WE READ SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO

An Excerpt From Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach County (11th Cir. 2012) 685 F.3d 1261

In one of his ballads, Jim Croce warned that there are four things that you just don’t do:  You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/ You don’t spit into the wind/ You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger/ And you don’t mess around with Jim.” He could have added a fifth warning to that list: “And you don’t let a pistol-packing mother catch you naked in her daughter’s closet.”

I.

It all started with a phone call. Nineteenyear- old Uzuri Collier called Larry Butler, who was of a similar age, and invited him to her house. Butler responded to the invitation the way most young men over the age of consent would have – he went. Once Butler was at Uzuri’s house, he and she consented to watch television for a while. Then they consented to do what young couples alone in a house have been consenting to do since the memory of man (and woman) runneth not to the contrary. The record does not disclose how long these two young people had known each other in the dictionary sense, but that afternoon in Uzuri’s bedroom they also knew each other in the biblical sense. While doing so, and while clothed in the manner that is customary in such matters, which is to say not at all, they heard someone coming into the house.

The record does not tell us how the timing worked out as unfortunately as it did. It may be that the two young people simply lost track of time, which would be understandable given the circumstances. Or it may be that Uzuri’s mother, Dorethea Collier, left work early that day. However it happened, Collier came close to catching the couple coupling. So close that when they heard her, Butler had only enough time to dash into the bedroom closet wearing nothing but a look of surprise. Collier was a corrections officer at the Eagle Academy, which is a “boot-camp facility for minors” run by the Palm Beach County Sheriff ’s Office. She was wearing her uniform and gun belt with pistol and “[u]pon entering the room, she began demanding that Uzuri explain why she was undressed and what she was doing.” While talking with her daughter, Collier took off her utility belt and threw it on the bed. Sometime thereafter—the implication is sooner rather than later—Collier discovered Butler stark naked in her daughter’s closet. She yelled at him and punched him one time. Then Collier picked up her utility belt, put it back on, and drew her gun. She told Butler that if he moved or did not follow her commands, she would shoot him. Butler tried to explain that Uzuri had invited him to the house, but Collier insisted that he must have broken in. She had the stillnaked Butler turn around, she handcuffed him, and she made him get down on his knees. After staying there “for a prolonged period,” Butler pleaded with Collier that he could not maintain that position any longer. Collier responded by telling him to bend over or she would shoot him. She “made numerous threats against Butler, [telling him] that she would ‘kill him’ if he did not obey her commands.”

While still holding Butler at gunpoint, Collier called her husband and told him to come home immediately. After that, she called a supervisor at Eagle Academy and asked what charges she could bring against Butler for entering the house and “engaging in sexual relations with her daughter.” The supervisor told Collier that if Butler had entered without permission he could be charged with trespassing and rape, but that if he had been invited in, she would have to let him go. About this time, Collier’s husband arrived at the house, and he “also assaulted Butler.” In what manner, we are not told. Collier continued to hold Butler at gunpoint, threatening to kill him if he did not follow orders. After Collier’s husband “inquired further” about the naked man’s identity and determined who he was, Butler was allowed to get dressed and leave, although Collier kept the gun pointed at him while he was dressing. One can assume that it did not take Butler long to get dressed and get out, but before he had time to leave Collier “warned him about the consequences of filing charges or even ‘thinking about’ reporting the incident.” She told Butler that if he reported what had happened, she “would submit a report to discredit him and would engage in some ‘creative writing’ if necessary  to justify the filing of charges against him for trespassing on the property.” Despite those threats, Butler eventually reported the incident to law enforcement. There is no allegation that Collier responded by submitting a report of of her own or by filing trespassing charges against Butler.

[Legal discussion omitted]

The amended complaint and Butler’s briefs leave no doubt that he feels mistreated, and with what appears to be some justification. If the allegations are true, Collier’s treatment of Butler was badder than old King Kong and meaner than a junkyard dog. She might even have acted like the meanest hunk of woman anybody had ever seen. Still, the fact that the mistreatment was mean does not mean that the mistreatment was under color of law. Because the alleged mistreatment of Butler was not inflicted under color of law, the district court correctly dismissed his § 1983 claims. Butler will have to seek his remedies under state law and in state court.

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