Thursday, December 30, 2004
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department Detective Justin Revnell allegedly pushed his ex-girlfriend, during a drunken altercation on December 30, 2004.
When the Michigan State Police interviewed Detective Revnell's ex-girlfriend, she also told them about a domestic assault that had occurred a few months prior.
The victim informed the Michigan State Police that during the previous domestic assault, that Detective Revnell put her in a "head lock"....knocked her feet out from underneath her.... bent her arm behind her back....and pushed her face down into the floor.
Detective Justin Revnell was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and was suspended from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department, in January 2005.
Criminal charges against Detective Revnell were dropped, when the victim / witness failed to appear to testify at a March 2005 hearing....
....it appeared as though the victim / witness had vanished....
....According to Assistant State Attorney General Erin House, the victim's / witnesses's disappearance was "Concerning....she's taken steps that go well beyond what a domestic violence victim would normally do in a case like this... She stopped speaking to a lot of people that she's been close with over the years."
The Traverse City Record-Eagle disclosed that Grand Traverse Sheriff Scott Fewin spoke with the victim / witness in the case against Detective Revnell on three different occassions, after Revnell was charged with the assault...and before the victim / witness disappeared...AND THAT SHERIFF FEWIN WAS DETECTIVE REVNELL'S UNCLE.
Detective's case raises concerns over conflicts
Traverse City Record-Eagle
March 30, 2005
Say what you want about Julius Caesar, the guy understood public opinion.
When his wife, Pompeia, became entangled in an alleged sordid affair, he divorced her, telling his advisers that while there was no solid proof of her unfaithfulness "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion."
Fast forward a couple of millennia to Grand Traverse County, where an officeholder somewhat less exalted than emperor - the county sheriff - finds himself in a no-less-embarrassing situation.
Sheriff Scott Fewins is learning the hard way that it's not always good public service to employ a relative, in his case a nephew.
Justin Revnell, 26, is one of his uncle's detectives, and until he was accused of manhandling his ex-girlfriend he was a junior high school liaison officer. He apparently also has more than a passing familiarity with the grape.
The woman told authorities the detective, on one occasion, threw her to the ground during an argument and another time held her in a headlock. She also said his judgment was affected by his drinking. He was legally drunk when state police interviewed him shortly after the alleged incident.
He denied the accusations, saying she was having a difficult time dealing with their breakup.
Fewins, showing a judgment lapse of his own, spoke directly with the woman about her allegations against his nephew. It was an odd situation for the sheriff to allow himself to be placed. Here the sheriff-uncle of the detective-nephew was talking with the ex-girlfriend-accuser of the detective-nephew. Talk about conflict.
Whatever else they talked about, Fewins said that during their three conversations, the woman said she would not testify or make a complaint against Revnell.
Interestingly, that's exactly how the case concluded.
The woman disappeared. Dust to the wind.
The investigative prowess of law enforcement was useless against the wile of a 26-year-old alleged abuse victim.
Not to worry, though, the public was assured there had been an exhaustive search. But because it was fruitless, charges against the sheriff's nephew would have to be dropped. After all, without a witness what could be done?
The whole affair does nothing to instill confidence in the county's legal system, still recuperating from a couple of body blows to its judiciary.
The sheriff should have stayed out of the case against his nephew. It should have been entirely turned over to the state police and the state attorney general's office for a full investigation and detailed report to the people.
"Above suspicion" applies to cops as well as emperors' wives.
Assault charge against detective dropped after witness vanishes
Revnell will be back to work on Monday
By BILL O'BRIEN
Record-Eagle staff writer
March 11, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY - Instead of sitting in a courtroom as a defendant next week, a Grand Traverse County sheriff's detective will be back on the job.
County prosecutors dismissed a misdemeanor domestic assault charge against Justin Revnell, a six-year officer and nephew of Sheriff Scott Fewins.
Revnell has been suspended without pay since mid-January, when prosecutors charged him with assaulting his live-in girlfriend.
Prosecutor Alan Schneider said he dismissed the case after consulting with Erin House, an assistant state attorney general who handles domestic violence cases in Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Antrim counties.
Prosecutors said their case fell apart when their primary witness, Revnell's 26-year-old ex-girlfriend, left the area and couldn't be located to testify at Revnell's trial that was expected to begin March 16.
House said the woman has taken "extraordinary" measures to avoid testifying in the case, and that authorities have been unable to locate her to serve a subpoena compelling her to testify.
"It's concerning ... because she's taken steps that go well beyond what a domestic violence victim would normally do in a case like this," House said. "She stopped speaking to a lot of people that she's been close with over the years."
Because domestic violence victims are sometimes uncooperative with investigators, prosecutors are allowed to use "hearsay" evidence such as 911 calls or previous statements made to police. But Schneider said there was insufficient "third-party" evidence to pursue the case.
"We were depending on the victim coming around," Schneider said. "She's just not going to come through."
