A lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against an assistant district attorney general for Cumberland County.
The lawsuit is as follows in its entirety:
Plaintiff JIM HOWE is a resident of Cumberland County, Tennessee and is engaged in the business of operating a bail bonding company serving Cumberland County, Tennessee.
Defendant AMANDA WORLEY is an Assistant District Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial District of the State of Tennessee. Upon information and belief, is a resident of Cumberland County, Tennessee. Defendant is being sued solely in her individual capacity.
ALLEGED IN LAWSUIT
Big Jim’s Bonding, located at 59 S. Main Street, Suite 101, Crossville, Tennessee, has been registered for bail bond tax purposes with the Tennessee Department of Revenue since October 1, 2016.
In the two years prior to the events described herein, Plaintiff and his wife suffered from serious medical conditions that required hospital stays and time off from work.
Because of the time off from work due to illness, Plaintiff was behind on paying bonding taxes for Big Jim’s Bonding.
Plaintiff was contacted by Mark Sells in the Cookeville office for the Tennessee Department of Revenue regarding his bonding taxes not being paid.
Plaintiff worked out an agreement with Mark Sells and Plaintiff was given an extension of time of ten days to pay the amount owed through the first quarter of 2018.
Within that extension of time, Plaintiff sent a check dated June 11, 2018, in the amount of $5,664.00 to the Tennessee Department of Revenue to pay the amount he owed. This payment was intended to get the bonding taxes up to date and current through the first quarter of 2018, but actually constituted an overpayment for the amount owed during this period.
Plaintiff had also worked out an agreement with Mark Sells that he would pay his second quarter 2018 bail bond taxes (due on July 25, 2018) at the end of August 2018.
During 2018 and prior to August 3, 2018, Defendant, along with TBI Agent Elizabeth Williams and members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, investigated Plaintiff regarding allegations that he had exchanged bonds for drugs and sex.
On or about August 3, 2018, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Elizabeth Williams joined the investigation.
On or about August 28, 2018, Elizabeth Williams and CCSO Investigator Jeff Slayton met with Plaintiff and interrogated him about exchanging bonds for drugs and sex.
Defendant Worley, Agent Williams, and Investigators Slayton knew they did not have probable cause to pursue a search warrant based on trading sex for bonds.
They were also aware of the agreement between Plaintiff and the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
Bail bonds cannot be issued without generating public records of their issuance maintained at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and the Cumberland County Court Clerk’s Office, and the Defendant was aware of the amount of bonds written as well as the amount of bond tax that Big Jim’s Bonding owed for the second quarter of 2018.
The evidence available to the Defendant by or before August 29, 2018, plainly demonstrated that Plaintiff was not delinquent in bond tax payments for any period other than the second quarter of 2018 (a delinquency for which the Plaintiff had already worked out the agreement with the TDOR) and that the Plaintiff was not intentionally evading payment of bail bond taxes.
In order to gain access to Plaintiff’s personal items and information which would otherwise be inaccessible, Defendant conspired with TBI Agent Williams, Tennessee Department of Revenue Agent Ronny Howell, CCSO
Investigators Jeff Slayton, Jason Elmore, and Jon Wirey, and others to prepare an affidavit in support of a search warrant which intentionally omitted the materially exculpatory evidence known to them at the time of the application.
Defendant Worley and her co-conspirators decided to use the affidavit to obtain a general search warrant to conduct an evidentiary “fishing expedition” in furtherance of their unrelated investigation against Big Jim’s Bonding.
On August 29, 2018, the Defendant and her co-conspirators actively participated in the drafting and approval of the search warrant and affidavit attached as Exhibit 1 – Search Warrant and Exhibit 2 – Affidavit.
This search warrant provided no indication whatsoever of the Defendant’s involvement in its preparation.
The search warrant was a general search warrant for “evidence to include but not limited to” documents, bit-by-bit images of computer hard drives and electronic storage media, federal tax returns, and other items which had no relation to the payment of bond taxes during the second quarter of 2018.
The search warrant contained no limitation on the scope of data to be searched and seized from the computers and cell phones.
The search warrant contained no limitation on the time frame for relevant evidence, despite the alleged basis of the search warrant being delinquent bond taxes during the second quarter of 2018.
The Defendant participated in the drafting and approval of the search warrant with full knowledge of materially exculpatory information being omitted from the warrant application and that probable cause did not exist for the warrant.
The Defendant and her co-conspirators used the search warrant in an attempt to gather evidence in their unrelated “bonds for drugs and sex” investigation.
Law enforcement officers including TBI Agent Williams, TDOR Agent Howell, and CCSO Investigators Slayton, Elmore, and Wirey conducted a raid on Big Jim’s Bonding shortly after the search warrant was issued.
The Defendant was not present at Big Jim’s Bonding for the execution of the search warrant.
Employees of Big Jim’s Bonding had their personal cell phones seized and their personal vehicles searched.
The Plaintiff and his attorney were kicked out of the business during the search, which lasted for over five hours.
Over $8,000 in cash was seized from the Plaintiff’s business, along with documents, computers, cell phones, and other items.
The second quarter bail bond tax return was on Plaintiff’s desk at the time of the search, ready to mail in for payment, but was seized in the raid.
The computers, cell phones, and other items seized from Big Jim’s Bonding were held at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department so that the Defendant and her co-conspirators could unreasonably search through all the items in their attempt to gather evidence in the unrelated “bonds for drugs and sex” investigation.
