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King v. Darden

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 19, 2019

STEPHEN E. KING, Plaintiff,
KIMBERLY L. DARDEN, et ai., Defendants.


          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge

         In this § 1983 suit, the plaintiff, Stephen King, alleges that the defendants conspired to unlawfully arrest and prosecute him for engaging in election fraud by submitting false information in connection with his candidacy for sheriff. The defendants-Patricia Watson, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Greensville County and the City of Emporia, Virginia, and Special Agent Kimberly Darden of the Virginia State Police-have moved for summary judgment. Because King fails to establish all elements of his claims, the Court will grant the defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The events giving rise to this case began with the robbery of King's grocery store in Emporia, Virginia, in 2014. At the time of the robbery, King lived at his father's farm in Gaston, North Carolina, where he had lived since at least 2006.[1] Police arrested four suspects in connection with the robbery, one of whom lived across the road from King's father's farm. Watson's office handled the prosecution. On February 27, 2015, the Greensville County General District Court held a preliminary hearing in which King testified, "I live right across the road from one of the co-defendants." (Dk. No. 47, at 13; Dk. No. 49, at 4; Dk. No. 55-6, at 94:7-8.) The parties agree that King's testimony refers to his residence at the farm.

         A few months before the preliminary hearing, relatives of one of the robbery suspects pressed trespass charges against King in North Carolina, which resulted in a criminal prosecution. To defend against the charges, King's counsel requested that two Greensville County Sheriffs deputies-officers who participated in the robbery investigation-testify on King's behalf. Watson, however, told King's counsel that those two officers could not testify because they had a scheduling conflict. The prosecution eventually dropped the trespass charges against King.

         Convinced that Watson lied to him about the availability of the two deputies, [2] King confronted Watson in her office in September, 2014. King told Watson that he planned to file a complaint against her with the Virginia State Bar.[3] The Virginia State Bar ultimately dismissed King's complaint. King had no further dealings with Watson until this litigation.

         In October, 2014, King moved from his father's farm in North Carolina to his father's home in Emporia. On November 4, 2014, however, King voted in person in the Northampton County, North Carolina general election. Before an individual can cast his vote in North Carolina, he must complete an Authorization to Vote ("ATV") form. The ATV form lists the address associated with the voter's registration. The voter must certify that the address listed on the ATV form remains the voter's current address and that the voter has not moved from that address. If the voter no longer lives at the address appearing on the ATV form, he must list his current address. Just before the signature line, the ATV form provides,

I hereby certify the address above is where I currently live or is corrected below. I understand that, if I have moved from this address more than 30 days ago, it is a violation of NC law to claim my old address as my voting address.

(Dk. No. 47-19, at 1; Dk. No. 49-2, at 40.) King's ATV form listed a Gaston, North Carolina address. King signed the ATV form without listing a new address, thereby certifying that the North Carolina address listed was his current address. King, however, told the poll worker that he was in the process of moving.

         On June 8, 2015, King declared his candidacy for sheriff of Greensville County. Under Virginia law, candidates for public office must be eligible to vote for that office and must have been a resident of the Commonwealth for at least one year immediately preceding the election. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-500. Additionally, candidates must file a Declaration of Candidacy and a Certificate of Candidate Qualification. On the Certificate, candidates must affirm under penalty of perjury that they satisfy the eligibility requirements. Willfully providing false information on the Certificate constitutes election fraud-a Class 5 felony offense. Id. §24.2-1016. Thus, because the election occurred on November 3, 2015, Virginia law required King to reside in Virginia since November 3, 2014. See Id. § 24.2-500.

         Shortly after King announced his candidacy for sheriff, Watson received a complaint from Henry Stephen Allen, a Greensville County resident and Watson's second cousin, that King did not qualify to run for sheriff because he was a resident of North Carolina, not Virginia. In response to the complaint, Watson sent a letter to Captain Reibel of the Virginia State Police (the "VSP"), requesting that the VSP investigate the matter.

         On July 7 and 8, 2015, Watson emailed Michael Doucette, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Lynchburg County, Virginia, stating that "[a] citizen from [Greensville] [C]ounty complained" to her about King's eligibility to run for sheriff and that she "need[ed] a special prosecutor to handle [the] investigation and [bring any] potential charges." (Dk. No. 47-11, at 2; Dk. No. 55-3, at 2.) Watson explained that because King was a "victim in a robbery case" that her office had handled, she felt that "someone outside of this area should look at it with fresh eyes and make the call."[4] (Dk. No. 47-11, at 2; Dk. No. 55-3, at 2.) The Greensville County Circuit Court appointed Doucette as special prosecutor in mid-July.

         On July 10, Reibel received Watson's letter and assigned Special Agent Kimberly Darden to investigate King. On July 14, Darden visited Watson's office to discuss the investigation. During the meeting, Watson identified Allen as the complainant and told Darden that Doucette would be handling the case as special prosecutor. Watson did not tell Darden or Doucette that Allen was her second cousin. Watson provided Allen's contact information, blank copies of a Certificate of Candidate Qualification form and a Declaration of Candidacy form, and a public record of King's North Carolina voting history from the North Carolina State Board of Elections website. King's North Carolina public voter information showed that King voted in person in the 2014 North Carolina election.

         During her investigation, Darden interviewed Dorothy Kea, the Greensville County Registrar. Kea provided copies of King's signed Certificate of Candidate Qualification and Declaration of Candidacy forms. Kea also provided proof that King registered his vehicle with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles-and at the same time, registered to vote in Virginia-on May 22, 2015. Darden also interviewed Susie Squire, the Board of Elections Director for Northampton County. Squire provided Darden with a copy of King's ATV form relating to the 2014 ...

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