Congressman Cleared on False Arrest Claims

     ATLANTA (CN) – A congressman need not face civil claims that he brought false terroristic-threat charges against a Georgia man who criticized him, a federal judge ruled.
     Timothy Williams lives in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. David Scott. He claimed in a complaint last year that Scott turned on him during a June 2011 meeting over a grant proposal for a solar project Williams had been trying to secure. Scott allegedly ended the meeting after five minutes, and six police officers arrested Williams and interrogated him shortly thereafter.
     The arrest warrant accused Williams of identity fraud and of making “terroristic threats” to Scott over Facebook.
     Williams accused various parties including Scott of malicious prosecution and other violations.
     He claimed that the Democratic congressman had conspired with prosecutors and the police to have him arrested on false charges in retaliation for previous criticism of Scott by Williams on policy matters and on certain press-reported allegations.
     The terroristic threats charges allegedly stemmed from a statement Williams had made on Facebook in response to a post by Scott.
     “This is not justice, what happened to the courts of law,” he wrote. “If rights are denied and justice comes from the barrel of the bullet, be careful the rooster will come to roost. The culture of our nations is violence.”
     Williams said that comment was actually excerpted from a longer message he had written in response to an article about the killing of Osama Bin Laden that Scott had posted on the social media website.
     The quotation merely reflects Williams’ opinion on the issue of executing a person without a trial, according to the complaint.
     As for the identity fraud charges, Williams, now in his late 60s, claimed he only learned his original name about 15 years ago, upon discovering a different birth certificate at his mother’s house. He decided to keep the name Williams, under which he had served in the Army and had received academic degrees, according to court filings.
     Williams said he was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, although he had never been convicted of a felony. The charges allegedly kept him in jail for 45 days before he was released on bond, and then under house arrest for another 400 days. The charges against Williams were dismissed on Dec. 31, 2012.
     U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash found earlier this month that District Attorney Patrick Head had absolute prosecutorial immunity on the direct constitutional allegations.
     Williams’ argument that Head had conspired to engage in malicious prosecution fails because “calling a prosecutor’s allegedly wrongful decision to prosecute a conspiracy does not strip the prosecutor of absolute immunity,” Thrash wrote, citing 11th Circuit precedent.
     Head, who can only be sued in his individual capacity, is also not liable for constitutional violations allegedly committed by the defendant officers. Williams failed to allege that Head took part in the allegedly unconstitutional acts, or that he was a supervisor of the arresting officers, the March 7 opinion states.
     Thrash called Williams’ conspiracy claim a “bare allegation” that cannot support the state-law cause of action against Head, and noted that Williams may not rely on discovery to correct the deficiencies of his complaint.
     The judge did, however, find that Williams had standing to sue Scott based on vicarious liability for the acts of his co-defendants. The claims against Scott lack merit, however, because there is no vicarious liability for civil rights violations claims, the judge concluded.
     What’s more, there is no allegation that Scott had acted under color of state law, or that he had engaged in conspiracy, the order states.
     Thrash also dismissed a claim on behalf of Williams’ wife based on her husband’s tort claims.
     Sheriff Neil Warren and the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office last week asked Thrash to dismiss the remaining claims against them, and filed a motion to stay discovery, which Thrash denied as moot in an oral order on Friday.
     A spokeswoman for the county district attorney’s office declined to comment on the ruling.
     Attorneys for Williams and Scott did not respond to requests for comment.

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