Revnell, 26, was charged following a Dec. 30, early-morning complaint taken by Michigan State Police. The woman told troopers she was pushed to the ground after confronting Revnell about his alcohol use.
During that interview, she also told police she was assaulted a few months earlier when Revnell put her in a "headlock" and knocked her feet from under her and put her face-down on the floor. That alleged incident prompted the charge.
Revnell told troopers there was no argument and denied the woman's accusations. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Schneider said there was no effort to deter his office from pursuing the case.
"I don't want anybody to think there's any pressure coming from somewhere else," he said. "He was charged rather ambitiously ... we tried everything we could to put this case together."
Fewins accused prosecutors of pursuing the case too aggressively. On Thursday he said he believed Revnell was charged because he was a police officer.
"Nobody else would have been charged, based on what I saw," Fewins said. "I never felt charges were justified."
"The facts of this case are similar to facts we charge on everyday," she said. "If it was unfounded, we never would have charged him."
House said the woman also may have been influenced by the media attention to the case, and by members of Revnell's family.
"I know she talked with them about what could happen to (Revnell)," she said.
House also said the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the charge could be re-filed if the woman is found.
Revnell's attorney, Clarence Gomery, said his client and family had nothing to do with the woman's disappearance.
"My client or myself have no knowledge as to her whereabouts, or her reasons for lack of contact (with prosecutors)," Gomery said.
A police report indicated that when troopers interviewed Revnell, a preliminary breath test indicated his blood alcohol level was .08 percent - legally intoxicated in Michigan.
Revnell underwent an alcohol assessment after being charged, Fewins said, and has taken daily breath tests over the past two months but hasn't been ordered to attend alcohol counseling. The sheriff said he's satisfied Revnell does not have an alcohol problem.
"Absolutely," Fewins said. "I would be shocked if he had a drink in the last 60 days."
Fewins said Revnell will be reimbursed for almost two months of back pay and will be assigned to the department's detective bureau upon his return to work Monday.
Revnell had worked as a school liaison officer at Traverse City West Junior High School but won't return for now; the current school officer will finish out the year, Fewins said.
Officer's trial date set for March 16
He allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend
By IAN C. STOREY
Record-Eagle staff writer
February 5, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY - A trial date has been set for a Grand Traverse County sheriff's detective charged with assaulting his former girlfriend.
Justin Revnell, 26, has been scheduled for a jury trial in 86th District Court on March 16. He faces one count of misdemeanor domestic assault after he allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend at the couple's home a few months ago.
Revnell pleaded not guilty to the charge during his arraignment before Judge Thomas Phillips on Jan. 12.
State police took a complaint from Revnell's ex-girlfriend on Dec. 30 after she told police Revnell pushed her when she confronted him about his alcohol use. During the interview, the woman told police months earlier Revnell had put her in a "headlock" before knocking her feet out from under her, then pushed her face into the floor, prompting the misdemeanor assault charge.
The day after his arraignment, Revnell was removed from paid administrative leave and put on unpaid suspension from his post as a school liaison officer at Traverse City West Junior High.
"That is probably where this will stay until the criminal part of this is over," said Sheriff Scott Fewins, also Revnell's uncle, after the suspension. "Then we will close our internal investigation at that time and make a decision if there are any other sanctions that need to be imposed."
As a condition of bond, Phillips ordered Revnell to surrender his personal firearms, restricted him from contacting the alleged victim, and ordered him to submit to daily alcohol tests.
Jury selection is scheduled for March 14. If convicted, Revnell could face a maximum of 93 days in jail and fines.
Officer received on-job reproach
By IAN C. STOREY
Record-Eagle staff writerJanuary 28, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY - A supervisor raised concerns about the job performance and work habits of a Grand Traverse County Sheriff's detective recently charged with domestic assault.
Sheriff's Capt. David Meachum in March penned a six-page memo to Sheriff Scott Fewins outlining problems with Justin Revnell's performance as a school liaison officer at Traverse City West Junior High. Fewins is Revnell's uncle.
"This memo is rather lengthy," wrote Meachum. "However, the performance issues need to be documented to show that corrective behavior needs to occur."
Revnell, 26, is charged with misdemeanor domestic assault after his ex-girlfriend told police he put her in a "headlock" before knocking her feet out from underneath her. He also allegedly bent her arm behind her back and pushed her face down into the floor.
Revnell is suspended without pay and is scheduled for trial in district court in four to six weeks, court officials said. Meachum wrote last year that he received complaints from principals about Revnell's "visibility" and interaction with students at the school, and complaints that Revnell at times appeared less than "10 percent of the week" in early 2004.
If Revnell regains his job, school officials want to be consulted before he returns as a liaison officer, said Jayne Mohr, assistant superintendent with Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Meachum also raised concern about Revnell's time management and paperwork, finding that he failed to file daily activity reports 29 times in January and February.
According to Meachum's report, Revnell also failed to adequately investigate a criminal sexual conduct incident.
