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Gray v. Hampton

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

November 9, 2017

TONY HAMPTON, et al., Defendants.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for consideration of the defendants' motions to dismiss. [Record Nos. 17, 18] For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted, in part, and the remaining claims will be stayed pending resolution of the relevant criminal proceedings in state court.

         I. Background

         James and Vivian Gray were found deceased in their home in Scott County, Kentucky in April 2007. [Record No. 1, p. 10 ¶ 8] Their son Anthony Gray (“Gray”), the plaintiff in this action, with whom they had a turbulent relationship, quickly became a suspect in their deaths. Id. at p. 10 ¶ 10. Approximately six months following James and Vivian's deaths, Scott County Sheriff Deputies Roger Persley and David Willis asked Gray to come in for an interview. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 14. The investigators questioned Gray for approximately two hours concerning his parents' signatures on one or more wills. Id. Gray took a short break and returned to the interview room to find grisly photographs of the crime scene. Officers had also placed a slice of pecan pie and a Pepsi on the table. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 17. According to Gray, this was done to “recreate the crime scene environment.” Id.

         At this point, Persley and Willis turned off all recording devices and interrogated Gray for over five hours. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 19. They employed various forms of “trickery and deceit, ” which included producing “a forged or altered lab report of DNA and blood evidence allegedly linking Gray to the murders;” telling Gray that his car had been captured on surveillance video heading to his parents' home on the night in question; showing him a photograph of a car and telling him that it was, in fact, his car; telling Gray that a neighbor identified him at his parents' home on the night in question; and telling him that a judge had called the sheriff and threated Gray with the death penalty if he did not confess to the murders immediately. Id. at p. 12 ¶ 21. He was also shown photographs of his parents' bodies and told that their blood was found on his clothing and steering wheel, and that gunshot residue was found on his clothing. Id. at p. 12 ¶ 22. Gray alleges that the officers knew all along that all of the assertions were untrue. Id.

         The officers eventually turned the cameras or other recording devices back on. Id. at p. 12 ¶ 23. Gray told the officers that they “made [him] realize what [he] had done” and that the evidence they had provided “helped [him] to . . . I still don't believe I done it but you know, with the evidence I must have.” Id. at p. 13 ¶ 25. Gray was immediately arrested, taken into custody, and indicted. Id. at p. 13 ¶ 26.

         Gray sought to suppress his confession prior to his first trial. Id. at p. ¶ 33. The state trial court denied suppression and a mistrial resulted. Id. at p. 16 ¶ 40. Gray was tried again and was convicted of two counts of murder and of tampering with physical evidence in 2013. Id. at p. 16 ¶ 42. He was sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment. Gray appealed.

         In February 2016, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed Gray's convictions, finding that “the hours of manipulation and fabricated evidence” amounted to coercion and that the confession should have been suppressed. Gray v. Com., 480 S.W.3d 253, 261 (Ky. 2016). The court stated that “considerable evidence” pointed to Gray's guilt, but it was particularly troubled by officers' use of false reports linking DNA evidence to Gray. Id. At the time Gray filed the instant Complaint, he was scheduled to be tried on the charges for a third time. [Record No. 1, p. 17 ¶ 50]

         II. Standard of Review

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether the complaint alleges “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff must provide more than mere labels and conclusions, and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While plaintiffs are not required to plead facts showing that the defendant is likely to be responsible for the harm alleged, plaintiffs must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. Discussion

         A. Denial of a Fair Trial, Conspiracy, and Failure to Train under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Gray alleges that the defendants' conduct deprived him of a fair trial in violation of his due process rights (Count IV) and that his coerced confession resulted in a false conviction (Count VII). He complains, inter alia, that the defendants coerced his confession and knowingly used it against him at trial; arrested and prosecuted him without probable cause; and withheld and destroyed evidence during the investigation and trials. [Record No. 1, p. 26 § 84] Likewise, Gray claims that the defendants conspired to obstruct justice to achieve his wrongful indictment, conviction, and unlawful imprisonment (Count VI), id. at p. 31 ¶ 99, and that they failed to supervise or train their officers (Count IX).

         A plaintiff's § 1983 claims accrue when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487-88, n.8 (1994). In Kentucky, the applicable statute of limitations for § 1983 actions is one year. Collard v. Ky. Bd. of Nursing, 896 F.2d 179, 182 (6th Cir. 1990). Gray's interrogation occurred in late 2007 and the defendants' “threats” regarding the death penalty persisted through 2011, just prior to his first trial. [Record No. 1, p. 13 ¶ 28] Viewed in isolation, these events would no longer be actionable, as they are outside the statute of limitations. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 349. However, Gray claims that the defendants conspired and used a false confession and fabricated evidence against him during his trials to obtain a conviction. This may have resulted in new constitutional claims ...

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