Approximately three weeks after the raid on Big Jim’s Bonding, Defendant Worley and others performed a thorough search of all the computers, cell phones, and other items seized from Big Jim’s Bonding in furtherance of their “bonds for drugs and sex” investigation.
Criminal charges were never brought against the Plaintiff for either bond tax violations or “exchanging bonds for drugs and sex.”
All the acts described herein occurred prior to the initiation of judicial proceedings and without probable cause.
Prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity for all actions intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. Those acts must include the professional evaluation of evidence assembled by the police and appropriate preparation for its presentation at trial or before a grand jury after a decision to seek an indictment has been made. However, absolute immunity does not apply when a prosecutor engages in police-type investigative work.
Defendant is not entitled to absolute immunity because Defendant Worley’s conduct at issue was investigative in nature and were not intimately associated with the judicial process.
From the inception of the investigation, Defendant Worley participated in and directed the investigation in at least the following specific ways:
- Defendant Worley, along with Investigators Slayton, Elmore, and Wirey, decided together to initiate the investigation;
Defendant Worley, along with Investigators Slayton, Elmore, and Wirey, interviewed the first potential witness during the investigation;
Defendant Worley held at least one roundtable discussion with investigators about everything that occurred during the investigation prior to seeking the search warrant;
Defendant Worley knew or should have known that materially exculpatory information was excluded from the affidavit (Exhibit 2);
Defendant Worley knew or should have known that there was no probable cause to support the search warrant (Exhibit 1).
Defendant Worley drafted and approved of the search warrant and affidavit. (Exhibits 1 and 2);
Defendant Worley, along with investigators, combed through all the items seized during the August 29, 2018, raid on Big Jim’s Bonding.
Plaintiff sued several of Defendant Worley’s co-conspirators in United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Howe v. Howell,No. 2:19-cv-00067. He did not bring suit against Worley at this time because he had no reason to be aware of her extensive involvement in the investigative process.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A)(i) initial disclosures from the “County” defendants were served to Plaintiff’s counsel on January 16, 2020, identifying Defendant Worley along with the elected District Attorney and another Assistant District Attorney as persons who “possesses information pertaining to the investigation and interview of witnesses, preparation of the search warrant, seizure of property, and possibly conversations with Plaintiff or his counsel.”
Defendant Howell’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A)(i) initial disclosures were served on January 24, 2020, and merely identified “Assistant District Attorney Amanda Worley” along with the elected District Attorney and another Assistant District Attorney as persons required to be disclosed by the rule without further description.
Depositions were not conducted in the case until January 18, 2021, and it was during these depositions that Plaintiff discovered the extensive level of Defendant Worley’s participation in the investigation and the details regarding her personally drafting and approving the search warrant and affidavit (Exhibits 1 and 2).
In committing the acts complained of herein, Defendant Worley acted under color of state law to violate Plaintiff’s constitutionally protected rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. Such constitutionally protected rights include but are not limited to the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 47. Any reasonable person would have known that these constitutional rights were clearly established at the time of the Defendant’s wrongful conduct.
COUNT I – 42 U.S.C. § 1983 VIOLATION OF THE FOURTH AMENDMENT PROHIBITION AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES
All allegations in the preceding paragraphs are incorporated herein as if restated fully verbatim.
Defendant Worley acted under color of law when performing all the acts and omissions described herein.
Defendant Worley knew or should have known the search warrant affidavit omitted materially exculpatory information pertaining to bail bond tax violations by the Plaintiff.
Defendant Worley knew or should have known that the search warrant was invalid, general, and devoid of constitutionally-required specificity and limitations.
Defendant Worley acted intentionally or with reckless disregard for the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights in taking each and every action described herein, particularly those related to the search warrant.
As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful conduct by Defendant Worley which resulted in the violation of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights,
Plaintiff suffered general and specific damages and is entitled to relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 54. Defendant Worley’s conduct was willful, malicious, and/or reckless to such that punitive damages should be imposed in an amount commensurate with the wrongful acts alleged herein.
COUNT II – VIOLATIONS OF CIVIL RIGHTS, CONSPIRACY 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)
The allegations in the preceding paragraphs are incorporated herein as if restated fully verbatim.
Defendant Worley acted in concert with other investigators to procure and execute the invalid search warrant (Exhibits 1) for the purposes of directly or indirectly depriving the Plaintiff of Fourth Amendment Rights.
The actions complained of herein show that Defendant Worley and one or more co-conspirators each took specific actions in furtherance of the conspiracy.
The Plaintiff suffered damages and injuries to his property, along with the deprivation of his federally protected constitutional rights, as a direct and proximate result of this conspiracy.
The allegations in the preceding paragraphs are incorporated herein as if restated fully verbatim.
Defendant Worley and her co-conspirators are jointly and severally liable for damages including but not limited to:
- Physical, mental, and emotional pain and suffering;
- General and special damages;
- Compensatory damages for the harm to Plaintiff’s business
- Punitive damages against Defendant Worley as allowed by law and in an amount to be determined by a jury;
- Pre- and post- judgment interest;
- All costs, including statutory and discretionary costs
- Attorney’s fees and expenses as authorized by 42 USC § 1983.
Plaintiff reserves the right to prove the amount of damages at trial.
As of February 18, 2021, a court date has not been scheduled for the lawsuit to be heard.