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Harden v. Marion County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 5, 2014

ERIC V. HARDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MARION COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

ENTRY ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Marion County Sheriff’s Department’s (“Sheriff’s Department”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 38). Plaintiff, Eric V. Harden (“Harden”), filed a claim against the Sheriff’s Department alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for participating in an investigation into alleged discriminatory treatment of certain minority deputies in the Sheriff’s Department, and for filing his own claim for retaliation, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (“Title VII”). The Sheriff’s Department claims that Harden was terminated for allegedly stealing money from an arrestee’s wallet during processing. For the reasons set forth below, the Sheriff’s Department’s motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

The following statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Harden as the non-moving party. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

Harden, a white male, was hired by the Sheriff’s Department as a deputy on November 1, 2008, and remained in that position until his discharge on December 23, 2010. He primarily served as a building deputy providing security at the City-County Building in Marion County, Indiana. Unlike many other building deputies, Harden was a sworn police officer with extensive experience in law enforcement.

In February 2010, Harden was interviewed as part of an investigation into complaints of race discrimination brought by three African-American deputies. During the interview, Harden stated that he had seen and heard the two accused supervisors, Lieutenant Tammy Nelson (“Lt. Nelson”) and Corporal James Russo (“Cpl. Russo”), being disrespectful to several African-American deputies. Soon after giving his statement regarding the alleged discrimination against the African-American deputies, Lt. Nelson and Cpl. Russo began to harass Harden. Deputy Chief Shirley Challis also engaged in this harassment. As a result, Harden filed a complaint with the City-County’s Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Office, alleging retaliation. An investigation was completed, which included the taking of Harden’s statement. Following his EEO complaint, the alleged harassment by his superiors ceased. As a result of the first investigation, in May 2010, both supervisors were demoted, reassigned and removed from Harden’s chain of command.

On November 29, 2010, Harden was providing security for the drug lab within the City-County Building where probationers go to provide urine samples as a condition of their probation. On that day, Victor Rybolt (“Rybolt”) arrived at the City-County Building with his ten-year-old child. Harden informed Rybolt that his child could not go into the testing site and could not wait outside the testing area unsupervised. Rybolt left the City-County Building with his child and minutes later returned to the City-County Building alone. Harden questioned Rybolt about the whereabouts of his child. Rybolt then led Harden and another deputy out of the building and took them to his truck in the parking lot adjacent to the building, where his child was sitting unattended. Harden then arrested Rybolt for neglect of a dependent.

Harden escorted Rybolt back into the City-County Building to Room 101 to begin processing. In a search incident to arrest, Harden found and searched a wallet in Rybolt’s pocket along with other items, including keys and a cell phone. Harden removed Rybolt’s driver’s license, which he needed in order to contact the Department of Child Services (“DCS”). Harden placed all of the items on top of a computer console directly in front of Rybolt and then started filling out arrest paperwork at one of the desks in the room. Deputy Temalo Woods (“Deputy Woods”) and Deputy Tim Davis (“Deputy Davis”) then searched Rybolt’s wallet and counted the cash as part of the prisoner property inventory. Rybolt witnessed the two deputies count his cash, and it was discovered that he had $182.00 in the form of a one hundred dollar bill and other smaller denominations.

After the money was counted, Deputy Woods put the wallet with the money into a clear plastic property bag with the rest of Rybolt’s property and placed it, unsealed, on the desk in full view of Rybolt. Rybolt and Deputy Woods claim that Harden picked up the property bag and took it into another room where he was alone for eight to fifteen minutes. Harden states that he did go into an adjacent room to call DCS, but denies taking the property bag with him. When Harden returned to Room 101, he escorted Rybolt, along with the now sealed property bag, to the paddy wagon to be transported to the Arrestee Processing Center.

The next day, Rybolt was released from the Arrestee Processing Center. As part of his release, two officers opened his sealed property bag. Rybolt immediately realized that his $100.00 bill was missing from his wallet. Rybolt returned to Room 101 of the City-County Building and filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Department regarding the missing property. The Internal Affairs division of the Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation during December 2010. Several employees, who were present at the time of Rybolt’s arrest and detention, including Harden, were interviewed, and a statement was taken from Rybolt. Importantly, none of Rybolt’s arrest paperwork identified how much cash was in his wallet, which included three separate forms on which the amount should have been noted.

When Harden, as the arresting officer, was questioned about why he did not include the amount of cash in Rybolt’s possession on the arrest paperwork, he stated that he was only required to fill out that section of the report if the amount was over $500.00. However, Harden was unable to explain how he knew that Rybolt did not have $500.00 if he claimed to have never seen or handled the money. Also, as part of the investigation, the Internal Affairs investigators obtained copies of all of the Officer Arrest Reports (“OAR”) filed by Harden for 2010, and on fifty-seven of the fifty-nine reports, Harden noted a specific amount of cash in the possession of each arrestee, including one report where he noted that an arrestee had $0.25 in change at the time of his arrest. The OARs were in direct contradiction to Harden’s response regarding why he omitted the amount of money in Rybolt’s possession on his arrest paperwork. As a result of the Internal Affairs investigation, the Sheriff’s Department concluded that Harden should be terminated for theft and mishandling of Rybolt’s arrest. The incident was also reported to the Marion County Prosecutor’s office, but the prosecutor declined to file theft charges against Harden. Additional facts will be discussed below, as necessary.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “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.” Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489–90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). However, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). “In much the same way that a court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat the motion for summary judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the merits of a claim.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted). “[N]either ...


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