Court Denies Immunity To Law Enforcement Officer Who Arrested Crew Sent To Clean Out His Foreclosed House

from the when-all-you-have-is-an-inflated-sense-of-power... dept

Lieutenant Timothy Filbeck of the Butts County Sheriff’s Department found himself in a not-at-all unusual situation: his home was being foreclosed upon. Like many others who have undergone this process, Filbeck was served with a variety of notices explaining the steps of the process and warning him of the consequences of not complying.

Filbeck moved out of the doomed home and into a family member’s. This would apparently be the last rational thing he would do in response to the foreclosure. The insurance company for the bank inspected the home four times before coming to the conclusion it had been abandoned by Filbeck. The utilties had been turned off and “cobwebs extended from wall to wall in every room.”

When the company began preparing the house for auction, things started to get interesting. Employees spent a day cleaning the house out and removing any abandoned property inside it. At some point, Filbeck apparently decided to drop by his old house and noticed the things he had left behind were missing. He could have contacted any of the companies involved in the foreclosure proceedings. He could have done nothing after realizing that leaving a foreclosed house abandoned tends to result in the removal of property also considered abandoned. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals notes that Lieutenant Filbeck chose “none of the above.”

Instead, Filbeck boarded up the windows, nailed the doors shut, and placed four signs reading “KEEP OUT” on the Property. Filbeck also prepared and filed a police report using fellow deputy Kenneth Mundy’s name and submitted a claim to Liberty Mutual Insurance for the missing property.

Handwritten signs and boards on the windows aren’t going to keep legally-entitled persons from accessing the property, especially when the doors are still intact.

Preparing a police report in someone else’s name, however… that’s a problem. Especially when the person whose name you’ve used finds out about it.

When Mundy later discovered the police report, he demanded that his name be removed from it and insisted that he had not prepared it, authorized it, or known anything about it at the time that it was submitted.

When MD Maintenance (the company preparing the house for auction) returned to the property, it called the property management company to report the boards and signs. The property manager told MDM’s employees to report it to the police.

This, of course, led to MDM employees calling the same Sheriff’s Department where Filbeck was employed. A deputy visited the property and confirmed no one was, in fact, still living there. He discussed his visit with Filbeck, which apparently motivated him to escalate his efforts.

A few weeks later, on the morning of February 22, 2011, Plaintiffs went to the Property. The “KEEP OUT” signs were still there. Because the doors remained nailed shut, Graham and Webster entered the Property through a bathroom window.

The two employees resumed the task of removing stuff Filbeck had left behind from the property. Filbeck decided to use his position as a law enforcement officer to intimidate them into leaving the property.

While Plaintiffs were working, Filbeck learned they were there and caused Lieutenant Matthew Vaughan to go to the Property and confront them. When Vaughan arrived, Plaintiffs told him that they were cleaning out a “foreclosure home.” David Carter gave Vaughan and other deputies who joined Vaughan on the scene, documentation showing that the Property had been foreclosed upon and that Plaintiffs were legally authorized to work there.

Possibly concerned that the other officers might reach the conclusion that there was no law enforcement purpose for being at Filbeck’s former home, Filbeck himself arrived on the scene and “assumed control” of the “investigation.”

Upon Filbeck’s arrival, Vaughn handed him a piece of documentation. David also attempted to show Filbeck an authorization letter on his phone, but Filbeck refused to review it and retorted that the authorization letter “and the rest of this paperwork don’t [sic] mean a damn thing.”

Filbeck then went on to say all the documentation was worth even less than a “damn” on the scale of profanities.

Filbeck insisted that he owned the house, that MDM had no right to be there, and that the foreclosure was “illegal.” He also rejected Plaintiffs’ documentation and the MDM Notices posted at the Property, characterizing them as not worth “shit.”

With that being said, Filbeck flexed his legal muscles.

