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Bledsoe v. Jefferson County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 4, 2017

FLOYD S. BLEDSOE, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the court on defendants Michael Hayes, Jim Vanderbilt, Terry Morgan, Jim Woods, and George Johnson's separate Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 76, 80, 83, 85, 86) plaintiff Floyd Bledsoe's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 75). For reasons explained below, the court denies defendants' Motions.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken from plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 75). Because the current dismissal motions rely on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept the pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 222 F.3d 1238, 1240 (10th Cir. 2000) (explaining that, on a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff” (citation omitted)). The court emphasizes that this standard controls the facts at this stage of the case. In short, the court expresses no opinion on whether they represent the true facts.

         This lawsuit follows plaintiff's wrongful conviction for sexual abuse and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl named Camille Arfmann. A state court jury convicted plaintiff in April 2000, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Plaintiff was released from prison in 2015 after DNA testing exonerated him, and instead identified his brother, Thomas Bledsoe (“Tom”), as the likely wrongdoer.

         A. Camille's Murder

         In November 1999, plaintiff was 23 years old and married to his wife, Heidi. The couple had two young sons, and plaintiff worked as a farmhand at a dairy farm in McLouth, Kansas. The couple invited Heidi's younger sister, Camille, to live with them in hopes of improving her school attendance. Plaintiff's older brother, Tom, then 25 years old, lived nearby with their parents. Tom had little social life, and he suffered from some intellectual limitations and partial deafness. Tom had a history of abnormal sexual behavior that included pursuit of young girls, though he was an active member of the Sunday school group for children at the Countryside Baptist Church.

         On November 5, 1999, Camille took the bus home from school. She arrived at plaintiff's home around 4:20 p.m. Her friend Robin Meyer stopped by to visit at 5:00 p.m., but Camille was not there. Plaintiff and Heidi reported Camille's disappearance to the Jefferson County Sherriff's Department and spent the next 48 hours trying to find Camille. They stopped the search on November 7, 1999, after Tom confessed that he had murdered Camille.

         Tom's parents arranged for defense attorney defendant Michael Hayes[1] to represent Tom. Later that evening, Tom and Mr. Hayes met with personnel at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Defendants Robert Poppa[2] and Roy Dunnaway[3] attended this meeting, as well as others including defendant officer Jim Woods.[4] Through Mr. Hayes, Tom informed these defendants that he had murdered Camille and that he knew the location of her body. Tom also revealed other details about Camille's murder, including that he had shot her in the head and moved her body to bury it in a trash dump. Tom and Mr. Hayes took Mr. Poppa, Mr. Woods, Mr. Dunnaway, and others, to his parents' property where he had been living. They found Camille's body underneath a foot of dirt, plywood, and garbage that included an X-rated movie and t-shirt that read: Countryside Baptist Church. The wounds on Camille's body matched Tom's description of her murder. The defendants found three of four missing bullet casings at Camille's burial site.

         The coroner recovered semen from inside Camille's vagina, but he was unable to determine whether Camille had been sexually abused. Mr. Hayes surrendered the murder weapon-Tom's newly purchased Jennings 9mm firearm-to the police officers. Tom was charged with Camille's murder and taken to the Jefferson County Jail. Despite the evidence against Tom, the defendants planned to frame plaintiff for Camille's murder.

         B. The plan to frame plaintiff

         Several days after Tom's arrest, Mr. Hayes, along with Jefferson County prosecutor Jim Vanderbilt, [5] and other unknown defendants, met to devise a plan to fabricate Tom's testimony. The lead detective on Camille's murder case, Randy Carreno from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, had focused his investigation on plaintiff even after Tom turned himself in. Mr. Hayes, Mr. Carreno, and other defendants conspired to obtain false statements from Tom which would pin Camille's murder on plaintiff. Allegedly, Mr. Hayes previously had helped Mr. Vanderbilt avoid exposure for misappropriating county funds. So, Mr. Vanderbilt was indebted to Mr. Hayes and became a willing ally in the plan to frame plaintiff.

         The plan went like this: Tom would recant his confession and claim that he had run into plaintiff on Saturday, November 6, 1999, at a roadside intersection. Tom would say that plaintiff had confessed to Camille's murder and had given him extensive details about the crime. Then, Tom would say that plaintiff persuaded him to take the blame for the murder by threatening to expose his deviant sexual history-including viewing X-rated movies and attempting to have sex with a dog. Mr. Hayes, Mr. Vanderbilt, and other defendants planned and coached Tom on his recantation. Tom was manipulated easily. Shortly before Tom recanted his confession, Mr. Hayes told plaintiff something about how he planned to take Tom off the “hot seat” and replace him with plaintiff.