Revnell's personnel file shows that during his five years as a deputy he received one commendation and two positive citizen contact letters, but also was "counseled" three times, including once for not showing up for an assigned overtime shift.
In a performance evaluation in May, Meachum reported that although improvement had been made since March, including better reviews from school principals, Revnell still needed improvement in handling "mundane, everyday cases."
Detective off job without any pay
Sheriff Fewins' nephew facing assault charges
By IAN C. STOREY
Record-Eagle staff writer
January 15, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY - A Grand Traverse County Sheriff's detective charged with domestic assault is suspended without pay until his legal problems are resolved.
Sheriff Scott Fewins said Justin Revnell, 26, was removed from paid administrative leave and suspended on Thursday.
"That is probably where this will stay until the criminal part of this is over," said Fewins, who also is Revnell's uncle. "Then we will close our internal investigation at that time and make a decision if there are any other sanctions that need to be imposed."
Revnell, a liaison officer at a local junior high school, was arraigned in 86th District Court Wednesday on one misdemeanor charge of domestic assault for a Dec. 30 incident involving his ex-girlfriend at the couple's Barney Road home.
The crime is punishable by up to 93 days in jail and fines.
Revnell pleaded not guilty. As a condition of bond, Judge Thomas Phillips instructed him to surrender his personal firearms, restricted him from contacting the alleged victim, and ordered him to submit to daily alcohol tests.
"Other officers have continued to work (while being charged with crimes)," said Fewins. "We just decided that is not the way we are going to do it."
A Michigan State Police report stated that the alleged victim told troopers she and Revnell had an altercation early Dec. 30 when Revnell allegedly pushed her to the ground after she confronted him about his alcohol use.
A breath test performed by troopers just before 6 a.m. found Revnell's blood alcohol to be .08.
The woman also told police Revnell allegedly assaulted her months ago when he put her in a headlock and forced her to the ground.
If convicted, under state law Revnell could carry a firearm once cleared by the courts, but under federal law he would not be able to carry a handgun because of a conviction.
Detective pleads innocent to domestic assault charge
Judge orders his personal weapons seized
By IAN C. STOREY
Traverse City Record Eagle
January 13, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY - A Grand Traverse County Sheriff's detective pleaded not guilty to a charge he assaulted his former girlfriend.
Justin Joe Revnell, 26, appeared before 86th District Court Judge Thomas Phillips Wednesday on one charge of domestic assault stemming from alleged incidents with a woman at a Barney Road residence.
The misdemeanor is punishable up to 93 days in jail and fines.Revnell, a police liaison officer at Traverse City West Junior High, was placed on paidadministrative leave Monday by Sheriff Scott Fewins, Revnell's uncle.
Revnell's attorney, James Hunt, and state attorney general special Prosecutor Erin House argued over the conditions of Revnell's bond, including whether he could continue to possess personal firearms.
Revnell's service handgun and identification were taken by Fewins after Revnell was placed on leave. Hunt argued that Revnell's personal firearms posed no threat to the victim, but Phillips ordered the weapons seized.
"I think requiring someone (being charged with assault) not to have firearms is appropriate," said Phillips.
Phillips said if Revnell is reinstated by the sheriff's office, he will be able to carry a firearm during working hours only, surrendering it after his shifts are done.
Phillips also set a $500 personal recognizance bond for Revnell, and included a no-contact condition with the victim and daily blood alcohol tests.
A complaint taken by the Michigan State Police said the victim told officers the two had an altercation early Dec. 30 when Revnell allegedly pushed her to the ground after she confronted him about his alcohol use.
The woman called 911 and left the house before being interviewed by troopers at the county jail.
When police contacted Revnell at the home hours later, he denied he had a verbal argument or assaulted the woman and said he did not have a problem with alcohol.
But a breath test performed on Revnell by troopers just before 6 a.m. found his blood alcohol to be .08, the state's legal limit for public intoxication.
The woman also told police Revnell allegedly assaulted her months ago when he put her in a "headlock" before knocking her feet out from underneath her and pushing her face down into the floor.
Detective to be charged with assault
Sheriff's nephew admits drinking, denies attack
Traverse City Record Eagle, MI
January 11, 2005
By IAN C. STOREYRecord-Eagle staff writer
TRAVERSE CITY - A Grand Traverse County detective who's also the nephew of Sheriff Scott Fewins faces criminal charges for allegedly assaulting a woman while intoxicated.
Justin Revnell, 26, a police liaison officer at Traverse City West Junior High, is charged with one count of domestic assault, a misdemeanor punishable up to 93 days in jail.
"He could be arraigned as early as Wednesday," said county Prosecutor Alan Schneider.
Fewins said he was contacted by the prosecutor's office on Monday and immediately placed Revnell on indefinite paid, administrative leave.
Fewins said his nephew has admitted to drinking in excess at times, but denied the assault claims.
