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Turner v. Troncone

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

September 16, 2019

OFFICER SABIN TRONCONE, et al., Defendants.



         Clayton Turner filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging that Terry Lucas and Sabin Troncone, officers with the Huntsville Police Department, lacked probable cause or consent to search his vehicle on April 4, 2017, and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Doc. 7 at 3. The magistrate judge filed a report recommending this action be stayed pending the outcome of Turner's state court criminal proceedings in State of Alabama v. Clayton Allen Turner, CC-2017-3929. Doc. 29. The parties were afforded 14 days to file objections. Id. Turner filed a motion for discovery, doc. 30, the same day as the magistrate judge's report, and the Defendants timely objected to the report and recommendation, doc. 31.

         I. Procedural History Post-Dating the Time Allotted for Objections to the Report and Recommendation

         Subsequent to the magistrate judge's report, Turner pleaded guilty to Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Alabama, receiving a sentence of time served. See, State of Alabama v. Clayton Allen Turner, CC-2017-3929, doc. 69.[1] Pursuant to the plea agreement, Turner's remaining charges were nolle prossed. Id. In light of Turner's plea, the Defendants filed a supplement to their special report and motion for summary judgment notifying the court of the plea agreement and arguing Turner's conviction barred the § 1983 claims from proceeding further under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Doc. 32.

         Turner filed a reply and attached his pro se Motion to Withdraw Plea of Guilty on grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Doc. 33 at 4-9. Subsequently, however, Turner, through newly appointed counsel, filed a “Withdraw[al] of Previously Requested Plea Withdrawal, ” doc. 88, rendering his “Motion to Withdraw Plea of Guilty” moot, id.; doc. 90. Turner has launched no further direct or collateral attacks on his conviction. In other words, his guilty plea in Madison County still stands.

         II. Summary Judgment Facts[2]

         Late one evening, Turner gave a friend a ride to the Hunter's Ridge Apartment Complex in Huntsville, Alabama, and parked on the road in front of his friend's building. Doc. 7 at 5; Troncone bodycam at 23:02:42. Troncone, “a member of the Huntsville Police Department Anti-Crime Team which focuses on high crimes areas, ” was patrolling the complex and noticed Turner's vehicle “parked in the roadway in a no parking zone.” Doc. 7 at 5; Doc. 22-1 at 2-3. Troncone saw “a black male” exit the vehicle as he “initially drove past” and turned his patrol car around. Doc. 22-1 at 3; Troncone bodycam at 23:00:48. As he stood on the passenger side of his car, Turner saw Troncone drive past and then went and sat “down on the front step” in front of his friend's apartment building, just enjoying the evening. Doc. 7 at 4; Troncone bodycam at 28:58:00.

         Troncone approached Turner and told him that he could not park in the road. Troncone bodycam at 22:58:01. Troncone proceeded to procure information regarding Turner's identification, vehicle registration, and matters related to the parked car. Id. at 22:58:01-59:38. Turner stated his friend had not informed him of the no-parking zone and used his cellphone to call his friend to come to the car, stating he did not have the keys to the car. Id. Sergeant Lucas then arrived, Troncone briefly described the situation to Lucas, and then told Turner that he would have his car towed if Turner did not give him the keys. Id. at 22:59:39.

         As Lucas walked to the driver's side of Turner's car, Troncone asked if Turner's friend was bringing the keys. Id. at 23:00:16-22. Turner replied that the “keys were in the car.” Id. at 23:00:22. When Lucas asked if the car was locked and opened the driver's door slightly, prompting Turner to hold his hands up, saying “hold on, ” and asking what Lucas was searching for since nothing was in the car. Lucas bodycam at 23:00:16-30; Troncone bodycam 23:00:31. Lucas replied he was not searching the car and only checking to see if keys were in it, and Turner said okay. Lucas bodycam at 23:00:33. Lucas testifies that when he opened the door, he saw “a plastic baggie of what appeared to be crack cocaine in open view in a compartment in the driver's side door, ” doc. 22-2 at 3, although Turner attests this was factually impossible due to the car's design.

         Per his bodycam video, Lucas opened the car door and shined his flashlight on some keys sitting in the driver's seat. Lucas bodycam at 23:00:45-59. He picked up the keys, looked at them, and returned them to the seat. Id. He also looked in an open area of the console and pulled out a key fob. Id. Lucas attests without dispute that the key fob was the “one set of keys” he found for the car. Doc. 22-2 at 4.

         As Lucas looked in the car, Turner complained about the search. Lucas bodycam at 23:00:59. Lucas showed Turner the key fob he had located, repeated he was not searching, and stated in a mildly irritated tone that he would just have the car impounded because it was parked illegally. Id. at 23:00:59-23:01:18. As Lucas walked back toward him, Turner spontaneously stated he was on parole after serving a 36 year sentence for burglary and was not trying to do anything. Id. at 23:01:17-37. Lucas politely informed Turner that the apartment complex had designated parking spaces and that it was illegal to park in the roadway. Id. at 23:01:41. Lucas asked Turner if there was illegal contraband in the car and Turner said no. Id. at 23:01:59. Lucas then asked if he could search the car and Turner said “No, but what you want to search it for. I don't care if you want to look in it. I don't care. . .but search me for what?” Id. at 23:02:03-17. Lucas responded, “Cos I asked.” Id.

         Turner expressed frustration with his friend, and had a discussion with Lucas regarding his release from prison, current job, and unsupervised parole. Id. at 23:02:20-59. Lucas stated that he had only looked in the car for the keys. Id. at 23:02:57 to 23:03:17. Turner stated that he was not trying to be an “ass, ” to which Lucas responded that he was being one “a little bit, ” but that was “alright” and Turner was not as bad as others he had encountered before. Id. at 23:03:18-23. The two then talked about the prison facilities where Turner had served his sentence and Turner commented on his pending divorce. Id. at 23:03:24-44.

         Turner admitted he had drove and called his friend to come outside. Id. at 23:03:45-51. Lucas asked Turner a second time if he could search the car, to which Turner shrugged and said, “you can man.” Id. at 23:04:33-35. Lucas walked back to the car, found cocaine in the bag in the driver's seat door compartment, and placed Turner under arrest. Id. at 23:04:49-57. Turner spontaneously admitted to possession of the cocaine. Id. at 23:05:12. Lucas told Turner he had seen it earlier but was waiting for Turner to tell the truth. Id. at 23:05:15.

         Lucas's further search of the vehicle produced a pistol from the center console. Id. at 23:06:00.[3] Turner initially stated the weapon belonged to his friend, id. at 23:06:16-18, but when his friend appeared, Turner admitted to Troncone that the gun belonged to him. Troncone bodycam at 23:16:17. He also told Troncone that his friend would never claim or admit the gun really belonged to the friend. Id. at 23:16:31. Troncone transported Turner to the Huntsville City Jail. Id. at 23:17-23:40. During this time, Turner never complained about the tightness of his handcuffs. Id.

         III. Discussion

         A. Turner's Motion for Leave to Conduct ...

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