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Spradlin v. Salcedo

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Gainesville Division

July 12, 2019




         This case comes before the Court on Defendant Jonathan Salcedo's Motion to Dismiss [18] and Plaintiff Charles A. Spradlin's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [23]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.


         This is a civil rights case. On March 26, 2016, Plaintiff Charles A. Spradlin was arrested in his driveway by Defendant Jonathan Salcedo, a Georgia State Trooper. Plaintiff's car was subsequently searched and towed. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Salcedo arrested him without probable cause and in retaliation for questioning the purpose of the traffic stop. Plaintiff further alleges that Officer Salcedo unlawfully searched and towed his vehicle. Plaintiff sues Officer Salcedo in his individual capacity for violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights. He also seeks to add a retaliatory arrest claim against Officer Salcedo for violation of the First Amendment.

         I. Allegations in the First Amended Complaint

         A. Events Leading up to Plaintiff's Arrest

         At approximately 2:14 p.m. on March 26, 2016, Plaintiff received a call from his neighbor, Jan Turner O'Kelly, whose son had recently been killed in a police altercation. (1st Am. Compl., Dkt. [17] ¶ 7.) She notified Plaintiff that officers had set up a checkpoint in their neighborhood. (Id.) After receiving the call, Plaintiff drove his vehicle south on Carver Mill Road toward a hill to gain a vantage point of the surrounding area. (Id. ¶ 8.) He then activated his turn signals before reaching the crest of the hill, knowing that a driveway was located there. (Id.) Plaintiff slowly turned into the driveway, which was located about 715 feet from the checkpoint area. (Id.) Before turning into the driveway, Plaintiff did not see the checkpoint. (Id.)

         According to Plaintiff, his intent was to drive to the crest of the hill, observe the checkpoint, and then return home. (Id.) From the driveway, Plaintiff saw two patrol cars, but it was unclear if the officers were conducting a checkpoint. (Id. ¶ 9.) After stopping briefly, he carefully backed out of the driveway and began to drive back toward his own driveway, located about 1, 200 feet away. (Id.) Plaintiff did not commit any traffic violations or make any reckless, evasive, or suspicious driving maneuvers. (Id.) As he approached his driveway, Officer Salcedo's patrol car came toward him quickly with the sirens activated and lights flashing. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff pulled into his driveway, clear of any oncoming traffic. (Id.) He stepped out of the car while keeping his hands clearly visible and stood calmly next to his vehicle. (Id.)

         B. Plaintiff's Arrest

         After arriving in Plaintiff's driveway, Officer Salcedo approached him and asked why he had turned around at the sight of the checkpoint. (1st Am. Compl., Dkt. [17] ¶ 11.) Officer Salcedo also asked Plaintiff if he had a driver's license. (Id.) Plaintiff, pointing to his house, explained that he was returning home after checking out the police presence at his neighbor's request. (Id.) He confirmed that he had a driver's license, too, and asked for the basis of Officer Salcedo's stop. (Id.) Officer Salcedo became visibly agitated and told Plaintiff to turn around and put his hands behind his back. (Id.) Plaintiff complied with Officer Salcedo's order. (Id.)

         Officer Salcedo placed handcuffs on Plaintiff and asked if he had any weapons. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff said that he had a firearm stowed in the vehicle's center console. (Id.) Officer Salcedo then reached into the rear pocket of Plaintiff's pants and retrieved his wallet. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff audibly objected to the search of his person. (Id.)

         Another officer arrived at the scene. (Id.) The second officer held Plaintiff's upper arm while Officer Salcedo looked through the wallet and removed Plaintiff's driver's license. (Id.)

         C. Search and Impoundment of Plaintiff's Vehicle

         Plaintiff was escorted to Officer Salcedo's patrol car and locked in the backseat. (1st Am. Compl., Dkt. [17] ¶ 14.) From there, Plaintiff observed Officer Salcedo and the second officer searching his vehicle, including the glove compartment, center console, rear cargo area, and inside a backpack. (Id. ¶ 15.) At one point during the search, Officer Salcedo returned to the patrol car, and Plaintiff audibly objected to the search of his vehicle. (Id. ¶ 16.) Officer Salcedo replied, “It's not a search, it's an inventory subject to tow.” (Id.) Plaintiff's wife then came out of the house and spoke with the officers. (Id. ¶ 17.) Mrs. Spradlin asked to drive Plaintiff's vehicle up the driveway to the home, but Officer Salcedo replied that he had decided to have the vehicle towed. (Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Salcedo gave Mrs. Spradlin several personal items from the vehicle, including the firearm. (Id.)

         D. Events Following the Arrest

         At approximately 4:00 p.m., the tow truck arrived to remove Plaintiff's vehicle from his driveway. (1st Am. Compl., Dkt. [17] ¶ 19.) Plaintiff was then transported to the Pickens County Jail for booking on three charges: failure to display license, obstruction of justice, and having unsafe tires. (Id.) He was released around 7:45 p.m. after utilizing a bail bondsman. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff could not retrieve his vehicle until two days later after paying $200 cash to the tow company. (Id.)

         During a preliminary hearing on April 14, 2016, a judge dismissed the obstruction of justice charge because there was “not in fact evidence to sustain that a reasonable person would believe that a crime was committed[.]” (Id. ¶ 21.) He also dismissed the unsafe tire charge because there was “never any testimony that [the tires] were below 2/32 of an inch[.]” (Id. (alteration in original). The prosecution later dropped the failure to display license charge. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed this case on March 22, 2018. In his first Amended Complaint [17], he sets forth three counts: violation of his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); punitive damages (Count II); and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Count III).

         II. Allegations in the Proposed Amended Complaint

         On December 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting leave to file a second amended complaint, (Dkt. [23]). The factual allegations in the proposed amended complaint are identical to those set forth above. However, Plaintiff seeks to add a retaliatory arrest claim stemming from Officer Salcedo's purported violation of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff contends that he was arrested by Officer Salcedo ...

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