An internal investigation likely will be conducted by the head of the detective's bureau. A complaint taken by the Michigan State Police states that Revnell's former girlfriend told officers the two had an altercation early Dec. 30. Revnell allegedly shoved her to the ground after she confronted him about his alcohol use.
The woman told police she arrived at the couple's Barney Road home that night just after midnight, but couldn't find Revnell, according to a police report.
Later, she said she found Revnell, 26, drinking at a Long Lake Township bar and offered to drive him home, but he refused. Revnell later contacted her by phone and told her he was driving home but didn't want to talk, the report stated.
After he arrived, the woman attempted to talk to Revnell about his drinking before he allegedly grabbed her and threw her to the ground, she told police.
The woman called 911 and left the house before being interviewed by troopers at the county jail. At 5:20 a.m. on Dec. 30, police contacted Revnell at his home. Revnell denied he had a verbal argument or assaulted the woman, and stated she was having "difficulty with the relationship ending."
Revnell did not return messages left for him at West Junior High.
During the interview on Dec. 30, Revnell also allegedly denied to officers that he had an alcohol problem and that he hadn't been intoxicated during the incident. But a breath test performed on Revnell just before 6 a.m. found his blood-alcohol to be .08, the state's legal limit for public intoxication.
The woman also told police that Revnell allegedly assaulted her three to four months ago when he put her in a "head lock" before knocking her feet out from underneath her. He also allegedly bent her arm behind her back and pushed her face down into the floor.
Fewins said Revnell was placed on administrative leave around noon on Monday. "Whenever someone is put on leave, I take their ID, weapon, and we take them home. Being out on leave is normally not too long before it would realize reinstatement or suspension," he said.
Fewins said the girlfriend contacted him three times since the incident and told him she never considered herself a victim and would not testify or make a complaint.
"We were awaiting what the prosecutor would do and I did not anticipate the prosecutor would file a complaint," said Fewins, who said he did not try to sway the victim from pursuing charges.
According to a report, the woman told police Revnell often drove intoxicated and that drinking was affecting his life and prompting him to call in sick for work.
"Obviously, this is not a good day for the sheriff personally and for the whole department," said Fewins. "It is not the kind of thing I like to see happen, but it needs to be brought out. It will work out. I have faith in the court system."
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Michigan State Trooper Richard Dettling was charged with aggravated domestic violence.
Pushing incident results in charges against trooper
The Houghton Lake Resorter
January 13, 2005
A Michigan State Police trooper from the Houghton Lake post was arraigned in 83rd District Court Jan. 6 on one count of aggravated domestic violence.
Clare County Prosecutor Norman Gage was appointed to review the case and authorized the warrant on the misdemeanor.
Richard R. Dettling, 29, Houghton Lake, is accused of pushing his girlfriend and her friend in an early morning incident Dec. 21, 2004, at the girlfriend's Denton Township residence.
According to her statement in a Roscommon County Sheriff's report, the girlfriend said Dettling arrived at her home at about 3:15 a.m. "very intoxicated." She said he asked her if she wanted to talk, but then "went to the floor." Thinking he was asleep, the women laughed at his behavior, she said.
He got up and went to another room, she said, and when he came out he was agitated. She said he pushed her into the wall and when she regained her balance he did it again, uttering derogatory remarks. He demanded his coat, she said, which her friend gave him, and he threw her as well.
After she told her friend to call 911, she said in the report, Dettling sat in a chair and said, "I'll wait here."
When questioned by deputies, Dettling said he was attempting to put his boots on to leave and when his girlfriend approached him pulling and pushing him he pushed her away and when her friend gave him his coat he pushed her away. However, he declined to speak further when questioned separately outside the home.
According to the report, the girlfriend complained of a sore right elbow, but refused medical treatment; the other victim had no visible marks. A few days after the incidentthe two women requested any charges be dropped.
Dettling appeared in 83rd District Court and was released on $2,000 personal recognizance bond. 1st Lt. Patrick Boyd, commander of the Houghton Lake post, said there will be an internal affairs investigation conducted by the Michigan State Police. At this time, the trooper has no restrictions in his work duties.
Regional policing plan adds troops to Post
At midnight on Oct. 30, the new regional policing plan adopted by the Michigan State Police was in full effect, including changes at the Houghton Lake Post.
On Oct. 16, the area covered by the Houghton Lake State Police Post (now known as Post 72) expanded from Roscommon and Crawford counties to include Missaukee and Kalkaska counties. The former Kalkaska Post is now a detachment of Post 72.
Manpower at the Houghton Lake Post now includes Post Commander 1st Lt. David Street, five uniform sergeants, two detective sergeants, 24 troopers and one motor carrier officer. Former Houghton Lake troopers Michael Vranish, Janice Watson and Richard Dettling were assigned to other posts, as well as Sgt. Kraig Britvec, who now works at the West Branch Post.
Six troopers and two sergeants transferred out of the former Kalkaska Post, and 11 troopers, two uniformed sergeants and a detective sergeant have been re-assigned to the Houghton Lake Post. Street said that two more uniformed sergeants are due to be assigned to Houghton Lake “within the next few months.”
