appeals, said Cameron presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on her claims of excessive force and of a conspiracy between Buether and Craig.
Given the number of deputies, the time of day, the lack of resistance, and the fact that the alleged crime was non-violent, a reasonable jury could find that the force used was unreasonable, the appellate jurist said. As for the county’s claim that deputies had a reasonable fear that a roommate of Cameron’s, whom they could not immediately identify, constituted a threat, that is a jury question, Smith said.
The judge also said that a jury might infer that the manner in which the search was conducted, in light of the professional relationship between Craig and Buether, and Craig’s knowledge of the ongoing custody issues between Buether and Cameron, establishes that Craig and Buether were acting in concert to intimidate the plaintiff and skew the custody proceedings in the deputy’s favor.
Smith agreed with the district judge, however, that Cameron cannot sue for false arrest. While Craig’s conduct in the matter showed “at the very least a significant lack of professional judgment,” a reasonable magistrate could still have concluded that probable cause existed for the search, and thus to arrest Cameron once the purchased items were discovered.
The opinion was joined by Judge M. Margaret McKeown and by Judge Robert Holmes Bell, a visiting district judge from Michigan.
The case is Cameron v. Craig, 11-55927.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company