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On August 4, 2015, Officer David McClure, Shreveport Police Department (SPD), responded to a reported burglary at a residence, the Dalzell Street Property managed by Port City Realty. After arriving to the scene, McClure interviewed the burglary victim and Dalzell Street Property tenant Sandra Robinson. Robinson told McClure that she had not been to the Dalzell Street Property since August 2, 2015, and that when she arrived back home, she noticed that the front door was unlocked, the window of the front door was broken, and certain items were missing. At that time, McClure collected fingerprints from the doorknobs and window. The fingerprints came back from the lab as “not identifiable.”
Between August 4, 2015, and August 7, 2015, Port City Realty contracted with Gregory James Bledsoe to repair the front-door window at the Dalzell Street Property. Port City Realty had previously contracted with Bledsoe to complete handyman repair projects at three different sites. Bledsoe alleges that he was cut by glass while repairing the front door window.
On August 7, 2015, McClure returned to the Dalzell Street Property to conduct a follow-up interview with Robinson. The window was repaired before McClure’s follow-up visit. During McClure’s interview, Robinson said she had noticed blood near the fixed window. The blood had not been mentioned in McClure’s earlier August 4 narrative report. McClure took a sample of that blood and submitted it for analysis. The sample came back as a match for Bledsoe. Sergeant Dean Willis later contacted Robinson, who said she neither knew Bledsoe nor gave Bledsoe permission to enter the property.
Neither Willis nor McClure documented asking Robinson: (1) whether she owned the Dalzell Street Property;(2) whether she had personally repaired the broken front-door window, and if not, whether she knew who had repaired it; or (3) if any other items were damaged during the burglary.
Willis sought the issuance of an arrest warrant based on the DNA match to the blood collected. The judge who issued Bledsoe’s arrest warrant relied on Willis’s affidavit and the facts stated therein from McClure’s investigation to conclude that probable cause existed to arrest Bledsoe. Bledsoe was arrested for simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling. While out on bond, Bledsoe failed to appear for a hearing on time and was arrested. Bledsoe was incarcerated for two years and spent an additional year on home confinement while awaiting trial. In January 2021, after the charges were amended to the lesser offense of criminal trespass, a judge found Bledsoe not guilty because of a lack of evidence.
As it relates to this §1983 claim, Bledsoe’s complaint provides the following regarding his malicious
Neither McClure nor Willis wrote in their official narrative reports that the broken front door window had been repaired when McClure went to the Dalzell Street Property on August 7, 2015, during which visit he was directed to blood near the front door window. Neither McClure nor Willis wrote in their official narrative reports that Robinson was merely a rental tenant at the Dalzell Street Property. Neither McClure nor Willis contacted the Dalzell Street Property owner or property management company to inquire whether anyone, including Mr. Bledsoe, had permission to enter the Dalzell Street Property. Willis submitted an affidavit for an arrest warrant directed to Mr. Bledsoe based on the investigation by McClure and Willis. The affidavit omitted the key facts described above, specifically that Robinson was merely a rental tenant of the Dalzell Street Property, that a property management company was authorized to make repairs at the Dalzell Street Property, and that the broken window had been repaired between the dates McClure visited the Dalzell Street Property. Those omissions resulted from the wanton and reckless disregard by Willis and McClure for Mr. Bledsoe’s constitutional rights. Those omissions were material and were recklessly, intentionally, or knowingly omitted from the affidavit for arrest warrant. But for those omissions, an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Bledsoe for simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling, Louisiana R. S. 14:62.2.
Willis and McClure moved for dismissal on qualified immunity grounds. The district court denied the motion. The 5th affirmed.
A. Constitutional violation
A Fourth Amendment claim for malicious prosecution is the wrongful initiation of charges without probable cause. This court has clarified the six elements for a claim of malicious prosecution, including: (1) the commencement or continuance of an original criminal proceeding; (2) its legal causation by the present defendant against plaintiff who was defendant in the original proceeding; (3) its bona fide termination in favor of the present plaintiff; (4) the absence of probable cause for such proceeding; (5) malice; and (6) damages. See Armstrong.
Willis and McClure argue that Bledsoe fails on the fourth and fifth elements, but they do not discuss the other elements. We agree with the district court’s determination that elements one, two, three, and six have been met. Thus, only elements four and five are discussed below.
A1. Element four – probable cause
Willis and McClure argue that the independent intermediary doctrine insulates them from liability. But as the district court explained, that doctrine does not apply here because the trial judge who issued the warrant for Bledsoe’s arrest relied on a defective affidavit. The independent-intermediary doctrine provides that if facts supporting an arrest are placed before an independent intermediary such as a magistrate or grand jury, the intermediary’s decision breaks the chain of causation for false arrest, insulating the initiating party. See Anokwuru.
