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Sanders v. Maupin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division

August 1, 2017



          J. Gregory Wehrman United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a § 1983 case alleging claims under the Fourth Amendment through the Fourteenth Amendment. There are also pendant state law claims for malicious prosecution and assault and battery.

         I. Facts

         The facts of this case date back to January 2013, when Kentucky State Police Trooper Brandon Maupin began using a confidential informant to make controlled drug purchases in and around Gallatin County, Kentucky. (See Doc. 23-1, PageID# 112).[1] The confidential informant made 16 purchases over the course of five months. (Doc. 50-8 in 14-182). In each instance, Maupin followed a formula. The confidential informant called him on a state-issued phone; Maupin then drove to a meeting point in an unmarked car in plain clothes with another trooper accompanying him in the passenger seat; he picked up the informant, gave her money, turned on a tape recorder and placed it on the informant's person, and drove the informant to the location of the buy. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 99-101, 103, 105, 138, 179). After each buy, Maupin transferred the audio recording to a compact disk and sent the alleged narcotics the informant purchased to the lab for narcotics testing. (Id. at 99, 121).

         In nine of the 16 controlled buys, the informant purchased narcotics. (Doc. 50-8). But in seven of the buys, the lab results came back showing that the substance the informant turned over to Maupin was not actually a narcotic. (Id.). The three Plaintiffs in the two cases presently before the Court are among those seven instances in which the testing showed that no narcotics were involved.[2]

         1. Controlled buy events.


         On the morning of January 17, 2013, Maupin received a phone call from the confidential informant. (See Doc. 50-2). The informant claimed she could purchase 0.2 grams of heroin from Miranda Sanders for $40. (Id.). Maupin drove the informant to the residence of Christina Balsinger, on U.S. 127 southeast of Warsaw. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 128; Doc. 50-1, PageID# 1211). Maupin and the confidential informant had purchased narcotics from Balsinger five days earlier. (Doc. 50-6; Doc. 34-1 in Case No. 14-183).

         The informant went into the residence for approximately 10 minutes and spoke with someone who is not audible from the recording. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 165; Doc. 50-2). The audio recording does not include Sanders' name. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 165). The only evidence that Sanders was present comes from the informant's statement. (Id. at 139).

         The informant returned to the vehicle and did not say anything. (Doc. 50-2; see also Doc. 23-1, PageID# 166 (Maupin stating he based his report on the informant's statements upon returning to the vehicle)). Maupin stated that the informant returned with “a cellophane wrapper containing two pieces of paper with a brown substance consistent with heroin.” (Doc. 50-2; see also Doc. 23-1, PageID# 141). Maupin sent those alleged narcotics to the Kentucky State Police lab for testing. On February 22, 2013, the lab concluded there were “no controlled substances” in the items the informant gave Maupin. (Doc. 24-4, PageID# 506 in Case No. 14-183). Contrary to Maupin's initial assertion that there was a brown substance in the wrapper, and contrary to the informant's alleged attempt to purchase 0.2 grams of heroin, the lab only had “yellow powder weighing approximately [0.077 grams].” (Id.)


         On January 30, 2013, Maupin received a similar call from the informant, claiming she could buy 0.2 grams of heroin for $40 from Samantha Smith. (Doc. 50-11, PageID# 1315). Maupin, another trooper, and the informant drove to Smith's residence, where the informant purchased a folded piece of white paper containing a brown substance consistent with heroin. (Id. at 1316). On April 24, 2013, the Kentucky State Police lab concluded that the substance the informant purchased did not contain any controlled substance. (Doc. 24-4, PageID# 505 in Case No. 14-183).


         On May 15, 2013, the informant called Maupin and said she could buy 0.3 grams of heroin from Tara Johnson for $60. (Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1329, 1332). Maupin, another trooper, and the informant drove to an apartment owned by Sue Ann Peg and Jerry McGuire in Warsaw. (Doc. 24-1 in Case No. 14-183). The audio recording of the more than 15-minute conversation includes some small talk between the informant, a male voice, and a female voice. (Id.). The informant then returned to the vehicle and gave Maupin “a small clear plastic bag” that “contained three pieces of foil” containing a “brown solid substance” and labeled “20.” (Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1333). On June 19, 2013, the Kentucky State Police lab concluded that the “tan chunky substance” contained no controlled substances. (Doc. 24-4, PageID# 507 in Case No. 14-183).

         2. Subsequent events.

         Many of Maupin's cases went to a grand jury on April 8, 2013. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 151; Doc. 50-1, PageID# 1217). But the Sanders and Smith cases, which both occurred in January, were not among them-in part because the lab results were allegedly not back. (Doc. 50-11, PageID# 1320). Instead, those cases carried forward into the summer.

