HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected former Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin’s arguments that her investigation that led to the arrest of a former county jailer was covered under state immunity protections.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by former Morgan County Jail Warden Leon Bradley against Franklin and a number of her then-deputies.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the defendants' claims that the behavior alleged by Bradley was covered by immunity protections afforded to law enforcement officers. They were appealing a lower court ruling that rejected their efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed.
“This view requires an extraordinarily broad view of absolute immunity that would effectively immunize any conduct when the sheriff flashes his or her badge,” the court wrote. “The district court correctly rejected this view because Alabama law does not provide such infinite immunity.”
Bradley was arrested in March of 2017, accused of tampering with government documents. The arrest appeared tied to a long-running feud between Franklin and a Morgan County blogger who’d been critical of the sheriff and her deputies, alleging financial misconduct.
The criminal charges against Bradley were later dismissed and a Morgan County judge found that Franklin and an investigator had misled the court in getting a search warrant and encouraged illegal entry by a private citizen into blogger Glenda Lockhart’s business.
The court today noted the lengths the sheriff’s office went to in pursuing the blogger and Bradley.
“Rather, the alleged activities paint a picture of a lengthy conspiracy to defraud the taxpayer, use public funds for personal gain, and punish anyone who threatened to publicize their activities,” the court wrote. “As the district court noted, the defendants cannot explain how these allegations would fit within the scope of their employment.”
The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that they were entitled to qualified immunity, which the court said is designed to protect officials engaged in duties that do not violate the law or a person’s rights that a reasonable person would understand.
“It is harder to think of a better example of knowingly violating a plaintiff’s constitutional rights than the allegation, which we are bound to accept as true, that the defendants facilitated the installation of an unauthorized keylogger on Bradley’s computer, misled a judge to secure an invalid search warrant, then raided Bradley’s home,” the court wrote. “Said another way, these allegations are the antithesis of the type for which one might be entitled to ‘good faith’ immunity. As such, the district court properly denied qualified immunity to the defendants.”
Along with Franklin, the defendants are Robert Wilson, Blake Robinson and Justin Powell.
WHNT News 19 spoke with two attorneys who represent Franklin in the case. They say they disagree with the courts' decision, but believe the principle of law involved in the decision is a correct one. Her defense team says it is ready to move forward with the case and start the discovery process which they say will spell out the facts in the case that the courts have not yet been briefed on.