Finally, despite Tina’s continuing attempts to reason with Filbeck, Filbeck rejoined, “Your boys are going to jail and are staying there until I get my stuff back.”   He also threatened to arrest Tina.

Filbeck then called up courthouse reps to see if there were any eviction notices pending against him. There were not, because the property had been deemed abandoned and Filbeck was obviously no longer living at the home. But those facts didn’t stop Filbeck from carrying through on his threat.

After both agencies told Filbeck that no eviction notices had been filed, Filbeck ordered the arrests of Carter, Graham, and Webster for burglary. The officers handcuffed and took Plaintiffs to the Butts County Detention Center. There, they remained incarcerated for roughly 24 hours before they were released without any charges filed.

Filbeck then decided he wasn’t done violating their rights.

When the officers carted Plaintiffs off to jail, the Butts County Sheriff’s Office confiscated two cameras, silverware, and $20.00 in cash.

Filbeck later admitted that he had accessed MDM’s impounded vehicle, retrieved a camera, and downloaded pictures onto his computer without a warrant or authorization while the men were stuck in jail. The cameras, silverware, and $20.00 in cash were never returned, despite demands for return of the property.

Filbeck was sued, along with the Sheriff’s Department. All defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The other defendants walk away from this debacle. Filbeck, however, will have to stand on his own. Both claims of immunity raised by Filbeck have been eliminated by the court’s examination of the event. And the Eleventh Circuit Appeals Court gives Filbeck a full blast of its disdain in its opening paragraph.

Defendant-Appellant Timothy Filbeck was a lieutenant with the Butts County Sheriff’s Office. When his house was foreclosed upon, he, like anyone else who has been through foreclosure, had certain options available to him. But arresting the new owner’s agents, Plaintiffs-Appellees David Carter, Clayton Graham, Jr., and Mitchell Webster (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), who were lawfully performing their jobs, was not one of them. And neither was ordering Plaintiffs handcuffed and thrown in jail overnight. We think that should go without saying. Yet Filbeck did these things, anyway. Now Filbeck tries to convince us that he is immune from suit. We are not persuaded. Being a law-enforcement officer is not a license to break the law. And it is certainly not a shield behind which Filbeck may abuse his power with impunity.

The thing is, Filbeck certainly saw his position as both: a permission slip for abusing citizens and a shield to hide behind when they complained. The court couldn’t prevent the abuse, but at least it took Filbeck’s unearned shield away from him.

That being said, this lawsuit seems to be doing nothing to hold back Filbeck’s run for Sheriff of Benton County, AR, where he promises to “bring ethics and integrity back to the Sheriff’s Office.” (I assume he’s having some shipped in…) Not only that, but there’s no mention of this debacle in former Butts County Sheriff Gene Pope’s letter of recommendation. So, while the court may have stripped away the shield of immunity, his supervisor seems all too willing to ensure Filbeck — who’s been proven to abuse power — gets even more of it.

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Comments on “Court Denies Immunity To Law Enforcement Officer Who Arrested Crew Sent To Clean Out His Foreclosed House”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Another Friday, another astroturfer supporting police criminality

I think you’re so busy blaming everyone other than the criminals you’ve lost the perspective.

First, Techdirt publishes articles discussing police criminal behavior — like brutality — daily. (Yesterday in fact there was a piece on Fox Network not wanting to show the end of a police chase that end with a man surrendering on the ground, and the criminal cops battered him.)

Second, if police weren’t committing gross acts of criminal behavior — like falsely arresting the people cleaning out the scumbag deadbeat cop’s abandoned house — there wouldn’t be reports of this, some of which you find in Techdirt.

Yes, far easier to “blame the media” for reporting about criminal cops, than to take criminal cops to task, remove them from the street, or put them in prisons.

If cops held cops to the same standards as they hold everyone else, there would be more cops in prison than junkies.

There’s no such thing as a good cop. There are bad cops… and those who look the other way or support them.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Seriously, did a whole station of cops suck you off to the point that you feel this indebted to them? Or are you the masochistic kind that gets off when you get tased or asphyxiated? Is that why you think police shooting people at random is no big deal? Because that’s how a dumb fuck like you gets his rocks off?

