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Pike v. Hester

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 23, 2014

RICHARD PIKE, Plaintiff,
v.
J. BRAD HESTER et al., Defendants.

ORDER

ROBERT C. JONES, District Judge.

This case arises out of alleged defamation, illegal searches and seizures, and general harassment of an Elko County employee by several sheriff's deputies because of a private dispute between the employee and a sheriff's deputy.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. The Parties

Plaintiff Richard Pike was employed by Defendant Elko County (the "County") as the Director of the City of Jackpot Recreation Center (the "Center"). (Compl. ¶ 10, May 25, 2012, ECF No. 1). Plaintiff's supervisor was the Director of Elko County Public Works, Mr. Lynn Forsberg, who is not a party to this action. ( See id. ¶ 19). Defendants J. Brad Hester and Sean Munson are employed by the County as deputy sheriffs with Defendant Elko County Sheriff's Office ("ECSO"). ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12). Defendants Rick Keema and Jim Pitts are also employed by the County and ECSO as the Under-Sheriff and Sheriff, respectively, and they are alleged to be "officers" of the County as that term is used in Section 32 of the Nevada Constitution and final policymakers for the purposes of municipal liability claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( See id. ¶¶ 13-14). Pike and Hester have a history of animosity arising out of Pike's previous supervision over Hester's minor child in Pike's capacity as assistant coach of a high school football team during the Fall of 2008. ( See id. ¶ 18).

B. The First Unlawful Search

Plaintiff has had an office at the Center since about September 2007, where he keeps personal affects such as photographs. ( Id . ¶¶ 21-23). In or about August 2011, Deputy Hester (who was at that time a sergeant), accompanied by Deputy Munson and non-party Deputy Mike Moore, unlocked one of the outer doors of the Center and searched the Center without a warrant, based upon the false pretense that Plaintiff was selling the illegal drug known as "ecstasy" to school children. ( See id. ¶¶ 27-28, 34). Once inside the Center, Hester ordered Moore to conduct a dog sniff throughout the building. ( Id. ¶ 29). During the dog sniff, Hester unlocked the door to Plaintiff's office and searched it, including Plaintiff's desk, without a warrant. ( Id. ¶¶ 30, 34). During the search, Hester seized an envelope from Plaintiff's desk containing $500 that nonparty James Ward had left with Plaintiff to be given to Plaintiff's God-son, Cody Ward, for travel expenses. ( Id. ). Hester then ordered Moore to perform a dog sniff of Plaintiff's office, and the dog did not react to anything in Plaintiff's office. ( Id. ¶ 31). Hester then asked Moore if he were "sure" there was nothing in the office and asked him to perform another sniff "right here, " pointing to Plaintiff's filing cabinet. ( Id. ). Moore complied, and again the dog did not react. ( Id. ). Plaintiff did not have any illegal drugs, but he suspects that Hester planted illegal drugs, i.e., ecstasy, during the search, and that the dog simply failed to react to them. ( See id. ¶ 32).

In or about October 2011, ECSO informed Plaintiff of the August 2011 search. ( Id. ¶ 38). Plaintiff presented a grievance to non-party ECSO Lieutenant Marvin Morton about the search, and Morton promised to "look into it." ( Id. ¶ 39). Plaintiff alleges that Under-Sheriff Keema's investigation into the illegal search on behalf of ECSO was intentionally deficient. ( See id. ¶ 40). However, Sheriff Pitts and Under-Sheriff Keema ultimately "sustained" the investigation, meaning they found that an illegal search had occurred; still, as is their usual custom and practice, they refused to properly punish Hester, but rather downplayed his illegal conduct in order to shield him from civil liability and criminal prosecution, giving him only a written reprimand and three days unpaid leave. ( Id. ¶ 41).

C. The Second Unlawful Search

On or about October 25, 2011, Munson, accompanied by non-party former Deputy Steve Church, while in uniform, and without a warrant, picked the lock to an exterior door of the Center in order to train Church how to break into the Center. ( Id. ¶ 43). Munson and Church got trapped in the Center when a door locked behind them that they could not reopen, so they called Moore to free them. ( Id. ¶ 44). Munson had broken into the Center multiple times in the past in order to teach deputies how to break into buildings. ( Id. ¶ 45). Plaintiff consented to neither the October 25, 2011 search nor the August 2011 search, and Forsberg did not authorize either of them. ( Id. ¶¶ 36-37, 46-47).

D. Hester's Defamation of Plaintiff

Hester ordered the illegal August 2011 search of the Center based upon the false pretense that Plaintiff was selling the drug "ecstasy" to schoolchildren, which claim Hester made to Forsberg, Munson, and Moore. ( Id. ¶ 48-50). On September 22, 2011, Hester went to the office of the Dean of Students and Athletic Director of Jackpot Combined School Kim Smith, to talk about Plaintiff and Jackpot Combined School Football Coach Jorge Perez. ( Id. ¶ 51). At the meeting, Hester maliciously told Smith that Plaintiff was a "pot head, " "one of Jackpot's biggest druggies, " and "just threw his bong and pipe away a couple of weeks ago." ( Id. ¶ 52). Hester made these allegations in order to have Plaintiff removed as Head Coach of the Jackpot Football Team so that Hester could secure that position for himself. ( Id. ¶ 53).[1] The official letter in which Smith memorialized Hester's allegations has since been widely disseminated, adversely affecting Plaintiffs personal and professional reputation. ( Id. ¶¶ 54-55). In or about October 2011, Plaintiff and James Ward met with Lieutenant Morton to present a grievance concerning Hester's defamatory statements, and Morton promised to "look into it." ( Id. ¶ 61). Plaintiff believes that Morton conducted an internal affairs investigation, but Pitts, Keema, ECSO, and the County took no action against Hester as a result. ( Id. ¶¶ 62-63).

E. Hester's Harassment and Plaintiff's Protective Orders Against Hester

After ECSO began the internal affairs investigation of Hester, Hester began driving his ECSO vehicle to Plaintiff's place of residence and work up to seven times a day over the span of several months in order to stop and stare at Plaintiff in a hostile and threatening manner. ( Id. ¶ 64). Hester did this in order to make Plaintiff fear ...


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