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Evans v. Griffin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 28, 2018

GEORGE REYNOLDS EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER J.K. GRIFFIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          N. CARLTON TILLEY, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I.

         Pro se Plaintiff George Reynolds Evans originally filed this § 1983 action in the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that his civil rights were violated when he was unlawfully searched and arrested in Greensboro, North Carolina. That Court dismissed in part Evans' claims as frivolous, but allowed his claims against Officer J.K. Griffin in his individual capacity and those against the City of Greensboro (“the City”) to go forward. (Order (Aug. 11, 2014) [Doc. #19].) Thereafter, the action was transferred to this district. (Order (Dec. 30, 2014) [Doc. #41].)

         On February 6, 2017, this Court entered an Order on a Second Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #66] filed by Griffin and the City (collectively “Defendants”). [Doc. #74.] The Court determined that, “[b]ased on [his] allegations and the information presented, Plaintiff has not alleged facts to show that Defendant Griffin lacked probable cause” to arrest him. (Order at 6.) However, because the Court considered various items that Evans had submitted, including the police report of the incident in question (see [Doc. #44-3]), it was determined prudent to give the parties notice of the Court's intent to treat the motion as one for summary judgment and additional time to conduct discovery and submit supplemental briefing and any additional evidence. (Order at 7.) Consideration of the Motion to Dismiss was stayed until supplemental motions had been fully briefed and the matter referred for further consideration by the Court. (Id. at 7-8.)

         Since the entry of that Order, Evans and Defendants have filed additional briefing and materials with the Court, including Defendants' Supplemental Summary Judgment Motion [Doc. #81], and the matter has been referred for further consideration.

         II.

         In early November 2011, Griffin, a police officer with the City of Greensboro Police Department, began surveilling an antique store, Rhyne's Corner Cupboard, located at 603 S. Elm Street, Greensboro, North Carolina. (Decl. of J.K. Griffin ¶¶ 1, 2, 4 (June 7, 2017) [Doc. #81-1].) He was prompted to do so after learning from his sergeant, C.T. Blaylock, that the owner of Rhyne's Corner Cupboard, Dick Rhyne, reported that he had received a suspicious phone call at the store during which the caller stated that he had thirty of some kind of medication to sell. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.) This led Rhyne to believe store employees were involved in buying prescription medications. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         Griffin conducted surveillance for five days over a two week period for three to five hours at a time. (Id. ¶ 4.) He noticed people who appeared to be between the ages of fifty and sixty arrive at the store with handicapped placards, park their vehicles, and enter the store without hesitation. (Id.) Once inside, they did not look around the store as if to shop, but seemed familiar with the store and acted as though they had specific business there. (Id.) They left the store a few minutes later. (Id.) These activities were consistent with those that Griffin had seen at other locations where illegal narcotics transactions have taken place. (Id.)

         On November 22, 2011, Griffin learned from Blaylock that Rhyne had reported a second phone call. (Id. ¶ 5.) The caller told Rhyne that he “had 30 to bring” to the store and described himself as a black male who would be wearing black pants, a blue coat, and a blue toboggan or knitted cap. (Id. ¶ 6.) Griffin believed the “30 to bring” was a reference to selling thirty pills of some kind of medication at the store. (Id. ¶ 7.) Rhyne then contacted Griffin directly and told him that a man who matched the caller's self-description was present outside the store. (Id. ¶ 8.) Griffin arrived at the store and saw a black male standing outside it. (Id. ¶ 9.) According to Griffin, the black male was wearing the clothes the caller had described: black pants, a blue coat, and a blue toboggan or knitted cap. (Id.) Griffin avers that because the black male matched the description that the caller gave of himself, he believed the black male to be the caller. (Id.) The black male outside the store was Evans.

         According to Evans, he was across the street from the entrance of Rhyne's Corner Cupboard at this time. (Decl. of George R. Evans ¶ 16 (Apr. 10, 2017)[Doc. #78-1].[1]) He consistently maintains that he was not wearing the clothing that Griffin described. (Id. ¶ 5 (“I did not have on the clothes Griffin described in his report of what the store owner say.”), ¶ 16 (“I was not dress [sic] the way Griffin stated[.]”); Decl. of George R. Evans ¶ 5 (June 20, 2017) [Doc. #86] (“I did not have on the described clothing Griffin said in number 6 of Declaration.”).)

         Once Officer K.M. Pope arrived on the scene, he and Griffin approached Evans, and Griffin asked him what he was doing. (Decl. of Griffin ¶¶ 10, 12.) Evans asked Griffin what was going on, and Griffin explained he had received a phone call that Evans was at the store attempting to sell prescription medication. (Id. ¶ 12.) Griffin asked Evans if he had anything illegal on him, and Evans said no. (Id.) According to Griffin, he then asked Evans whether he had any prescription medications with him, and Evans said he had his own medication with him. (Id.) Griffin then avers that he asked Evans if he could “pat him down” and search his pockets to which Evans responded that he did not want to be searched. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Griffin contends that he then explained to Evans that he was searching Evans with probable cause, after which Evans said that he had four prescription bottles, three in his pants pocket and one in his inner left coat pocket. (Id.)

         Indeed, Griffin found the prescription bottles, one of which had been filled that day with thirty hydrocodone pills, and two cell phones, one of which showed the last number dialed to be Rhyne's. (Id. ¶¶ 14-16.) According to Griffin, he then arrested Evans. (Id. ¶ 18.) He later charged Evans with possession with intent to sell/distribute a Schedule III controlled substance. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Evans presents a different version of events. According to Evans, Griffin asked him if he had any illegal drugs or weapons to which he responded, “no.” (Decl. of Evans ¶ 11 [Doc. #86].) When Griffin then asked Evans if he could search him, Evans again said no. (Id.) It is difficult to discern the precise chronology of what happened next according to Evans. After he denied Griffin's request to search, he did allow Griffin to frisk him, (id.; see also Decl. of George K. Evans ¶ 14 (Dec. 30, 2015) [Doc. #60]), but Griffin went beyond a frisk and into his pockets for a full search, (Decl. of Evans ¶ 11 [Doc. #86]; Decl. of George R. Evans ¶ 4 (May 31, 2016) [Doc. #72]), which either happened before his arrest, after his arrest, or both, (see Decl. of Evans ¶ 14 (“I only gave Officer permission to frisk me for weapons for their safety and they decided to handcuff me and search me.”) [Doc. #60]; Decl. of Evans ¶ 1 (“Defendant J.K. Griffin immeadiately [sic] placed me under arrest and searched me and took my medication” [Doc. #70-1]). Evans contends that Griffin ...


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