“This whole process has really gone very smoothly,” said Street, whose Houghton Lake Post is one of 29 posts left in the state after the reorganization. “With the cooperation of our agency, we expect to provide enhanced service,” he said, adding that four of the six uniformed sergeants assigned to the post will be road sergeants who can “lend experience to investigations.”
“I think we’ll be able to demonstrate this regional policing plan will be effective,” said Street, “we’re doing this to be more effective as an agency. The key is for everyone to remember that it takes time to make these kind of changes. We just have to be patient and it will all work out. If we have to modify part of the plan, we’ll do so.”
[MI POLICE OFFICER INVOLVED PERPETRATED DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAW ENFORCEMENT MURDER SUICIDE]
Officer Joanne Buiwitt-Shafer arrested for domestic violence
Assault charges lead to officer's firing
Longtime Ann Arbor cop denies beating her boyfriend outside bar in November
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
BY AMALIE NASH
The Ann Arbor News
A veteran Ann Arbor police officer has been fired from her job after she was charged with severely beating her boyfriend and stealing his cell phone after leaving a bar on the west side of the state.
Joanne Buiwitt-Shafer, 39, was charged in a warrant with aggravated domestic violence and larceny less than $200 and will go to trial on the charges Jan. 25.
Buiwitt-Shafer, who was employed at the Ann Arbor Police Department for nearly 17 years, on Tuesday called the case "an alleged incident" and said she believed she would be vindicated in court.
"I will have my day in court," Buiwitt-Shafer said. "It's too bad the city had to render a decision before I had my day in court."
Police Chief Daniel Oates said Buiwitt-Shafer was placed on paid administrative leave following the Nov. 14 incident in Vicksburg, near Kalamazoo, and was fired Dec. 21 after an internal investigation. Oates said he could not elaborate on the department's investigation.
"I think the actions of the department speak for itself," Oates said. "The conduct here is not acceptable for an Ann Arbor police officer."
According to police reports, the incident took place around 8 p.m. Nov. 14 in Vicksburg after Buiwitt-Shafer and a 48-year-old man identified in police reports as her boyfriend were at the Hide-Away Bar.
Reports say the victim said he became upset with Buiwitt-Shafer and left the bar after she lifted her top and exposed herself to other customers. He told police she found him, tried to get him into her car and then began punching and kicking him while dragging him toward the car, the reports said.
Buiwitt-Shafer told police that night that she was trying to get the man into her car, but could not explain his injuries, reports said. Police reports said the man had cuts and bruises, a bloody nose and complained of not being able to breathe because of soreness of his rib cage.
Buiwitt-Shafer said Tuesday that she was advised by her attorney not to discuss the case because it is pending, but that the police reports contain inaccurate information.
A witness told police that he was across the railroad tracks from the parking lot and saw a person lying on the ground and someone above that person kicking and punching him, reports said. The witness said he yelled at them to stop fighting, then ran to Buiwitt-Shafer's car, grabbed the keys to prevent her from leaving before police arrived, and went to a nearby party store to call 911, reports said.
Officer Christopher Owens said in his report that when he got to the scene, Buiwitt-Shafer yelled that the witness who was holding her keys had gotten into her car and stolen the keys and her purse. The witness was handcuffed for a short time and placed in a police cruiser after Buiwitt-Shafer accused him of stealing her purse, reports said.
Vicksburg Police Chief Mike Descheneau said that it was his officer's opinion after investigating the case that the witness had not stolen Buiwitt-Shafer's purse and he believes that was a diversion by Buiwitt-Shafer.
Kalamazoo County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Carrie Klein said she could not comment on that issue or any other aspects of the case while it is pending. The victim's cell phone was in Buiwitt-Shafer's vehicle, but it was unclear from reports when or how she was accused of taking it.
Ann Arbor Detective William Stanford, president of the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, would only say that the union is ensuring that the contractual rights of its officer are protected. "The process is continuing," he said.
Aggravated domestic violence, which requires a serious or aggravated injury less than great bodily harm, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The larceny charge is a 93-day misdemeanor.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
An OIDV victim's horror story at the hands of Detective Guy Picketts Jr [Calhoun SD]
December 16, 2004: Dispatcher Sonte Rounda Everson [Battle Creek PD] was sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, Officer Doug Graham [also of the Battle Creek PD]. However, Sonte was afraid to report the incident, and did not report it for almost a year and only at the urging of her counselor.
September 2005: Dispatcher Everson reported the December assault to Detective Guy Picketts [Calhoun SD], who failed to properly investigate her complaint.
August 16, 2006: Everson filed a complaint against Pickett for his failure to properly investigate her complaint.
August 22, 2006: Detective Picketts had Everson charged and arrested for filing a false police report [December 16, 2004 assault].
May 2007: At a court hearing, the charges for filing a false police report against Everson were dropped.
