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.