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Jones v. Drake

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

January 13, 2014

REUBEN CHARLES JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
W. T. DRAKE, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Reuben Charles Jones, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants, City of Roanoke Police Sergeant W. T. Drake ("Sgt. Drake") and Police Chief Chris Perkins ("Chief Perkins"), seeking a jury trial and monetary damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights.[1] Specifically, Jones alleges that Sgt. Drake arrested him without probable cause for misdemeanor trespass and misdemeanor aggressive solicitation. Jones bases his claim against both defendants on the fact that both criminal charges were dismissed for a lack of evidence. Jones claims that Chief Perkins is liable for his failure to adequately train Sgt. Drake. The parties' dispositive motions are now ripe.[2] Upon review of the record, I find that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and thus, I grant their motions for summary judgment on this ground and dismiss the action with prejudice.

Procedural Background

The parties have filed multiple pleadings, exhibits, rebuttals, and supplements in this action, all of which I have reviewed. Jones alleged in his original complaint two claims under § 1983. First, Jones asserts violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures when he claims that Sgt. Drake arrested him without probable cause on June 9, 2012 for trespass. Second, Jones contends that Chief Perkins is also liable for violating his constitutional rights relating to the trespass arrest for failing to adequately train Sgt. Drake.[3] The defendants answered (ECF No.37) and filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 41). Jones responded (ECF No. 46), and also filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, which I granted. Liberally construed, the amended complaint (ECF No. 50) supplements Jones' complaint with two additional § 1983 claims. Jones contends that Sgt. Drake violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause for aggressive solicitation and that Chief Perkins is likewise liable for this constitutional violation by failing to adequately train Sgt. Drake.[4] The parties have exhaustedly briefed the legal issues and supplemented the record with sworn statements and affidavits. All issues are now ripe and before the court for decision.

Undisputed Facts

The undisputed evidence of record shows that around noon on June 9, 2012, Sgt. Drake saw Jones standing in a grassy area immediately next to the exit ramp from Interstate 581 ("I-81") onto Elm Avenue, [5] holding a sign that read: "If Jesus was right here, would you help him? God bless you." There are two signs on the ramp, which face away from the traffic exiting from I-581, but which are visible from the intersection at Elm Avenue. The first sign reads "DO NOT ENTER" and, the second sign prohibits hitchhiking.[6] A third sign on the ramp faces traffic using the interstate and reads: "PROHIBITED PEDESTRIANS, BICYCLES, MOPEDS, ANIMALS, SELF-PROPELLED MACHINERY OR EQUIPMENT." Finally, a sign reading: "STATE PROPERTY NO TRESSPASSING" is mounted on the bottom of the Elm Avenue overpass immediately above the grassy area between the interstate and the exit ramp. Sgt. Drake, who had been a police officer for nine years, was aware that individuals often solicited money from passing vehicles in the area where Jones was standing. This practice violated the Roanoke City ordinance banning solicitation in certain locations. Sgt. Drake was also aware that there was a "no trespassing" sign in that area.

Sgt. Drake stopped when he saw Jones and spoke briefly with him. Sgt. Drake arrested Jones, placed him in handcuffs, and took him before the magistrate on charges of trespass and solicitation. The magistrate, based on information Sgt. Drake provided, issued two arrest warrants for Jones, charging him with trespass, in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-119, and "engaging in prohibited conduct in soliciting a contribution or donation of money or anything of value, " in violation of Roanoke City Code § 21-44.1. (ECF No. 46-3, pp. 1-2.) The trespass statute, Va. Code § 18.2-119, prohibits a person from going onto or remaining on land "after having been forbidden to do so by a sign" posted by an authorized person in a spot where it may reasonably be seen. Roanoke City Code § 21-44.1, entitled "Aggressive Solicitation and Sales, " prohibits, among other things, "request[ing] an immediate donation of money or other thing of value from another person.... by the spoken, written, or printed word, or by other means of communication.... [w]hile standing on or going into any street or highway, including medians, on ramps and exit ramps." § 21-44.1(a)(1) & (b)(6).[7]

Based on the warrants, Sgt. Drake transported Jones to the Roanoke City Jail, where he was detained, pending trial. On June 29, 2012, Jones appeared for trial with his public defender in the General District Court for the City of Roanoke. Sgt Drake testified that on June 9, 2012, he saw Jones standing near the "DO NOT ENTER" sign on the Elm Street exit ramp, holding up his cardboard message about Jesus. Sgt. Drake said he asked Jones what he was doing, and Jones replied that he was trying to make some money.[8]

On cross-examination, Sgt. Drake stated that Jones was standing on the shoulder of the exit ramp, not blocking traffic in any way and that the "DO NOT ENTER" sign was directed toward vehicles traveling on Elm Avenue and not to pedestrians. Sgt. Drake admitted that there was no "no trespassing" sign in the area where Jones was and that he had not observed Jones walking up to anyone for money. The Commonwealth did not put on any other evidence. Defense counsel moved to strike on grounds that the Commonwealth had not shown the elements of prohibited solicitation or trespass.

The judge granted the motion to strike as to both charges, noting that the Commonwealth had presented no evidence of signs prohibiting pedestrians from standing where Sgt. Drake found Jones. The judge remarked that Jones' conduct on June 9, 2012, presented a violation of another statute, Virginia Code § 46.2-808. This section recognizes that a person can be charged with a traffic violation for walking on any part of a controlled access highway where pedestrians are prohibited by a conspicuous sign.

The evidence submitted in support of the summary judgment motion also shows that in 2005 Sgt. Drake charged Jones under Va. Code § 46.2.118 for trespassing on the same exit ramp to Elm Avenue, for conduct similar to his actions at issue in this case. See Commonwealth v. Jones, Case No. GC05002091-00. On March 17, 2005, Sgt. Drake observed Jones standing partway down the exit ramp, in the same area where he was on June 9, 2012, holding a sign that read: "If Jesus was right here would you help him? God bless you." Sgt. Drake obtained a warrant for Jones' arrest on a charge of trespass on a state highway, in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-119, and on April 27, 2005, Jones was convicted in the General District Court of that trespass charge.

Defendants' evidence indicates that The City of Roanoke Police Department is nationally accredited and its policies and procedures conform to state laws and rules and regulations established by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Virginia State Police. The police department operates a police academy to train persons as police officers on probable cause, arrest procedures, citizens' constitutional rights, and misdemeanor statutes and codes. The department also conducts regular in-service training and legal updates on such issues for officers already on the job. Sgt. Drake graduated from the police academy and has attended in-service training regarding these subjects.

Discussion

A. Motion to ...


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