May 2007: As Everson was leaving the courthouse from having the charges dropped, Detective Pickett had her re-charged and re-arrested on new charges for filing a false police report.
February 2008: Charges of filing a false police report were once again dismissed against Everson.
August 12, 2012: Everson won a $1,000,000 lawsuit for the retaliation she was subjected to at the hands of Detective Guy Picketts.
"This has been a long ordeal. To survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, know that you have the right to stand up for your life, no matter who the perpetrator is. Justice will eventually prevail." Sonte Rolina Everson.
Former Battle Creek Dispatcher Awarded $1.1 Million in Civil Rights Case
August 29, 2012
Topic: Nacht Law in the News
Sonte Rolinda Everson was awarded over $1 million by a federal jury in Grand Rapids on Monday evening. The jury found that Ms. Everson was arrested in retaliation for her criticisms of a former detective with the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department.
Ms. Everson worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the City of Battle Creek. She was arrested in both 2006 and 2007 following her criticisms of the detective's actions in response to her report of a sexual assault by a Battle Creek police officer. The jury found that the arrest was in retaliation for Ms. Everson's exercise of her First Amendment rights and that there was no support for the two arrests. The jury award included $300,000 in punitive damages as a deterrent against future retaliatory misconduct by other law enforcement officers.
Her lawyer, Jennifer Salvatore of Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker (NachtLaw) in Ann Arbor, stated "This verdict is such a vindication for Sonte. We always believed her and knew that once a jury had a chance to look at the evidence that they would understand that she was a victim of sexual assault and realize how wrong it was that she was arrested. But this is also a victory for others. This jury sent a message that no one is above the law. Sonte Everson spoke out against the police and was retaliated against for doing so. This is a victory for the First Amendment."
Ms. Everson responded to the verdict by saying: "I am grateful to God and my son and family who have stood by and believed in me. This has been a long ordeal. To survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, know that you have the right to stand up for your life, no matter who the perpetrator is. Justice will eventually prevail."
Jury awards former Battle Creek dispatcher $1 million in lawsuit involving Calhoun County Sheriff's Department
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 3:16 PM
Updated: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 5:12 PM
The Kalamazoo Gazette
GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Sonte Rolinda Everson, who was twice arrested and accused of filing a false police report against her former boyfriend,won a $1 million judgment Monday from a jury who determined her arrests were in retaliation for her criticisms of a former detective with the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department.
The judgment is against the estate of the former detective, Guy Picketts Jr., who has since died. The county will be responsible for the judgment, said Jennifer Salvatore, Everson's lawyer.
Attempts to reach Calhoun County officials for comment, including whether they will appeal the judgment, were unsuccessful Tuesday.
According to court documents, Everson, who worked as a 911 dispatcher for the City of Battle Creek, in October 2005 filed a police report accusing her former boyfriend, a Battle Creek police officer, of a sexual assault that she alleged occurred 10 months earlier.
The complaint was investigated by Picketts. Based on his report, the Branch County prosecutor -- who was handling to matter to avoid conflict of interest -- declined to issue charges, according to court documents.
Everson complained to colleagues in law enforcement about Picketts' investigation. In 2006, she was arrested by the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department and charged with filing a false police report.
In May 2007, the charge against Everson was dismissed by a Calhoun County Circuit Court judge for lack of evidence. As Everson was leaving the courthouse following that ruling, she was rearrested on the same charge and booked in the Calhoun County Jail.
The second case was sent to the Kalamazoo County prosecutor, who dismissed the case in February 2008, according to court documents.
During the two years that the criminal charges were pending, Everson was on administrative leave. She left her employment with the city in 2008 because of the arrests, Salvatore said.
The civil trial was held in federal court in Grand Rapids. The jury found that the arrest was in retaliation for the exercise of her First Amendment rights and that there was no support for the two arrests. The jury award included $300,000 in punitive damages as a deterrent against future retaliatory misconduct by other law enforcement officers.
Salvatore called the verdict "a vindication for Sonte. We always believed her and knew that once a jury had a chance to look at the evidence that they would understand that she was a victim of sexual assault and realize how wrong it was that she was arrested. But this is also a victory for others. This jury sent a message that no one is above the law. Sonte Everson spoke out against the police and was retaliated against for doing so. This is a victory for the First Amendment."
Everson said she was grateful to God and to her family "who have stood by and believed in me. This has been a long ordeal. To survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, know that you have the right to stand up for your life, no matter who the perpetrator is. Justice will eventually prevail."
Jury gives ex-BC 911 dispatcher $1m
Federal jury sides with woman over her arrests
Updated: Tuesday, 21 Aug 2012, 5:55 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 21 Aug 2012, 1:02 PM EDT
WOOD TV News
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A former 911 dispatcher for the City of Battle Creek was awarded $1 million by a jury in a federal courtroom after they found she was arrested because she criticized a detective with the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department.
