FAIRVIEW, Tenn. – A federal court has ruled that Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper has no prosecutorial immunity and can now be sued individually by two fired police lieutenants.
Pat Stockdale and Shane Dunning were investigated for alleged misconduct. The two lieutenants were on paid administrative leave for about six months during the investigation. Finally, the investigation ended with no findings.
However, it was unclear exactly what that means. A prior report simply said, “The report stated there were no criminal findings and no charges have been filed.” But that does not answer the question whether allegations of internal policies were sustained or not.
Nevertheless, the two lieutenants returned to work at the police department with no complaints or problems, reported WKRN.
In spite of this, the men were then fired. At the time, city manager Scott Collins told News 2 he was advised by DA Helper she would not prosecute any cases the officers worked, forcing him to fire the men.
According to the lieutenants’ attorneys, they have sued the city of Fairview and the DA individually for a combined 12 million dollars.
The DA argued she had prosecutorial immunity from such a case.
But last week, Judge Aleta Trauger out of the US District Court Middle District of Tennessee ruled against DA Helper.
“For the reasons discussed in the accompanying memorandum, the motion to dismiss filed by defendant General Kim Helper, is hereby Denied,” the judge wrote.
Attorney Representing Lieutenants
According to Bryant Kroll at the Blackburn Firm, which represents the officers, DA Helper was not acting within the scope of her duties when she interfered with the city’s personnel decision.
“She had gone out of her way to get her employee as the chief,” he told News 2.
Kroll explain further in an email to News 2, saying:
Prosecutors typically enjoy absolute immunity for actions taken within the course and scope of their duties as prosecuting attorneys. The Complaint alleges, among other things, that she was not acting within the scope of her duties when she attempted to influence the staffing decisions in the City of Fairview. In essence she had Lt. Stockdale and Lt. Dunning terminated by ‘Giglio impairing’ them.
This impairment is essentially an attack on their credibility as a witness for the State. If they cannot testify, then they cannot be police officers arresting people on the street. The Complaint alleges that she had no basis to attack their credibility, and that she did so purely out of personal, political, and retaliatory motivations, none of which fall within the duties of a prosecutor.
Gen. Helper had filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuit on grounds that, regardless of her motivations, she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. DAs typically enjoy prosecutorial immunity, but only if they are acting as an ‘advocate for the state,’ which falls within the scope of their employment as a District Attorney.
Last week, Judge Trauger found that Gen. Helper is not entitled to any immunity whatever. Although Helper did not raise the defense of qualified immunity, Judge Trauger nonetheless found that she would not be entitled it. This means that if we prevail, she is personally liable for any damage award.
Brady v. Maryland
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are bound by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland. According to this landmark case, all exculpatory or impeaching information and evidence that is material to the guilt or innocence or to the punishment of a defendant must be disclosed to the defense.
Consequently, in some jurisdictions, prosecutors actually require law enforcement agencies to supply them with “Brady Letters” on any officer that has been convicted of a crime. i.e. Domestic battery. Once prosecutors receive a “Brady Letter,” they will never call that person as a witness, thus making them useless to their respective agency.
Perhaps the DA tried to put her eggs in that basket? However, when allegations are unproven, unfounded, or not-sustained, there is nothing to disclose. To do so violates property interests. These circumstances appear to be way beyond the Brady decision.
News 2 reached out to DA Helper for comment. Thus far she has not responded.
(Photo courtesy Skye Marthaler)