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Routon v. Overton

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 28, 2019



          Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge.

         Henry Eric Routon, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Routon alleges that the defendants, who are state and local government officials, violated his constitutional rights during separate incidents, in May 2014 and January 2018, when sheriffs deputies investigated and arrested Routon. The defendants named in the original complaint have filed motions to dismiss. Routon has responded to their motions, but has also filed an amended complaint. After review of the record, the court finds that the motions to dismiss are ripe for disposition as to that amended complaint. The court concludes that while many of Routon's claims must be dismissed, his Fourth Amendment claims and related state law claims against Defendants Dameron and Norton survive their motion to dismiss.

         I. Background.

         A. The Amended Complaint.

         Routon signed and dated his complaint on March 7, 2018, [1] and was granted the opportunity to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). In carrying out its obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) to accomplish service on the defendants, the court encountered some difficulties and required Routon to provide additional information. In the meantime, those defendants who had already waived service filed motions to dismiss on June 8, 2018. Routon then submitted his motion for leave to file a proposed amended complaint, signed and dated on June 28, 2018. Because Routon's amended complaint must be considered filed on that date, the court finds that it is proper under Rule 15(a)(1)(B) (authorizing amended complaint within twenty-one days after motion to dismiss is filed). Therefore, the court will grant the motion and direct the clerk to add the defendants newly named in the amended complaint to the docket. Routon omitted Jay Mason and Robbie Hodges from the list of defendants in the amended complaint, and his submissions as a whole also indicate that he has abandoned his claims against them.[2] Therefore, the court will dismiss them from the case.[3]

         B. The May 2014 Incidents.

         In May 2014, Routon shared a house with his fiance, Michelle Page, in Rocky Mount, Virginia. On the evening of May 6, 2014, Bryan Johnson and Chad Austin, deputies of the Franklin County Sheriffs Office ("FCSO"), arrived at that house in separate patrol cars after receiving a report of "suspicious activity." Am. Compl. Exh. A, ECF No. 47-2. They found Page sitting in the driver's seat of her car, with Routon standing beside the car. The deputies blocked the end of the driveway with their cars, separated the couple, and began talking to them. While Johnson was speaking to Page, Routon explained to Austin that he and Page were having a dispute, but he had called someone for a ride to his parents' house. Austin allowed Routon to start walking down, the street. After a few minutes, however, Austin's patrol car pulled up next to Routon, the deputy ordered Routon to empty his pockets and surrender his cell phone, frisked him, and then drove him back to the house. Austin said "he was detaining [Routon] for investigation because 'something' had been found on" Page. Am. Compl. 14, ECF No. 47-1.

         While Johnson was talking to Page, she told him that she had come to the car "to get away from Routon, because she knew that he wouldn't do anything out in the driveway." Am. Compl. Exh. A, ECF No. 47-2. She then "took a small baggie with a white substance in it from her bra and handed it to" Johnson, saying that she had "swiped it off the table as she came out of the house." Id. Michelle also told Johnson that Routon had taken a gun from her and hidden it in her car. After a search, they found a loaded .22 caliber handgun in the console, and Johnson secured it.

         The deputies later began to question Routon about the gun and who owned it, but he invoked his right to remain silent. At this point, Page was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of Johnson's patrol car, and Routon was handcuffed and placed in Austin's car. They remained in the vehicles for five and a half hours.

         Other deputies arrived-defendants Lyle, Hylton, Ingram and Shockley. Lyle and Shockley questioned Routon about the substance Johnson had found on Page, which Ingram field tested and identified as methamphetamine. Routon alleges that Page had earlier consumed methamphetamine in Johnson's presence and was "highly intoxicated." Am. Compl. at 18. Defendants Tyree, Straub, Newberry, and Willis, special agents with the Virginia Department of State Police ("VDSP") drove up, responding to a "meth lab" call from the dispatcher. Id. at 29. Defendants Peters, Naff, Angle, Waterman, Stiltner, and Shepard of the Boones Mill Fire-EMS-Franklin County Public Safety Company 7 all arrived in private vehicles, and other EMS defendants (Evans, Rorrer, and Ball) drove up in a fire engine tanker truck. They had been "dispatched to assist" in decontaminating Page and Routon who were suspected of "running a meth lab." Id. at 30. The officers' vehicles blocked traffic on the street, and the noise and flashing lights drew a crowd of curious neighbors.

         Johnson and another deputy, Joshua Mason, had Page execute a consent for a search of the house, despite her intoxicated state. That search was conducted just after midnight by deputies Hylton and Shockley, who did not have a search warrant.

