United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
L. Hornsby U.S. Magistrate Judge.
of north Bossier Parish experienced a rash of vandalism and
property crimes that began in 2010 and continued for several
years. Local law enforcement authorities were under pressure
to arrest someone for the crimes that affected dozens of
victims. The sheriff eventually charged local resident Todd
Phillips with criminal property damage, a misdemeanor. Two
years later, the Bossier Parish District Attorney amended the
charge to a felony offense of simple arson.
the trial date on the felony charge approaching, Mr. Phillips
filed this federal action and asked for (1) an injunction to
halt the state court trial and (2) an award of damages. A few
weeks later, sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant
at the home of Gary Wilson, a man who had claimed to be among
the victims, fed information to investigators, publicly
accused Phillips of the crimes, and testified as a state
witness at a pretrial hearing. The search of Wilson's
home revealed evidence that connected Wilson to arson and
other crimes, and Wilson was arrested. The DA later dismissed
all charges against Mr. Phillips.
Phillips, his wife, and two daughters present their claims in
a third amended complaint. Doc. 35. Phillips dropped his
claim for injunctive relief after the DA dismissed the
criminal charge, but the family still seeks damages from
Sheriff Julian Whittington, two deputies, DA Schuyler Marvin,
ADA Hugo Holland, Gary Wilson, and Coty Wilson (Gary's
son). Before the court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 39) filed
by DA Marvin and ADA Holland. For the reasons that follow, it
is recommended that the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 39) be
granted in part and denied in part.
and ADA defendants have challenged the third amended
complaint by filing a motion to dismiss for failure to state
a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[W]hen ruling on
a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as
true all of the factual allegations contained in the
complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct.
2197, 2200 (2007). Accordingly, the facts set forth below are
taken from the Phillips family's third amended complaint
and accepted as true for purposes of this motion. Of course,
this is only the Phillips' side of the story, and
evidence could later demonstrate a different set of facts.
in 2010, residents began to report property crimes near the
Old Plain Dealing Road area in north Bossier Parish. The
third amended complaint describes more than 40 incidents
between 2010 and 2015 where residents reported flat tires on
a truck or ATV, or even personal injury, caused by homemade
spikes that had been placed in roads or trails near hunting
areas. There were also reports of theft of a hunting camera,
vandalism of deer stands and hunting camps, and arson that
destroyed multiple hunting camps.
letters, phone calls, and other clues appeared to cast
suspicion on certain persons. One resident who found two
spikes on an access road also found a plaid men's shirt
on the ground nearby. Inside the shirt was a small walkie
talkie with “L. Burns” written on it in black
marker. The name was thought to identify Landon Burns, but
the shirt was too small to fit him. Detectives concluded that
the real perpetrator(s) intentionally placed the shirt and
walkie talkie to mislead investigators. Third Amended
Complaint, ¶¶ 11-12.
Brunson received an anonymous phone call from a female caller
in 2011. The caller said she needed to “clear her
conscience” and was looking for a man to tell him that
his green camp house on Highway 160 had been destroyed. Mrs.
Brunson advised that the only green camp house in that area
belonged to her and her husband. The caller said that she was
with Gregory Bickham when he vandalized the camp, and Bickham
hid stolen items under his trailer. Deputies accompanied the
Brunsons to their camp, where they found it in disarray and
vandalized with threatening messages carved into the front
door. Deputies learned that the anonymous call came from a
pay phone in the area. A search of Mr. Bickham's
residence did not find any evidence of his involvement, and
his cell phone records confirmed that he was in Texas at the
time of the burglaries. Detectives concluded that the real
perpetrator(s) named Bickham in an effort to mislead them.
Adams reported to deputies that he found a cellphone box
suspended 10-12 feet in the air on his hunting lease. Inside
the box was a plastic baby doll with, “cry baby,
” “kiss my ass, ” and “Mark
13:35” written on it. ¶ 22. Another resident
received a threatening letter that read: “Keep that
bitch off my lease I can get to your cows just as easy. Keep
the bitch off my lease.” ¶ 23.
