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Civil lawsuit dismissed against Floyd County, Sheriff’s Office, deputies

By Bob Steenson,

A lawsuit filed against Floyd County, the Sheriff’s Office and several deputies for alleged violation of constitutional rights, abuse of process and other charges has been dismissed in the county’s favor in federal court before going to trial.

The ruling was issued Sept. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, granting Floyd County’s motion for summary judgment in a case that had been filed by a father and daughter after a search warrant had been served on their home in Rudd and they were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Stephen Davidson and his daughter, Michelle Tamayo, first filed the lawsuit in Floyd County District Court in February 2020, against Deputies Doyle Schmidt, Chad Weber, Jim Petrie, other unnamed deputies, Floyd County and the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office. The matter was transferred to federal court in April 2020 at the county’s request.

Davidson and Tamayo both alleged that while serving a search warrant at their home in Rudd on Feb. 21, 2018, the deputies violated their U.S. Constitution 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, and their 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection.

They also alleged abuse of process, saying the search warrant was improperly obtained and lacked probable cause and that because of actions taken during the search they suffered physical pain and emotional suffering, loss of function of their bodies and harm to their reputations.

And they both alleged defamation, saying that the county posted an item on its Facebook page after the search saying that narcotics had been seized, when no narcotics or other illegal drugs had been seized.

Davidson alleged malicious prosecution, because he was initially charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and those charges were eventually dropped after Tamayo said all the alleged drug paraphernalia was hers, not Davidson’s.

And Tamayo alleged violation of her right of privacy, because one of the deputies accompanied her to the bathroom while she was in handcuffs, helped her pull down her underwear and kept the door partially open while she urinated.

The case had been set to go to trial on Oct. 12, but in March the county filed the motion for summary judgment through its attorney, Dustin Zeschke of Swisher & Cohrt PLC of Waterloo, representing the county’s insurance company.

The county argued that the case should be dismissed because Davidson and Tamayo can’t establish any violation of their constitutional rights or show any county or Sheriff’s Office policies that violated federal rights, and that the deputies had qualified immunity because their actions were taken as part of the performance of their official duties.

In an 80-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts went through each of the allegations, the county’s defense on each point, and noted the relevant case law.

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law,” he wrote.

Issues of material fact are those that require a jury or a judge to resolve because the parties have differing versions of the truth.

Much of Davidson’s and Tamayo’s lawsuit revolved around whether the search warrant had been properly obtained.

The county said that deputies had sought the warrant after a “trash rip” of garbage set out at the residence showed material that tested positive for marijuana. The affidavit in support of the warrant said that deputies noticed a trash bag in front of a residence “known to me and other deputies within the department as a house of interest for narcotics activity.”

The application for the warrant also said that deputies had noticed the odor of marijuana at the residence on previous occasions when they had been there for other reasons, although the lawsuit said the incident reports for those visits did not mention the odor of marijuana being detected.

After taking the trash bag to the Sheriff’s Office and going through it, the deputies found “over one dozen used papers from rolled marijuana joints that were smoked. One of them contained enough substance to field test, which field tested positive for marijuana.”

Davidson and Tamayo argued that they rolled their own cigarettes and that the test the deputy used for marijuana was known to have false positives.

But Roberts ruled that the deputy had been trained to use the test kit and the deputy testified that “the smell and consistency of the material that  [was tested] was marijuana.”

“​​Officers are allowed to rely on their training and experience when deciding if probable cause exists in an affidavit,” Roberts ruled, citing case law.

He also wrote that although there was no corroborating evidence that the odor of marijuana had been previously detected, the information about the presence of possible drug material shown by the test kit was sufficient to justify the search warrant.

Davidson and Tamayo claimed damages because they were handcuffed during the search and made to stand outside, barefoot, in only the clothes they had on before the search, in February temperatures.

Roberts ruled that the length of time outside — less than two minutes — does not rise to the level of being out of the ordinary or greatly concerning.

“Under these circumstances a jury could not reasonably find that plaintiffs were subjected to unnecessary detention in extreme temperatures,” Roberts ruled.

Regarding being handcuffed, Roberts cited legal precedent that has established that “such detentions are appropriate” and if people are found at an address where a warrant is being served, “the authority to detain is categorical.”

Davidson alleged that he was injured because of the handcuffs, but Roberts ruled that video evidence shows “three times when Mr. Davidson asked for his handcuffs to be loosened, they were promptly loosened each time … and ultimately removed.”

“Even if there is a question regarding the cause of the injury, there is no basis for a jury to conclude his rights were violated,” Roberts wrote.

Regarding Tamayo’s claims to violation of her privacy while using the bathroom, Roberts wrote that the plaintiff’s own expert concluded that the actions of the deputy to assist Tamayo while using the restroom “were done in a reasonable manner of care.”

He wrote that the deputy did not leave the door wide open, but exited the bathroom and partially closed the door, “preserving as much of Ms. Tamayo’s dignity and privacy as possible under the circumstances.”

And Roberts noted that Tamayo admits being intoxicated during the search and incorrectly identified the deputy who had accompanied her to the bathroom as a different deputy “who does not resemble the deputy who actually accompanied her.”

Regarding the defamation, Robert ruled that the Facebook post was about a matter “of public concern” and was ambiguous about whether narcotics were found at the Davidson and Tamayo residence or during a search at a different location. Both locations were listed by the block on which they occurred and did not include any names.

Roberts concluded, “Because this order disposes of all claims, the clerk shall enter judgment in favor of defendants and the trial in this matter shall be canceled.”


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