United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JASON A. WHITE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF ATHENS, WILLIAM R. MARKS, FLOYD JOHNSON, TRACY HARRISON, REED WAYNE HARPER, and TREVOR HARRIS, Defendants.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Athens police officer Jason White asserts claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Athens, Alabama; the
mayor of Athens; and several of Mr. White's former
superior officers in the Athens Police Department. (Doc. 25,
¶¶ 6- 11). Mr. White alleges that the defendants
retaliated against him for speaking out against corruption
within the department. (Doc. 25, pp. 17-20). Mr. White
contends that the defendants' conduct violated his rights
under the First Amendment. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56, the defendants ask the Court to enter judgment
in their favor on Mr. White's claims. (Doc. 62). For the
reasons stated below, the Court grants the defendants'
motion for summary judgment.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary
judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must
cite “to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only
the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in
the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). When considering a
summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in
the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the
non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply,
Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).
the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. White, the
record in this case indicates that the police department for
the City of Athens consists of two divisions: a division of
patrol officers and a division of investigators. Mr. White
began working for the Athens Police Department in 1999. He
began as a patrol officer and was elevated to the rank of
sergeant in 2005. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 37, 39). In 2007, Mr. White
moved to the investigations division as a detective sergeant.
(Doc. 57-1, pp. 37-40).
2009, Mr. White and at least one other investigator became
concerned that some of the senior officers in the Athens
Police Department might be engaged in misconduct. (Doc. 57-1,
pp. 74-75). For example, while Mr. White was a narcotics
investigator, a number of confidential informants reported
that they had been “burned” (i.e. exposed to drug
dealers as confidential informants) by someone within the
Athens Police Department who the confidential informants
called “Downtown.” Mr. White deduced from the
nature of the narcotics investigations that
“Downtown” had to be at least a sergeant in the
department. Mr. White and his co-investigator, Officer Greg
Parnell, reported the situation to DEA agents in Huntsville.
(Doc. 57-1, pp. 74-83).
were other incidents that suggested to Mr. White that senior
officers were engaged in misconduct. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 62-64,
67-68). One incident in particular prompted Mr. White and
another investigator, Detective Sergeant Dustin Lansford, to
take action. (Doc. 57-1, p. 52). A young officer, Jason
Threet, conducted a traffic stop and arrested the driver,
William Jeffers, because Mr. Jeffers was intoxicated. Officer
Threet brought Mr. Jeffers to the police precinct and
completed a report in which he indicated that Mr. Jeffers
should be charged with a DUI. (Doc. 57-4, p. 33). Copies of
all such reports must be mailed to the Department of Public
Safety in Montgomery, Alabama. (Doc. 57-4, pp. 33-34).
Officer Threet placed the DUI report in the mail. (Doc. 57-4,
criminal defense lawyer in Athens called Captain Tracy
Harrison about the arrest. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 59-60). The lawyer
had represented Captain Harrison's son in a criminal
matter but had not charged Captain Harrison for the services.
(Doc. 57-4, p. 22). The lawyer asked Captain Harrison for
help with the DUI case. Captain Harrison approached Officer
Threet, and Officer Threet agreed to drop the case. (Doc.
57-1, pp. 60-61; Doc. 57-4, pp. 32-33). When Captain Harrison
learned that Officer Threet already had placed the DUI report
in the mail, he and Lieutenant Presnell got in a marked
police car, pulled over the mail truck carrying the report,
and retrieved the report from the mail carrier. (Doc. 57-1,
pp. 52-53, 69; Doc. 57-4, p. 35). That report no longer
exists. (Doc. 57-1, p. 53).
police department's records clerk told Detective Lansford
about the incident. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 52-53). The clerk told
Detective Lansford that Captain Harrison had erased the entry
in the clerk's log pertaining to the DUI arrest. (Doc.
57-1, pp. 52, 60, 90). Detective Lansford reported the
situation to Alabama's Office of the Attorney General.