         Defendants Terry Morgan, Jim Woods, and George Johnson worked as law enforcement officers for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (“KBI”) at this time. Mr. Morgan, Mr. Woods, and Mr. Johnson (collectively, the “KBI defendant officers”) were integral and active participants in the investigation of Camille's death. The KBI defendant officers gathered physical evidence, executed search warrants, photographed the crime scene and victim, conducted and reviewed polygraph examinations and interviews, completed police reports, and directed Mr. Carreno to interview certain witnesses.

         Mr. Johnson[6] administered polygraph examinations to both Tom and plaintiff on November 12, 1999. At some point during his examination, Tom recanted his confession with the story that Mr. Hayes and others had coached him to give. During the examination, Tom exhibited deception on this question: “Did you kill Camille Arffmann?”

         Overcome with guilt following the examination, Tom confessed again to Mr. Johnson, Mr. Vanderbilt, and other defendants, that he had murdered Camille. Mr. Johnson instructed Tom to continue lying to implicate plaintiff, and Tom acquiesced. Then, plaintiff took the polygraph examination and truthfully denied any involvement in Camille's murder.

         That evening, Mr. Vanderbilt released Tom from jail and dropped the charges against him. Mr. Dunnaway and other defendants arrested plaintiff, and they continued to use Tom's fabricated statements to frame plaintiff. Specifically, Mr. Carreno and other defendant officers falsified Tom's statements about meeting plaintiff at the roadside intersection so that they fit the timeline for the period when they believed plaintiff lacked an alibi. Additionally, defendants coached Tom to provide false explanations for how he had known so many details about Camille's death. Tom's false account became the prosecution's central piece of evidence against plaintiff.

         C. The trial

         At trial, the defendant officers[7] withheld evidence of Tom's guilt from plaintiff's defense. For example, Mr. Woods and other defendant officers withheld Tom's detailed description about how he had tried to have sex with Camille in his truck and shot her when she laughed at him. The defendant officers also withheld evidence of Tom's history of pursuing young girls and that he had made sexual advances on Camille just a few weeks before her murder. The defendant officers also withheld Tom's statements to them on the night he turned himself in, where he described Camille's wounds and the location of her body. The defendant officers also withheld information about Tom's activities between November 8 and November 12, 1999, including his statements during the polygraph examination.

         Additionally, the defendant officers suppressed physical evidence of Tom's guilt. This evidence included the shovel that Tom had used to bury Camille's body and other physical evidence taken from Tom's truck. In furtherance of the conspiracy to frame plaintiff, Mr. Morgan and other defendant officers never conducted a rigorous forensic examination of Tom's bedroom or home. Instead, Mr. Morgan and other defendants recovered evidence like Tom's weapons and ammunition by letting Tom's father turn them in. Meanwhile, the defendant officers subjected plaintiff's home and vehicle to thorough examinations.

         The prosecution also generated false evidence against plaintiff. Mr. Johnson reported to Mr. Vanderbilt that plaintiff had exhibited deception during the polygraph examination, and that Tom had exhibited truthfulness. But Mr. Johnson knew this characterization was false. Jefferson County defendants Troy Frost and Orin Turner[8] signed an affidavit supporting a request for a search warrant. It falsely claimed that plaintiff had confessed to visiting his home around the time Camille disappeared from it. The prosecution used the manufactured evidence about plaintiff's confession to bring charges against plaintiff.

         Mr. Vanderbilt offered plaintiff a plea deal: plaintiff would serve five years in exchange for pleading guilty. Plaintiff rejected the deal and, in April 2000, a jury convicted him for murder, aggravated kidnapping, and taking indecent liberties with a child. The trial judge sentenced plaintiff to life in prison plus 16 years.