         Around 1:00 a.m., Page was taken from the patrol car, uncuffed, and led away. Routon shortly heard her "screaming and crying," and then officers returned her to the patrol car, now dressed in a "Tyvek suit." Id. at 20. Austin let Routon out of the car and led him to an open, grassy area of the yard, uncuffed him, and ordered him to remove his clothes to be "decontaminated." Id. at 21. Ingram explained that someone would spray Routon's naked body, using the hose from the firetruck parked in the street. Routon refused to remove more than his shirt, because male and female neighbors were watching.[4] Austin and Ingram "slammed" Routon to the ground, "beat" and "punched" him, "ripped" his clothing and shoes off, "dragged [him] naked and forced [him] to stand in front of the firehose." Id. at 22. The high-pressure stream of water caused him pain, particularly when it struck his genitals.[5] Afterward, the deputies had him don a Tyvek suit and put him back in handcuffs in the patrol car.

         Routon was charged with four methamphetamine offenses. After a preliminary hearing in . June 2014, these charges were dismissed by the Franklin County General District Court. In July 2014, a Franklin County grand jury returned five felony indictments, charging Routon with conspiracy, manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of precursors to manufacture the drug, distribution of methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm as a felon. Court records online indicate that Routon pleaded guilty in Franklin County Circuit Court on January 29, 2015, to the charge of possession of a firearm as a felon, and the drug-related charges were dismissed on January 29, 2015.[6] After several continuances, Routon was sentenced on the firearm conviction on April 7, 2017.

         C. The January 2018 Incident.

         On January 19, 2018, Routon was staying in Room 106 of the Hometown Inn Motel in Rocky Mount, with a guest, Brittany Nichols. About 4:00 p.m., FCSO Deputies Dameron and Norton came to the door and asked for Nichols.[7] She went outside to talk to Norton, and Routon agreed to step outside to talk. When he did so, Dameron moved to block Routon from reentering the room.

         Dameron told Routon that before the deputies knocked on the motel room door, they had spoken to the motel owner, Mr. Patel, who verified for them that Routon's name was on the lease for Room 106.. Patel then allegedly gave his "permission" for the deputies to search Room 106. Id. at 41. Dameron said the deputies would search the room, but Routon refused to consent to a search. Dameron said he would bring a drug-sniffing dog and search the room if the dog alerted for drugs. When Routon demanded to reenter the room to get his cellphone to call his attorney, Dameron physically restrained him from doing so and checked Routon's pockets. The deputy said that Norton would get a search warrant for the room, but that Routon could not reenter because Dameron "smelled 'pot' on [him]." Id. at 37.

         "As [Routon] reentered the room" anyway, Dameron "immediately crossed the threshold .. . into the room and "tackled [Routon] to the floor." Id. Dameron was "punching" Routon on one side, and Norton was "kneeing" him on the other side "for several minutes." Id. r Face down, Routon was handcuffed behind his back, when Dameron "choked" him so that he could not breathe. Id. Dameron placed Routon in his patrol car. The deputies then entered Room 106 with Nichols, who was screaming and crying. Routon saw Norton leave the room and deposit something in her patrol car. Dameron attempted to question Routon about an item from the room, but Routon asked to speak to his attorney. While Norton was gone to get a search warrant, Dameron entered the room with Nichols, who allegedly showed him "a 'one pot' meth lab.'" Id. at 52. Dameron then telephoned Norton to tell her what details to put in the affidavit in support of the warrant application.

         Once Norton returned with a search warrant, she conducted a search of Room 106. No marijuana was discovered there. Because of the contraband that was found, officials contacted the VDSP, which dispatched unnamed members of a "clandestine methamphetamine laboratory clean up crew" to the motel room. Id. at 46. Unspecified members of the Boones Mill Company 7 also reported to assist. Dameron drove Routon to the Franklin County Jail, where he was allowed to decontaminate himself in a holding cell using disinfecting wipes.

         Warrants were obtained and served on Routon for assault on law enforcement, possession of a Schedule II drug, manufacture of methamphetamine, possession of paraphernalia, and obstruction of justice. See Am. Compl. Ex. G-2, ECF No. 47-3. Copies of the indictments that resulted from one or more of these charges are not in the record. State court records online indicate that two 2018 charges against Routon in Franklin County Circuit Court have been dismissed.

         D. Routon's Claims.

         Liberally construed, the amended complaint asserts the following claims:

1. On May 5-6, 2014, Johnson and Austin conspired to commit an unreasonable search and seizure of Routon's house, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
2. Lyle, Ingram, Austin, and Johnson used excessive force against Routon on May 5-6, 2014, by slamming him to the ground, beating him, ripping his clothes off, and spraying him with a high-powered fire hose, and allowed female onlookers to see him naked, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and the other defendants at the scene failed to intervene.[8]
3. Franklin County Sheriff Overton, Boones Mill Mayor Flora, Boones Mill Fire Chief Peters and the Fire Department itself, VDPS Superintendent Settle, and VDPS Colonel Flaherty are vicariously liable for the tortious actions of their ...

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