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El v. Kemp

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

October 15, 2019

YONAH EL, Plaintiff,
Governor BRIAN KEMP, et al., Defendants.


          Marc T. Treadwell, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Yonah El filed a pro se complaint (Doc. 1), and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) (Doc. 2). The Court previously granted his motion to proceed IFP and ordered him to amend his complaint to clarify his allegations.[1] Doc. 6. The Court has reviewed the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the following reasons, El's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Christopher Thomas Lee is allowed to proceed, and his remaining claims are DISMISSED.


         On May 24, 2018, El, an African-American male, was a passenger in Pamela R. Stanescu's vehicle. Doc. 12 at 2. While driving, Stanescu “dozed off behind the wheel and almost lost control of the car.” Id. She then pulled into a parking lot for El to drive. Id. As they were switching seats, a Warner Robins police car drove past them slowly. Id. Shortly after merging back into traffic and while obeying the speed limit, El passed the same police car that was parked on the side of the road. Id. at 3. The police car immediately started following El and flashing its lights, and El pulled over. Id.

         Lee then “approached the vehicle on the driver's side and asked where they were coming from.” Id. El, believing that he was being racially “profiled, ” refused to answer, but Stanescu replied that they “had left Atlanta earlier that day and [were] traveling to her home in Warner Robins.” Id. Lee then asked El for identification, and El asked Lee if he was under arrest, to which he replied, “No.” Id. El then asked Lee if he was “free to go, ” and, again, Lee replied, “No.” Id.

         At this point, El believed he was under arrest because of Lee's response and three Warner Robins police cars blocking him. Id. El then asked Lee if he could call his attorney. Id. Again, Lee replied, “No, ” and further explained that this was an investigatory stop. Id. El responded, “You are investigating me, so I have a [Fifth] Amendment right to remain silent, and if you wish to ask me any questions, I will call my attorney and have him mediate the conversation.” Id. (emphasis in original). Lee, again, asked El for his identification and told him that if he refused, he would be arrested. Id. at 4. El, again, refused and instead “showed [Lee] the highlighted portions in his pocket Constitution of the appropriate amendments.” Id. Lee, again, asked for identification, and El “tried to explain the constitutional issues involved and again offered to contact his attorney to medicate [sic] the conversation.” Id. Lee then arrested El. Id.

         John Doe 1 assisted Lee with searching El. Id. Lee told El that he was being arrested for obstruction and then added speeding “as an afterthought.” Id. El then asked Lee to show him the “read-out of the speed he had been traveling, ” but Lee declined. Id. El was taken to the Warner Robins Police Department (“WRPD”), and he asked to go before a magistrate judge before being processed because he believed his arrest was unconstitutional. Id. WRPD refused. Id. El was then taken to the Houston County Detention Center (“HCDC”) where he again asked to go before a magistrate judge before being processed. Id. “Eventually, Plaintiff was taken before someone who said they were not there to adjudicate the matter but only to set bail. Plaintiff stated he did not understand and wanted to see a real judge.” Id.

         The following week, El was arraigned by Judge Jason Ashford where he “challenged the jurisdiction of a state court to adjudicate the case, as a federal question was involved, ” but the “judge denied the challenge.” Id. After reading the charge, Judge Ashford asked El how he wanted to plead. Id. at 5. El “stated that there was no complaining witness present, and he could not rebut an unstated presentment, therefore he could not enter a plea at this time. Judge Ashford stated that he would enter a plea of not guilty on the Plaintiff's behalf. The Plaintiff objected vociferously, and stated that entering a plea was his job or that of his attorney.” Id. The Plaintiff was then taken out of the courtroom and returned to HCDC for five weeks until he made bond. Id.

         During voir dire, El requested a continuance because he had no motions hearing and had not seen the discovery material. Id. Judge Ashford told him it was “too late” but that he could “look at the discovery material in the Prosecutor's office during lunch.” Id. After reviewing the documents, El complained to Judge Ashford that he had never been given discovery materials and was thus unable to call or subpoena rebuttal witnesses. Id. Judge Ashford ignored El's complaints and proceeded with the trial. Id.

         During the trial, the prosecution misrepresented documents. Id. El objected, and Judge Ashford overruled him. Id. El proceeded to make multiple objections throughout the prosecution's case, which were all overruled. Id. When Lee was called to the stand, Lee stated that El told him that he was a “sovereign citizen” and “did not need a license to drive” when Lee stopped him for speeding on May 24. Id. The tape from Lee's body cam was then played for the jury, and El claims that the tape “confirmed that the Plaintiff never said that he would not give the officer his ID, but instead had exercised his [Fifth] and [Sixth] Amendment constitutional rights. The Plaintiff used Officer Lee's body cam to confirm that Officer Lee had perjured himself when he said the Plaintiff had said that he was a sovereign citizen and a fellow traveler and that he did not need a license to drive.” Id. On cross-examination, El asked Lee if he had any proof “other than his word” that Lee was speeding, and Lee said he did not. Id. At the end of the trial, Judge Ashford did not allow El to use legal arguments in his closing argument and did not instruct the jury regarding Lee's false testimony. Id. at 6. The jury found El guilty of obstruction and two traffic offenses. Id.

         During his sentencing, El “beseeched Judge Ashford that, based on his age and his back injury which requires the Plaintiff to use morphine, to wear a back brace, and to sleep on [a] special bed, and given the low level of his misdemeanor, that a jail sentence would be cruel punishment, and requested probation. . . . The Plaintiff also explained he was in the process of setting up a Youth Financial Literacy Program. . . .” Id. Judge Ashford sentenced El to six months in prison “with no good time” and three years of probation, plus court fees and fines. Id.

         While serving at HCDC, El was given “no access to documents for filing an appeal, ” but was ultimately able to file one. Id. El claims that Judge Ashford “sat on the appeal for 30 days and never responded to the Plaintiff, ” even though El contacted his chambers “several times.” Id. Judge Ashford denied El's appeal without stating why. Id. El then filed an appeal with the Georgia Court of Appeals, and the prosecutor challenged it, “stating the timeline had expired.” Id. El claims that the initial appeal was filed in a timely manner, but “Judge Ashford's action of sitting on the appeal for 30 days ran out the clock.” Id. The Court of Appeals then “instructed the Plaintiff that though they could not hear the case, there was a process in place to force Judge Ashford to forward the information to the superior court for review. By the time this information had been fully divulged to the Plaintiff, he had two weeks remaining on his sentence.” Id. El ultimately chose not to file an appeal. Id.

         El then filed his complaint with the Court, alleging that his Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights were violated by Lee, John Doe 1, and John Doe 2; that Lee, John Doe 1, and John Doe 2 violated 18 U.S.C. § 241 and § 242; that WRPD and Warner Robins Chief of Police Brett Evans are “co-conspirators and party to the suit;” that he was denied access to legal materials at HCDC; that he was denied “access to an absentee ballot” at HCDC; that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when his “numerous books and $24.18 in cash” were seized at HCDC; and that “Probation Officer S[.] McClendon of CSRA . . . became a co-conspirator to violate the Plaintiff's constitutional rights under 18 USC 241 and 18 USC 242 by using false, erroneous and misleading information to secure an illegal arrest warrant against the Plaintiff on April 25, 2019. . . .” Id. at 1-2, 6.[3] El states that after he filed his complaint, he was, again, “incarcerated in Houston County, [and] he is faced with the same situation regarding lack of access to legal information, material, etc.” Id. at 6-7. El seeks $470 million in damages. Id. at 7.

         II. ...

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