Whittington took office in July 2012, after the property
crimes had been occurring for over a year. He received
multiple complaints from residents and was under pressure to
make an arrest. ¶ 84. He appointed Lt. Bruce Bletz as
the lead investigator and instructed him to identify and
arrest a suspect. ¶ 85. Todd Phillips, in August 2012,
was promoted to Vice President/General Manager of Frymaster
Corporation. The company services food-chains across the
world and requires that Phillips travel across the United
States and to foreign countries on a regular basis.
Phillips' name became associated with the events after
his name was found written on an item near a crime scene. A
resident reported that his deer stand had been burned down,
and a game camera and metal box were missing. Deputies
located the camera and box on the property, and they also
located a small green Coleman fuel bottle with the name
“Todd Phillips” written on it in black marker.
November 2012, deputies were investigating another complaint
of a deer stand and game camera being burned when they found
a GPS device. The GPS had been taken from a deer stand and
placed in the bed of another man's truck. Detectives also
found a rigged incendiary device in a deer stand that was
made from items including a Powerade bottle, diesel fuel, and
a Bute syringe that had been prescribed for a horse that
belonged to the Phillips family. Next to the device was a
trash bag that contained a Styrofoam cup with the name
“Karen” written on it with a pen. ¶ 27.
obtained a search warrant to search the Phillips'
property and outside buildings. They searched the residence
and two barns on the property, but they found nothing to
connect any members of the Phillips family to the crimes.
Daughter Abby Phillips told the deputies that the syringe was
used for her horse and had been discarded after use. Mr. and
Mrs. Phillips told deputies that they recognized the
“Karen” cup as one used by their friend, Karen
Sherratt, who had visited the week before. The cup and
syringe had been placed in the trash at the end of their
driveway, which is about .3 miles from the home and cannot be
seen from the home in the heavily wooded area. The Phillips
family voluntarily submitted fingerprints, and Todd Phillips
gave a DNA sample and a handwriting exemplar. None of that
information linked the Phillips family to any of the crimes.
month after the search of the Phillips property, Crime
Stoppers received an anonymous call that identified Blake
Barton as the person responsible for the crimes. The caller
told investigators to look for a hole near a pine tree behind
Barton's residence. Detectives found the hole, inside of
which was a camouflage fanny pack with tire spikes, a torch,
part of a blue flashlight, and a black trash bag with
household trash that included a magazine with a subscription
label for Mrs. Phillips. ¶¶ 32-33. Barton denied
any knowledge about the items found on his property, and
detectives concluded that the items were intentionally placed
there in an effort to mislead them. ¶ 35.
Barton's father received a call from an unknown man who
warned that Blake better sell his trailer or it would be
burned down. The caller said that Blake was trying to set up
Todd Phillips. The call was traced to a pay phone in the
area. ¶ 37.
the crime scene messages made reference to Lt. Bletz, the
lead investigator for the sheriff. One man found a toilet
bowl in his driveway with writing on it: “2 John
1:12” and “Bletz career.” ¶
Deputies found graffiti that was red paint in the shape of a
body with “Bletz Gossip” written at the feet.
¶ 40. A resident received a letter that identified a
location. When detectives arrived, they found a toilet tank
top at the edge of a dirt grave with “Bletz a/k/a
Inspector Clouseau Wearried Himself to Death” and a
black dancing monkey drawn on the toilet. ¶ 48. Another
resident found a plastic bottle near one of the metal spikes.
Inside the bottle was a message: “Call Detective
Clouseau ***-****.” ¶ 54.
resident received a letter that stated: “We know your
son is helping Phillips and you know it two chief no hair
will not get off his ass to do anything so I will I have
always hated you anyway you and your son are going to hell
and I'm going to send y'all there.” ¶ 56.