(Doc. 57-1, p. 91; Doc. 57-2, p. 45; Doc. 57-3, pp. 56-57,
Doc. 57-4, p. 47). The Attorney General sent a team of
investigators to the Athens Police Department to investigate
the report. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 53-54, 58). Mr. White noticed the
investigators around the department and asked Detective
Lansford what they were investigating. (Doc. 57-1, pp.
57-58). Detective Lansford then informed Mr. White of Captain
Harrison's efforts to erase the records of Mr.
Jeffer's DUI arrest. (Doc. 57-1, p. 58).
White discussed the DUI incident with Holly Holman, a local
news reporter. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 105-07, 109). He shared
information about the incident with Ms. Holman because
Detective Lansford told him that the AG's office was
dropping its investigation, and Mr. White did not want the
investigation to be “swept under the rug.” (Doc.
57-1, pp. 111-12). In providing information to a reporter
about an internal police matter, Mr. White violated the
police department's policy that prohibited communication
about confidential police business. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 109-10).
Mr. White acted in the hope that a full investigation would
cause the corruption in the Athens Police Department to stop.
(Doc. 57-1, pp. 111-12, 119-20).
the Athens Police Department reinstated the DUI charges, and
reprimanded Captain Harrison and Officer Threet. (Doc. 57-3,
p. 53; Doc. 57-4, pp. 43-44, 47). Captain Harrison
acknowledges that the attorney who contacted him to ask for
help on the Jeffers DUI had been providing free legal
services to his son; that he (Captain Harrison) spoke to
Officer Threet and asked if Officer Threet would be willing
to drop the Jeffers DUI charge; and that he (Captain
Harrison) and Lieutenant Presnell pursued and stopped a mail
carrier to retrieve from the mail carrier a form addressed to
the Alabama Department of Public Safety that contained
evidence of the DUI arrest. (Doc. 57-4, pp. 33-35). Captain
Harrison does not believe that he deserved the reprimand that
he received for his efforts to help Mr. Jeffers avoid the DUI
charge. (Doc. 57-4, pp. 48, 52). Rather, Captain Harrison
believes that the person who told the press about the
handling of the DUI charge bore responsibility for the
embarrassment that the situation brought to the police
department. (Doc. 57-4, p. 52).
the investigations of the DUI incident, “a lot of
things  happened” that made work at the Athens police
department “miserable” for Mr. White and
Detective Lansford. (Doc. 57-1, p. 122). Detective Lansford
thought about taking a different job to get away from the
department. (Doc. 57-1, p. 122). Chief Harper removed Mr.
White as supervisor of the department's honor guard and
replaced him with Lieutenant Harris, who, at the time,
“was not part of the honor guard.” (Doc. 57-1,
pp. 124, 127). Mr. White then stepped down from the honor
guard. (Doc. 57-1, p. 125-26). Chief Harper also moved Mr.
White from investigations to patrol. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 128-29).
Mr. White believes these actions were retaliatory because his
supervisory role in the honor guard was of great personal
importance to him, and his transfer from investigations to
patrol resulted in diminished on-call pay. (Doc. 65, pp.
11-12). Mr. White believes that his superior officers
suspected that he had spoken with Ms. Holman about the
involvement of Athens police officers in Mr. Jeffers's
DUI incident. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 209-212).
1, 2012, Mr. White was fired from the Athens Police
Department. Mr. White asserts that this was a final act of
retaliation against him for exposing corruption within the
department. By contrast, the defendants contend that Mr.
White's suspension from the Alabama Criminal Justice
Information Center (ACJIC) database was the actual reason the
police department chose to terminate him. “ACJIC is a
state-run law enforcement agency that maintains data for use
by law enforcement agencies and police departments in the
State of Alabama.” (Doc. 63, p. 2). In April 2012, Mr.
White lost his privilege to access this database after an
investigation by the ACJIC determined that he had used the
system for unauthorized purposes. In April 2011, Mr.
White's ex-wife, Sheree Wisdom, had complained to Athens
Police Department that Mr. White had been using his data base
access to investigate her, her then-husband, and their
friends. (Doc. 57-1, pp. 184-85). Defendants Harrison,
Harris, and Harper were present when Ms. Wisdom made her
complaint about Mr. White's conduct. (Doc. 57-7, p. 10).