Small wonder you post this shit when you’re not logged in…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Nothing to do with tech.”? I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

How people use tech is heavily influenced by their environment. When that environment includes cops beating the crap out of people for the crime of using sign language, assaulting women for the crime of being nervous about talking to cops, or cops committing grand theft for the crime of carrying cash just because “the law” says they can, that has a great deal of influence on everything else people do.

Including technology. Look up an app for the iPhone called Mobile Justice, which would not even exist but for events like the ones cited above.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s reasonable to assume that, but for the internet, we’d never know about these events, so it’s entirely reasonable for Tim to post such articles here. In any case he’s not the owner of this blog, Mike Masnick is, and Mike’s okay with this. Surely to goodness the man can post — or allow to be posted — whatever he damn well please on his own damn blog, whatever the name of it is!

RE: cops posts in general, one measure of freedom is the degree to which we can call authority figures to account. The day Tim stops writing blog posts about bad cop behaviour, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Circuit Judge Rosenbaum is obviously not a native of the region. The docket contains the following:

1. Filbeck refused to review it and retorted that the authorization letter “and the rest of this paperwork don’t [sic] mean a damn thing.”

2. He also rejected Plaintiffs’ documentation and the MDM Notices posted at the Property, characterizing them as not worth “shit.”

This is Butts County, Georgia. The ‘[sic]’ in the first quote has been placed in error. “Doesn’t” is considered archaic and is not to be used in any context, from the most casual sheriff-thret’nin’s to the most formal government documents. It simply don’t work nowhere.

In the case of the second quote, well… Judge R., you poor, sweet lil thing, how did you manage to misspell “sheeit”?

K`Tetch (profile) says:

I’ve had some dealings with the Butts county SD in the past (they’re a county or two over from me) and this doesn’t surprise me.

Hell, we almost ran over two of their deputies a few years back, they were running a license check on GA36 between I75/death row and Jackson, at 11pm, and had NO lights at all on their vehicles except for a corner marker on the side of the road, when we pulled to the center to give the parked cruiser the space the law demands, thats when the officers flashlights appeared, so we slammed on the brakes. they were… argumentative, but were finally persuaded to put their cars blue lights on to avoid being creamed by a car or semi looking to cut the corner to I20.

Quiet Lurcker says:

A New Standard?

We don’t have enough information to judge what the cop did; there could honestly be some … discrepancies in the paperwork on the loan. It’s not like that has never happened. It doesn’t follow that I believe that to be the case here.

We do have a clear indication, though, of just what levels a cop will have to stoop to before his/her ‘qualified’ immunity will go away: it has to be personal with the cop.

David says:

Re: A New Standard?

We don’t have enough information to judge what the cop did; there could honestly be some … discrepancies in the paperwork on the loan. It’s not like that has never happened. It doesn’t follow that I believe that to be the case here.

There are still procedures to follow. Even assuming that we are talking about a crowd of con artists, it’s for a judge to determine this. And since Filbeck was a party with a vested interest here, he most certainly cannot claim qualified immunity like he did. The amount of his involvement as an (over?)-zealous law enforcement officer and as someone instigating law enforcement action is certainly something that needs to be disentangled by the court. I am not so sure about his colleagues’ qualified immunity either. They might claim to have been acting in good faith (and that’s what qualified immunity is supposed to cover) but I’m not convinced that it wasn’t too good to be true faith. It’s reasonable to focus on the elephant in the room, but there may be a few rhinos left in the china shop.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: A New Standard?

You’re being absurd. That’s so irrelevant it’s not funny. The house was abandoned; legal notices had been served; it was being legally cleaned out. The OTHER officers agreed with that.

It is ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT about the loan, the note, late payments, etc. All that gets handled with phone calls and letters to the bank.

