Officers' motion to dismiss is deemed untimely, meaning they will stand trial for wrongful prosecution

By Charmaine Little | Apr 1, 2019

A group of law officers’ appeal in an exonerated man’s case against them was untimely, causing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to determine it didn’t have jurisdiction on March 11.

The law enforcement officers filed the appeal following the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s denial of their motion to dismiss. Glen Ford had sued the Caddo Parish law enforcement officers -- Don Ashley, Gary Alderman, Gary Pittman, Everett T. Rushing, Billy Lockwood, Frank Datcher, Glynn Mitchell and Rodney Price -- after he was released from jail. According to the lawsuit, the defendants allegedly played a part in Ford’s wrongful conviction for murder, which led to him spending 30 years in solitary confinement on death row before he was exonerated and all the charges against him were dropped. 

Ford said the defendants were law enforcement officials at the time of his arrest and accused them of suppression of evidence, fabrication of witness statements, and confining evidence among other things. Ford filed the lawsuit in March 2015, followed by a first amended complaint on Sept. 8, 2015. The defendants then responded with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in March 2016. They also asserted qualified immunity. Still, the district court said this was untimely and denied the motion. They then appealed in January 2018.

The lower court denied their motion to dismiss (that included an assertion of qualified immunity), stating it was untimely, and they filed the current appeal. Circuit Judge Kurt Engelhardt authored the opinion. Circuit Judges Jerry Edwin Smith and Kyle Duncan concurred. 

“The decision therefore is not based on a legal evaluation of the appellants’ entitlement to qualified immunity,” Engelhardt wrote. 

The appeals court entrusted that the lower court made the decision not solely on the timeliness, or lack thereof, and not in relation to any type of immunity. But the appellants still have the opportunity to take timely action.

“Accordingly, we note that nothing in the district court’s order bars the appellants from asserting qualified immunity by appropriate, timely procedural vehicle in the future,” Engelhardt wrote. 

Ultimately, since the lower court’s ruling was due to timing and not immunity, the appeals court determined it doesn’t have the proper jurisdiction to weigh in on the appeal, and dismissed it. 

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