         D. Post-Conviction Relief

         In June 2008, a federal district court granted plaintiff habeas relief and he was released on bond. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in July 2009, and plaintiff was forced to return to prison. Then, in October 2015, plaintiff obtained additional forensic testing for some of the physical evidence officers collected from the crime scene. New DNA test results indicated Tom was the likely source of the semen found on Camille's vaginal swab. The test also excluded plaintiff as the source of the semen. Tom committed suicide shortly after this new DNA testing. He left a note that read:

I sent an innocent man to prison. The Jefferson County police and county attorney Jim Vanderbelt made me do it. I was told by Vanderbelt to keep my mouth shut. Now I am going to set thing[s] right.
I killed Camille Arfmann on November 5, 1999. I had sex with her and killed her.
. . . I drove up to the ditch where the family dump trash and tried to convince her not to tell. . . . I went to my truck and got my 9mm gun that was behind my seat and pushed her to the ground to try to scare her, but it failed [and] the gun went off behind her head. . . . I as well might go ahead and say it I raped and murdered a 14 year girl.
I tried telling the truth but no one would listen. I was told to keep my mouth shut. It tore me up doing it. I would ask forgiveness, but I know none will come. Not even from God.
Floyd S Bledsoe is an innocent man.
Tom E Bledsoe is the guilty one.

         Tom also drew a diagram depicting where he shot Camille before moving her body to the trash dump. Using Tom's diagram, the police found the fourth missing bullet casing. The Jefferson County court vacated plaintiff's conviction on December 8, 2015 and the Jefferson County Attorney dismissed the charges against him. Plaintiff left prison, but returned home from prison having missed his sons' childhoods and many years with his loved ones. Plaintiff continues to suffer physiological pain and suffering, humiliation, constant fear, anxiety, deep depression, despair, rage, and other physical and physiological effects.

         E. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff brings the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the defendants: (Count I) due process violation for fabricating Tom's testimonial evidence; and (Count II) conspiracy to deprive plaintiff's constitutional rights by fabricating Tom's testimonial evidence.

         Plaintiff brings the following § 1983 claims against the defendant officers: (Count III) Brady v. Maryland[9] violation for withholding exculpatory evidence and fabrication of evidence; and (Count VI) failure to intervene.

         Plaintiff brings the following claims under § 1983 against the defendant officers and Mr. Hayes: (Count IV) malicious prosecution; and (Count V) conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights.

         Finally, plaintiff brings a claim for municipal liability (Count VII) against Jefferson County, and a state law claim for indemnification.

         II. Legal Standards

         Individually, defendants ask the court to dismiss the case under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Though defendants assert different reasons why the court should dismiss the claims against them, each defendant also asserts that plaintiff has failed to plead one or more of the elements necessary to state his claims for relief.

         A. Failure to State a Claim

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Although this Rule “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” it demands more than “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Under this standard, ‘the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.'” Carter v. United States, 667 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1262 (D. Kan. 2009) (quoting Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)).

         On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) the court must assume that a complaint's factual allegations are true. But legal conclusions are different. The court need not accept pure legal conclusions as true. Id. at 1263. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” are not enough to state a claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In addition to the complaint's factual allegations, the court also may consider “attached exhibits and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Mr. Hayes, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Woods, and Mr. Johnson assert qualified immunity as a defense to plaintiff's claims. “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages'” as long as “‘their conduct does not violate clearly established'” constitutional rights that “‘a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). This doctrine developed as way to balance “two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Id. Qualified immunity is “immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Id. at 237 (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). So, courts should resolve qualified immunity questions “at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Id. at 231.

         In Saucier v. Katz, [10] the Supreme Court “mandated a two-step sequence for resolving government officials' qualified immunity claims.” Callahan, 555 U.S. at 232. First, a court must decide whether plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to support a violation of a constitutional right. Id. Second, if plaintiff satisfies this first step, the court must determine whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of defendant's misconduct. Id. Unless the official's alleged conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right, qualified immunity applies. Id.

         Since Saucier, the Supreme Court has concluded that the two-step sequence for resolving an official's qualified immunity claims is still appropriate, but not mandatory. Id. at 236. Judges may use their discretion to decide “which of the two prongs” should be addressed first “in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Id. At trial, the “plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion ‘to overcome qualified immunity by showing a violation of clearly established federal law.'” Stoedter v. Gates et. al., No. 15-4020, slip op. at * 11 (10th Cir. Aug. 3, 2017), (quoting Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Michael Hayes

         Plaintiff brings four claims under § 1983 against Mr. Hayes, Tom's court-appointed attorney: (Count I) due process violation for fabrication of evidence; (Count II) conspiracy to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights by fabricating testimony; (Count IV) malicious prosecution; and (Count V) conspiracy to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights by withholding exculpatory information. Mr. Hayes asserts four arguments to support his motion to dismiss. First, Mr. Hayes asserts that he is not a state actor for the purpose of § 1983. Second, he contends he is entitled to qualified immunity. Third, he contends that plaintiff has not pleaded a sufficient ...

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