No, this was far along after that and the officer has no “excuse” for falsely arresting these people.

Your attempt to give him one by bringing up “but how did we get here” is absurd.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A New Standard?

As cops often say, “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.” Cop apologists always say you’re supposed to go along with the official procedure even if it’s based on inaccuracies or even abuse of authority. So Filbeck should have, by that logic, let the house get foreclosed on and then sued afterwards rather than trying to fight the foreclosure while in process.

alphonsetomato (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@Bergman By jove, you’re right, although usually “terrorist” is defined as “somebody the government doesn’t like”.
The FBI says:
“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

I guess that makes the FBI stooges that goad people into “terror plots” terrorists as well.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Quite interesting to note his employment form too.

There’s quite a lot of typos in it, such as “Why do you want to work for central control?” (pg6) is answered “I AM NOT WANT TO WORK FOR CENTCOMM”.

Page 7 says he worked as a ‘CORPROAL’ (and not a ‘Corporal’) for a police department that’s just a PO box on a highway, with no town or state listed.

Finally some other goodies on Page 7.
He was a LT, in charge of SWAT, their Criminal Investigative Division, AND the Dive Team (Butts county is bordered tot he east by Lake jackson, caused by the Lloyd Shoals hydro dam to produce the Ocmulgee river. Right by the dam is the Sack-o-Suds from the movie [and legal education tool] My Cousin Vinny, filmed mostly in neighbouring Jasper county) for a county of about 25,000 (Jackson has a population of 5,000) which also has a stretch of I75 (with Truck stop) and the Georgia Diagnostic Prison and Death Row.

From there he became a ‘corproal’ in Siloam Springs, AR. A town with a population of 15k, and one of the small towns in a county dominated by Bentonville. This job he left after ‘irreconcilable differences with the chief of police’, and so gives his superior as a Sergeant.

His NEXT job is a ‘part time patrolman’ in ‘TONTITOWM’ (sic). The police departments are literally 18.1 miles apart on the same road (Tontitown is east of Siloam Springs) but now he’s been demoted again, and in a town of 2,400 at that. Also, he’s listing the Chief as his superior again, not a Sergeant or similar immediate supervisor.

Also, it seems that his Job here in GA didn’t include “enforce the laws of the State of Georgia’

Finally, bottom of page 9 asks for his former residences. He lists 191 Qual [sic] trail, but lists he exited October 2010, and that the landlord was OCWEN. He filed this on April 15th, but the appeal court ruling didn’t come out until May 3rd – so he’d admitted the facts to deny the immunity claim before the appeal court ruled on it.


K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ah, also his ‘training history’ makes interesting reading.


That was his last ethics class. And it was just 4 hours long. As long as his most recent training


and also the same length as

(I can forsee a FOIA filing now)

More interesting though is that he took this 8 hour course AFTER the incidents here
October 18, 2011 ILQ000 SEARCH AND SEIZURE

That was the same month he left the BCSO.
Wonder if Pope made him take the course in relation to the lawsuit, and if that was the straw that broke the camels back.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

I’m kind of conflicted about this one.

On one hand, what he said about the foreclosure order being worthless was more likely to be true than false. In this post-2008 world, that should be the default attitude of anyone who’s been paying attention, and it’s good to see LE standing up to foreclosure fraud and going after the real criminals.

On the other hand… it would have a lot less of a skeezy “conflict of interest” feel to it had the victim not been himself.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Meh. Personally, I don’t see anything proper in letting someone break into a home and steal stuff out of it, particularly if you’re an officer of the law who has a duty to prevent stuff like that and arrest people who do it.

I don’t usually believe in “guilty until proven innocent” but in the case of foreclosures I am willing to make a much-needed exception.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ugh, I wasn’t done. Why does Techdirt still not have an Edit button?

Rationale: In any case involving the attempted taking of property, the law must, by necessity, initially presume one party to be in the wrong before any legal proceedings have been initiated, much less resolved. Either the person doing the taking gets to keep the property by default, or they don’t by default.