         On July 4, 2013, Maupin met with Assistant Gallatin County Attorney Kurt Kruthoffer. (Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1336). They discussed both the Johnson and the Smith cases. Maupin left the meeting concluding that the Kentucky State Police needed to make a second controlled buy before they could go to a grand jury with charges against Johnson. (Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1336).

         A few weeks later, on July 25, 2013, Maupin met with Kruthoffer again, and discussed the Sanders case. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 153). For the first time, he learned the lab test showed no narcotics. (Id. at 153-54). Kruthoffer recommended charging Sanders with trafficking in a simulated controlled substance. (Id. at 157; Doc. 50-1, PageID# 1218). So Maupin attempted to prepare a complaint for that charge. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 157 - 58).

         There was no action in any of the three cases until October 14, 2013, when Maupin once again spoke with Kruthoffer. (Doc. 50-11, PageID# 1321). He was planning a “Black Friday” raid on drug offenses in the Gallatin County area for November 1, 2013. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 188; Doc. 45-2, PageID# 1080-81).

         In that conversation, Kruthoffer reminded Maupin that the Sanders drug test came back negative. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 187). Maupin also learned for the first time that the tests for both Smith and Johnson were negative. (Doc. 50-11, PageID# 1321; Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1337). Like in the Sanders case, Maupin intended to pursue a charge for trafficking in a simulated substance. (Id.).

         Yet, Maupin encountered an issue preparing the complaints and went to Assistant Gallatin County Attorney William Leger for assistance on October 31, 2013. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 159). This was more than two weeks after Kruthoffer told Maupin that the lab tests in the Sanders, Smith, and Johnson cases all showed no controlled substances. Still, Maupin told Leger that he “would like to be able to charge with trafficking in heroin” in at least the Smith and Johnson cases. (Doc. 45-2, PageID# 1077). Leger-who also knew the drug test showed no narcotics (Id. at 1077)- sat down with Maupin and typed out a complaint for the Smith and Johnson cases. (Id. at 1072). He then had Maupin read over the complaint for accuracy. (Id. at 1074-75). Leger believed that if “the person [who] trafficked the substance did not know that it was not heroin at the time they did it, that they could probably still be charged” with trafficking in heroin. (Id. at 1078). Leger wanted to “charge a trafficking in controlled substance, first degree, and plead” the charge down “before it went to grand jury.” (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 194, 199). Leger testified that it is possible he had never encountered a case involving trafficking in a simulated controlled substance before October 31, 2013. (Doc. 45-2, PageID# 1119).

         The result led Maupin to sign a statement he knew to be false, and which led directly to indictments against Smith and Johnson. On October 31, 2013, Maupin signed a criminal complaint affidavit stating that Johnson sold heroin under two grams. (Doc. 50-9, PageID# 1310). Maupin later signed a warrant of arrest for Johnson, repeating this statement. (Doc. 50-12, PageID# 1339). On November 1, 2013, Maupin signed a warrant of arrest stating that Samantha Smith sold heroin under two grams. (Doc. 50-10, PageID# 1311).

         Maupin acknowledges the information in those documents he signed was not true. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 194-95). But he admits he willingly signed the documents, and was not forced to do so. (Doc. 23-1, PageID# 193). Indeed, he testified that he was “frequently” asked to sign incorrect affidavits. (Id. at 198).

         The Commonwealth dismissed Smith's case on February 4, 2014 at the pretrial conference. (Doc. 50-16). It later dismissed Johnson's case on April 22, 2014, at a hearing to address outstanding motions. (Doc. 50-15). At that hearing, Gallatin County Attorney John “Spike” Wright said:

I've known [Johnson] probably all her life. I've listened to the audio probably three times . . . I don't believe she was present. . . . It is hard to even tell whether there was a transaction. But clearly the confidential informant states that she got the substance from Tara Johnson. But that couldn't be physically possible. And I think there is no way I could move forward with that case. . . . She wasn't, as best I can tell, [present]. The apartment owner came to my office a couple of months ago and said [Johnson] had never been in his apartment before. . . . We can't go forward with the evidence that I've seen. . . . The best I could tell from what I have gathered is there was probably some animosity between [the confidential informant] and Ms. Johnson.

(Doc. 27 in Case No. 14-cv-183).

         The Sanders case resolved slightly differently. Instead of signing an inaccurate statement, on October 31, 2013, Maupin signed a complaint that stated Sanders “sold a simulated controlled substance.” (Doc. 50-1, PageID# 1223). The charge for trafficking in a simulated controlled substance against Sanders was dismissed on February 4, 2014. (Doc. 50-1, PageID# 1226).

         Smith and Johnson-the two Plaintiffs who were charged with trafficking in heroin-filed a joint complaint on October 23, 2014, seeking relief for false arrest, malicious prosecution, wrongful arrest, assault and battery, and punitive damages. (Doc. 1 in 14-183). Sanders filed a separate ...

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