Two lawsuits aimed at Dothan police officers will be settled soon for an estimated $90K, if city commissioners approve.
The lawsuits, both filed in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Alabama, are unrelated but share similar origins – they both started with a call to police with claims of harassment, according to Len White, the City of Dothan’s attorney.
A 2016 lawsuit filed by Birmingham-based attorney Ruth Robinson, on her own behalf, claimed that an officer acted beyond the bounds of his authority by investigating a case outside the city’s jurisdiction resulting in the unlawful seizure of her cell phone. A separate 2019 lawsuit alleged that a truck driver was wrongfully arrested by Dothan officers for disorderly conduct.
In her lawsuit, Robinson sued police officer Shane Ash in his individual and official capacity, claiming the warrant was obtained in bad faith and that her First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. Robinson further argued Ash’s investigation was outside the bounds of his jurisdiction.
Prior to a court hearing set for Henry County in 2016, court documents indicate Robinson tried to contact a potential witness in her case and even went to her home in Newton the night before the hearing. At the beginning of the court hearing the following day, Robinson was detained and her cell phone was seized pursuant to a search warrant obtained by Ash and signed by Circuit Judge Mike Conaway.
As evidence to obtain the warrant, Ash claimed the cell phone could contain evidence that Robinson was trying to intimidate a potential witness.
Ash sought to dismiss the case, contending that his actions did not violate Robinson’s constitutional rights because they were justified by a search warrant supported by probable cause, and, in any event, he is entitled to qualified immunity.
However, U.S. District Judge William Keith Watkins ruled that the Officer Shane Ash was not entitled to qualified immunity in March 2019. Ash appealed, but the opinion was affirmed by U.S. District Judge Robert Austin Huffaker in January of this year.
No charges were ever filed against Robinson.
White called the case “difficult.” The City of Dothan is planning to pay $60,000 to Robinson before trial to avoid the uncertainties of litigation and its associated expenses, according to a resolution expected to be passed on Tuesday. The resolution stated that the City of Dothan continues to deny liability.
In another lawsuit, Doug Tanner claimed that he was harassed by a woman in her car on his truck driving route from Phenix City to Dothan on Aug. 2, 2019. He said he never made contact with the woman, but he called the police on her after they both stopped to get gas at the Flying J gas station on South Oates Street.
Nevertheless, the woman called the police. When they arrived, they detained Tanner. At some point Tanner commented, “This is some BBQ Becky s&*#,” referencing a highly-publicized incident from California involving a white woman who called the police on some Black people barbequing at a public park, according to the lawsuit.
Tanner was later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. In the lawsuit, Tanner said the police officers retaliated against him because of his comment, although he did not yell or curse at them during the arrest. Tanner claims he was falsely arrested and his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
The charges against Tanner were dropped in September.
The City of Dothan plans to pay out $30,000 to resolve the lawsuit, but denies liability in the resolution set to be voted on during Tuesday’s city commission meeting.
The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the city commission chambers at the Dothan Civic Center.
Sable Riley is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334.712.7915. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.