Wednesday, April 18, 2012

State's Attorney Immune From Police Officer's Claims

The Vermont Supreme Court has held that a state's attorney is absolutely immune in a lawsuit brought under the following circumstances:

This case commenced in February 2010 when plaintiff, then employed as a police officer with the South Burlington Police Department, filed a complaint against defendant, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney, stating claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with plaintiff’s employment. The complaint alleged that defendant, formerly a private lawyer and a member of what plaintiff characterized as the Vermont “Drug Bar” representing criminal defendants, harbored an animus against plaintiff due to his police work. Plaintiff claimed that as state’s attorney defendant had “maliciously pursued a course of action . . . to undermine plaintiff’s work and credibility in the law enforcement community.” As alleged in the complaint and in plaintiff’s later responses to discovery, defendant’s tortious misconduct included meeting with plaintiff’s supervisors to criticize his job performance and falsely accuse him of dishonesty; declining to file charges or seek search warrants based on plaintiff’s affidavits; threatening not to work with plaintiff and thereby end his career if plaintiff attempted to bypass the State’s Attorney’s office and obtain warrants directly from the trial court; criticizing plaintiff’s work when he was being considered by the State Police to serve on its Drug Task Force; impugning plaintiff’s honesty to other prosecutors; encouraging the filing of a civil-rights lawsuit against plaintiff and testifying falsely in that action; and “leaking” harmful information about plaintiff to criminal defense attorneys.

The court concluded that immunity bars the claims under state law:

 It was...within defendant’s general authority as the chief county law enforcement officer to review plaintiff’s job performance; discuss it with other prosecutors in the office, plaintiff’s supervisors, and the State Police; and take such measures as defendant deemed fit—including declining to work with plaintiff in the future—in the event that plaintiff attempted to circumvent or failed to follow standards and procedures. Supervising the investigative activities of police officers that result in the referral of cases for prosecution and reviewing those matters with other law enforcement personnel must, as a practical matter, fall within the general oversight authority of the state’s attorney as the chief law enforcement officer in the county.

(Mike Frisch)

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