A Shreveport policeman who lived in the area reported finding
spikes in his driveway. The spikes were made from crushed
beer cans with nails and tacks driven through them, and the
cans had “talk talk talk” written on them in
black marker. ¶ 65.
and Mrs. Bobby Hewlett lived on Old Plain Dealing Road. They
were awakened in December 2015 when an explosive device went
off beneath the main bedroom of their pier-and-beam home.
Douglas Holley, who lived on their horse farm in a separate
residence, was arrested several days later and charged with
the bombing. Despite the proximity of the Hewlett farm to the
other property crimes and the use of an explosive device,
Bossier detectives, after consultation with ADA Holland,
refused to investigate whether Douglas Holley was responsible
for or connected to the other property crimes. ¶ 77-78.
Wilson, who was ultimately charged with the crimes, made
victim reports or provided information to law enforcement on
several occasions. He reported that he suffered flat tires on
an ATV or his truck on at least three occasions. ¶¶
36, 41, and 66. He reported that his deer camp had been
burned down, and he reported a few weeks later that a deer
stand and game camera had been burned. ¶¶ 25, 27.
Wilson gave deputies a Propel Zero drink bottle and part of a
blue flashlight that he reported finding in a tree next to
his deer lease. ¶ 34. Those items were similar to items
found at crime scenes. Gary Wilson contacted Lt. Bletz and
reported finding (1) metal spikes and (2) a clear plastic
bottle hanging from a nearby tree with a paper inside with
writing: “Never Say I Can't Go On Any
Longer!” ¶ 44.
Wilson later reported that his home had been vandalized while
he was out of town. Detectives saw that his walls had been
broken through with an axe, and his furniture and other
personal belongings destroyed. ¶ 76. About a year later,
Wilson reported that his secondary residence had been burned
down. ¶ 79.
Bletz was aware that the perpetrator had made multiple
attempts to mislead and taunt detectives by attempting to
direct them toward certain persons. ¶ 86. The search of
the Phillips home did not reveal any incriminating
information, and no witness ever identified any member of the
Phillips family at the scene of any of the crimes. The only
items that connected the Phillips family were the syringe,
magazine, and cup that had been placed in the trash, and the
small propane bottle with “Todd Phillips” written
on it. Such bottles can be purchased at any hardware or
sporting goods store and are commonly used by hunters and
outdoorsmen. ¶¶ 87-96.
the lack of evidence against the Phillips family, Lt. Bletz
and other investigators began reporting to members of the
community that Todd Phillips was a suspect. Gary Wilson
developed a close relationship with Lt. Bletz and repeated to
members of the community that Bletz said that Phillips was
guilty, which encouraged public outrage. ¶ 99.
Holland, Lt. Bletz, and others disregarded the evidence
placed at various scenes that identified suspects other than
Mr. Phillips. ADA Holland advised Bletz and other detectives
that any exculpatory evidence in Mr. Phillips' favor
should be disregarded or considered planted by Mr. Phillips.
The investigators intentionally misrepresented facts and
evidence in their offense reports in an effort to bolster
their case against Phillips. ¶¶ 101-03.
signs appeared near the Phillips home in March 2013. The
signs featured the same type of writing used on the messages
sent to members of the community, and each referenced a
different Bible verse. One sign was placed directly across
the highway from the Phillips' driveway, and the other
two were placed along Old Plain Dealing Highway so that the
family would see the signs on their way home.
Phillips was in China on behalf of Frymaster when the signs
went up. Mrs. Phillips and one of her daughters saw the signs
while coming home from a rodeo on a Friday evening. They were
afraid because the signs appeared to be connected to the
several crimes in the area. They called a friend who came to
their home and called the sheriff's office. Deputies
arrived, but they did not tell Mrs. Phillips that Lt. Bletz
and other deputies, after consultation with and pursuant to
the advice of ADA Holland and Sheriff Whittington, were the
ones who placed the signs. Mrs. ...