Considering both the stakes–if you initially presume the foreclosure to be valid, then someone ends up out on the streets, whereas if you initially presume it to be invalid, no harm is done to anyone, not even the bank because they’re still having trouble selling off foreclosed houses–and the precedents, (a well-established history of rampant foreclosure fraud over the last decade and probably longer, which I assume you already know about,) both common sense and basic human decency fall squarely on the side of the homeowner.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Sure. Here’s just what I see various other sites do. You could provide a temporary holding time of a few minutes where you can see and edit your comment in place on the page, but nobody else can until the edit time expires. Or you could allow edits freely, but add a little notice of when the last one occurred. Or (my personal favorite) you could allow editing for 15 minutes or so after posting, unless someone replies first. Then you can no longer edit.

I can think of a few other approaches, but you get the idea. This is a cat that has been skinned many different ways.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Preview is close, but it’s a weaker form. Most people won’t click preview (or will ignore it, if the site does things the Slashdot way of forcing you to preview mode before you can post).

They will, however, read their own comment and want to edit it after it gets posted. So some sites take the stronger method of “posting” it so that only the commenter sees it, along with an editing timeout that tells you when everyone else will see it as well. That is orders of magnitude more effective than a preview button.

I should add what I do on my own sites. I implement the same thing I marked as my favorite above, but without the timeout. You can come back and edit your comment no matter how old it is, unless someone has replied to it.

Guess who says:

Re: Re:

Filbeck is a lier. I saw him ripe the paper down off the door. And was there when he received the eviction notice. He was in the wrong. We tried to get him to get his stuff out of that house with our help sience oct. he failed to get it out and had 6 months to do so. The company only wanted to fix the house and get it sold again.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m disappointed in Tim Cushing. This article leaves out some very important facts and he makes the article sound like the entire sheriff’s department is at fault over these arrests of these foreclosure employees.

It took five seconds to find some relevant information.

The plaintiffs (foreclosure employees) were hired by a loan servicing company to clean out Filbeck’s home after it foreclosed.

On Jan. 31, 2011 the employees returned and found the home boarded up, so they called their employer. The employer called the Butts County Sheriff’s Department, who dispatched an officer.

The document states the officer wouldn’t let the workers enter the property, but he did not make an arrest because he didn’t think a crime was being committed. He recorded the encounter in his daily activity report.

After the arrests, Sergeant Mundy found his name on the Jan. 30 report and demanded it be removed, the document states. Filbeck allegedly altered the report by listing his name as the reporting officer, and removing himself from the report’s narrative.


Tim, Google is a wonderful search tool for researching for your articles.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Research? Cushing isn’t interested in doing anything of the sort. He obviously had a traumatic experience with authority early in his life, has been unable to work through it, so Techdirt readers get to watch him try to publicly cope with it. Self-medication doesn’t work, Tim. Go get the therapy you desperately need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Tim mentioned Mundy & the ‘dispatched officer’ in his post, and [updates are always identified as such, as far as I remember]. I was wondering why some commenters were ignoring the cops that distanced themselves from Filbeck!’s BS. I’m of the ‘no such thing as a good cop while bad ones are tolerated’ school, but at least others were sort of weirded out by Filbeck!’s behavior, rather than jumping on the bat-shit-crazy harassment wagon for sheeits and grins.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Saw that one coming

Even after all this his buddies in blue seem to have no problem with his continued employment, so clearly they at least think he did nothing wrong, they just don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of court with him. Even if found guilty you can be absolutely sure he’ll keep his job, because abuse of power like this is just SOP for police these days.

Guess who says:

How did the case come out

Did Filbeck get off scott free, does he have to pay for his crime and is the insurance company asking for the money back they paid him for the false claim of his property that was legally cleaned out after sitting idol for 6 months. The Judge did not find this funny and said he was using his badge to commit a crime his self so what happened?

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