Sonte Rolinda Everson filed a report that she was sexually assaulted by a Battle Creek police officer, who, at the time, was her live-in boyfriend.
Calhoun County Detective Guy Picketts investigated the case and turned over his findings to the Branch County prosecutor's office. They determined there was insufficient evidence to convict the man on sexual assault charges and declined to bring charges.
She was later arrested in both 2006 and 2007 for filing a false police report. She brought suit and claimed she was arrested after she criticized Picketts' actions about her report.
In a Grand Rapids federal court, the jury found Everson was arrested in retaliation for her comments and that there was no support for her arrests.
In the intervening years, Picketts died.
The jury awarded her $1 million, including $300,000 in punitive damages, to be paid by the estate of Detective Picketts.
In a statement released by her attorney Jennifer Salvatore, Everson said: "I am grateful to God and my son and family who have stood by and believed in me. This has been a long ordeal. To survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, know that you have the right to stand up for your life, no matter who the perpetrator is. Justice will eventually prevail."
Linda Everson, Named As "Linda (Sonte) Everson," Aka Sonte v. Calhoun County, et al
Cole, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 11a0053n.06
BEFORE: BOGGS, COLE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.
In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for First Amendment retaliation, Defendant-Appellant Gary Picketts appeals on qualified immunity grounds the district court's order granting in part and denying in part his motion to dismiss and alternative motion for summary judgment.*fn1 For the following reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.
A. Factual History
1. The Police Report & Initial Investigation of Graham In September 2005, Plaintiff-Appellee Linda Everson reported to the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office that, on December 16, 2004, her then-boyfriend Officer Doug Graham of the Battle Creek Police Department forcibly sodomized her during an otherwise-consensual sexual encounter. She stated that she had broken up with Graham and, unsure how to proceed, confided in friends, a counselor, and her physician about the sexual assault before finally deciding to file a police report.
Calhoun County Detective Guy Picketts handled the investigation into Graham's conduct. He interviewed Everson; several of Everson's friends and coworkers in the police department, all of whom confirmed that Everson reported being sexually assaulted by Graham; and Everson's doctor. He also interviewed Graham, who denied that the sodomy occurred and suggested that Everson filed the report out of spite when she found out that he was marrying another woman. Picketts interviewed Everson's friend Sheri Lemonious as well. Although Picketts reported in 2005 that Lemonious said Everson described the sodomy as consensual, Lemonious attested in 2009 that she told Picketts the opposite. Everson alleges that Picketts failed to interview several important witnesses during his investigation.
Picketts submitted a report of his investigation to the Calhoun County Prosecutor's Office, which recused itself on conflict-of-interest grounds. In January 2006, the Branch County prosecutor reviewed Picketts's report and declined to prosecute Graham for sexual assault.
2. Everson's Speech
Upset by the decision not to prosecute, Everson publicly criticized Picketts loudly and repeatedly, accusing him of not doing his job and being "just part of the good ole boy system." She mentioned her complaints to colleagues in law enforcement, at least one of whom relayed her statements to Picketts. Everson also met with Picketts's boss on August 16, 2006, to initiate a formal complaint against Picketts and sent a letter to the Calhoun County prosecutor on August 31, 2006, asking him to take action about her concerns regarding Picketts's investigation of Graham.
3. Picketts's Investigation & Arrest of Everson
Picketts began documenting Everson's comments in a new investigative report-this time against Everson. On August 22, 2006, Picketts interviewed Ethel Fitzpatrick ("Mrs. Fitzpatrick"), Everson's former friend, who stated that Everson had told her that the sexual assault had never occurred. Picketts did not confront Everson about the allegations, and eight days later, he requested an arrest warrant for Everson for the felony of filing a false police report. Everson alleges that Picketts opened the investigation against her before he interviewed Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Everson also alleges that Picketts lied about the first time he met Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Keith Fitzpatrick ("Mr. Fitzpatrick"), Mrs. Fitzpatrick's husband, asserts that at some point Picketts came to their house, told them that he had a personal dispute with Everson, and spoke with Mrs. Fitzpatrick at length and in private. Mr. Fitzpatrick attested that he could not remember whether the in-home meeting took place before or after the August 22, 2006 interview. But he also stated that he had never seen Picketts before the in-home meeting, and both Fitzpatricks were present for the August 22, 2006 interview.
Calhoun County did not recuse itself from the case against Everson, but rather charged her with filing a false police report. After a preliminary hearing, the Michigan district court found probable cause that Everson had committed the crime and bound her over to the circuit court for trial. The circuit court quashed the bind-over and dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Everson was then rearrested on the same charges, and the case was transferred to Kalamazoo County. On February 1, 2008, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor dismissed all charges against Everson "in the best interests of justice."