However, an officer can still be liable if the officer deliberately or recklessly provides false, material information for use in an affidavit or makes knowing and intentional omissions that result in a warrant being issued without probable cause. If the facts omitted from an affidavit are ‘clearly critical’ to a finding of probable cause, then recklessness may be inferred from the proof of the omission itself.
Here, Bledsoe argues that Willis’s and McClure’s actions and omissions “tainted” the judge’s evaluation of whether to issue the warrant for Bledsoe’s arrest. Specifically, Bledsoe’s complaint alleges, among other things:(1) failure to document who owned the Dalzell Street Property; (2) failure to document that Robinson was merely a tenant; (3) failure to document that the broken front-door window initially observed had been fixed before McClure returned to the scene; (4) failure to determine who fixed the broken front-door window; and (5) failure to contact the Dalzell Street Property owner or the property management agent to inquire whether anyone, including Bledsoe, had permission to enter the Dalzell Street Property.
At this stage of the proceedings, Bledsoe has sufficiently alleged that the officers deliberately or recklessly omitted relevant information. Willis and McClure neither dispute that several pieces of information were absent from the officers’ reports and affidavit, nor provide copies of the warrant or affidavit to rebut Bledsoe’s allegations. Moreover, his allegations suggest that Willis and McClure had several chances to identify information that was clearly critical to a finding of probable cause.
For example, when McClure returned to the Dalzell Street Property on August 7, he failed to note in his report that the broken window had been repaired. McClure only noted the “splatch” of blood that he and Robinson saw three days after the initial report. Then, eight months later, Willis made a supplemental report that again failed to include that the window was fixed. And, a month after that, Willis failed again to include this information in his supplemental report. Subsequently, Willis signed an affidavit for an arrest warrant identifying the broken window and Bledsoe’s blood sample. Thus, the independent-intermediary doctrine does not apply when, as here, the Affidavit contained so many relevant omissions that it did not accurately present the probable cause issue to the Judge.
A2. Element five – malice
On malice, Willis and McClure argue that Bledsoe must allege that the officers either knowingly or intentionally omitted exculpatory information from their incident report, or that their conduct arose from hate or private advantage. Willis and McClure contend that Bledsoe has not pleaded either and that his allegation concerning their “clearly deficient investigation” amounts to mere “negligence.”
While it is true, at least at this preliminary stage, that Bledsoe has no allegations detailing how the officers knew of exculpatory information, one could still reasonably conclude that the officers failed to make the most basic inquiries that would have yielded such information, or recklessly disregarded the truth. We hold officers liable for the intentional or reckless omission of material facts from a warrant application. See Wilson. And we have extended that liability to any officer who has provided information for the purpose of its being included in a warrant application and therefore has assisted in preparing it. See Melton. Based on Bledsoe’s allegations, there is a plausible inference of reckless omission—and that is all he must show. Bledsoe therefore alleges with sufficient specificity at this stage that Willis and McClure acted recklessly by omitting facts material to the finding of probable cause.
B. Clearly established
Long before the conduct at issue in this case, it was clearly established that a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights are violated if (1) the affiant, in support of the warrant, includes a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth and (2) the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause. See SCOTUS Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).
Accepting Bledsoe’s complaint as true, and determining that Willis and McClure are not shielded by qualified immunity, the district court found the following:
The crux of Bledsoe’s claim is that the trial court judge was not privy to the full scope of information available during the criminal investigation and that this incomplete information was the direct result of Willis and McClure’s recklessness and failure to disclose material information. Bledsoe plausibly alleges that an arrest warrant would not have been issued but for the reckless investigation that omitted exculpatory evidence regarding the source of the blood and Bledsoe’s contract with Port City Realty.
The initiation of criminal charges without probable cause may set in force events that run afoul of explicit constitutional protection—the Fourth Amendment if the accused is seized and arrested. See Winfrey. Here, Bledsoe’s claim turns on the Fourth Amendment because he alleges that Willis and McClure caused the arrest and commencement of criminal proceedings against him without sufficient probable cause based on a clearly deficient investigation. Thus, the Supreme Court’s and our court’s precedent clearly establish Bledsoe’s alleged constitutional violation for purposes of qualified immunity.
Accordingly, we agree with the district court that Bledsoe plausibly alleges federal claims of malicious prosecution against Willis and McClure, and that at the motion to dismiss stage, Bledsoe overcomes the qualified immunity defense.