B. Procedural History
Everson filed a complaint against Calhoun County, the prosecutor, and Picketts (collectively, "Defendants") under § 1983, alleging that their actions (1) violated her equal protection rights; and (2) constituted illegal retaliation for the lawful exercise of her First Amendment rights. In response, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. After oral argument, the district court issued an order (1) dismissing the equal protection claim; (2) dismissing the retaliation claim against the prosecutor on absolute prosecutorial immunity grounds; (3) denying the motion in all other respects as to Picketts; and (4) denying the motion in all other respects as to Calhoun County without prejudice to renewal of the motion after the close of all discovery. Picketts filed this appeal, alleging that the district court erred in failing to dismiss all claims against him on qualified immunity grounds.
A. Standard of Review
This court reviews a district court's denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds de novo. Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 742 (6th Cir. 2006). "We may only review the denial of qualified immunity to the extent that the 'appeal involves the abstract or pure legal issue of whether the facts alleged by the plaintiff constitute a violation of clearly established law.'" Dorsey v. Barber, 517 F.3d 389, 394 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Gregory, 444 F.3d at 742). The defendant must "be willing to concede the most favorable view of the facts to the plaintiff for purposes of the appeal." Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 370 (6th Cir. 2009).
In determining whether qualified immunity applies, this court employs a two-step test, considering (1) whether, viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to the injured party, a constitutional right has been violated; and (2) whether that right was clearly established. Dorsey v. Barber, 517 F.3d 389, 394 (6th Cir. 2008). We have discretion to undertake the steps in either order. Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S. Ct. 808, 818 (2009).
It is clearly established that "the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions, including criminal prosecutions, for speaking out." Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 256 (2006). To state a prima facie First Amendment retaliation claim, Everson must establish (1) protected speech; (2) injury as a result of defendant's actions; and (3) causation. See Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977).
Picketts first argues that Everson's allegations do not constitute a prima facie retaliation claim because they fail to establish a lack of probable cause, an element of causation. He is correct that § 1983 claims for retaliatory prosecution and arrest fail as a matter of law if the defendant had probable cause. See Hartman, 547 U.S. at 261-62 (Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution); Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 720 (6th Cir. 2006) (retaliatory arrest). Probable cause exists when an officer has reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that a suspect has committed a crime. Gardenhire v. Schubert, 205 F.3d 303, 315 (6th Cir. 2000). In determining whether probable cause existed in this case, we examine the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of the arresting officer at the time of the arrest. Parsons v. City of Pontiac, 533 F.3d 492, 501 (6th Cir. 2008). In § 1983 actions, the existence of probable cause is a jury question unless only one reasonable determination is possible. Id. (citing Fridley v. Horrighs, 291 F.3d 867, 872 (6th Cir. 2002)).
In this case, there are genuine disputes of material fact about whether Picketts intentionally changed Lemonious's statement in his report, spoke privately with Mrs. Fitzpatrick in her home at length before she gave her formal statement, and influenced the content of Mrs. Fitzpatrick's statement. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Everson, a reasonable jury could find that, at the time Picketts sought an arrest warrant for Everson, the information he had collected against her was not reasonably trustworthy. Because more than one reasonable determination as to probable cause is possible, it is therefore appropriate to allow the case to proceed to trial.
Picketts's argument that this court should accept the prosecutor's and state court's findings of probable cause as evidence that probable cause existed is inapposite. Because these probable cause determinations were based only on the evidence that Picketts included in his report-which did not describe the circumstances, as alleged by the plaintiff, surrounding Lemonious's and Mrs. Fitzpatrick's statements-we do not find them probative to the issue of whether Picketts had sufficient reasonably trustworthy information at the time of the arrest.
Picketts also contends that the district court's finding that genuine issues of material fact exist was erroneous because it relied on a series of unreasonable adverse inferences and omitted a number of relevant facts. But the "contention that the district court erred in finding a genuine issue of fact for trial is not the type of legal question which we may entertain on an interlocutory basis." Gregory, 444 F.3d at 743. Although this court has recognized an apparent exception "'where the trial court's determination that a fact is subject to reasonable dispute is blatantly and demonstrably false,'" Moldowan, 578 F.3d at 370 (quoting Wysong v. Heath, 260 F. App'x 848, 853 (6th Cir. 2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted), that exception does not apply here. The district court noted the following disputed facts, among others: (1) when Picketts opened his investigation into Everson; (2) whether Lemonious told Picketts that Everson said she had not been raped; and (3) when and how Mrs. Fitzpatrick surfaced as a witness. All of these facts are material to the existence of probable cause. These facts are also genuinely in dispute: each party answers these questions differently, each party's allegations of fact are supported by witness statements, and no objective evidence makes one party's allegations obviously false. Cf. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007) (finding no genuine dispute of material fact where video evidence blatantly contradicted the plaintiff's allegation that he was driving carefully). Because the district court's finding of genuine issues of material fact was not blatantly and demonstrably false, we lack jurisdiction to undertake further review in this regard.
For the reasons discussed above, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court denying Picketts's motion for summary judgment.
*fn1 Defendant Calhoun County appealed the district court's determination that it was not entitled to sovereign immunity, but withdrew its appeal of this issue at oral argument.