(CN) – The 11th Circuit turned to the lyrics of late folk artist Jim Croce in dismissing the excessive-force claims against a corrections officer who held a young man at gunpoint when she caught him getting to know her daughter “in the biblical sense.”
“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,”” the 17-page decision opens, quoting the 1972 hit that takes its name with the last line of the aforementioned chorus. “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.'”
“It all started with a phone call,” Judge Carnes wrote for a three-member panel, relaying allegations from the amended complaint. “Nineteen-year-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.” (Parentheses in original.)
During their naked “coupling,” they heard Uzuri’s mother, Dorothea Collier, enter the house.
“When they heard her, Butler had only enough time to dash into the bedroom closet wearing nothing but a look of surprise,” Carnes wrote.
But since Collier was a corrections officer with Palm Beach County, Butler had a particularly tough time when she found him.
After yelling at and landing a punch on Butler, Collier drew her gun and threatened to shoot if Butler moved or failed to follow her commands.
Butler tried to explain that he had been invited to her home, but Collier insisted he broke in the house.
Collier then handcuffed the still-naked Butler and made him kneel while she continued to threaten and berate him.
She then called her husband to come home and then called a work supervisor to see what charges she could press against Butler for entering the house and “engaging in sexual relations with her daughter.”
Collier’s supervisor advised her that she had to let the man go if he was invited to the house.
Butler says he endured another assault when Collier’s husband arrived home. Afterward, the family let him dress and leave, with a parting warning against filing charges.
When Butler ignored that alleged threat and reported the incident, he also sued Collier and Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Collier and Bradshaw removed the case to the Southern District of Florida whereupon a federal judge rejected the idea that Collier had invoked her authority as a law-enforcement officer. Finding that Butler failed to state a federal claim, the court dismissed the case with prejudice and remanded the state-law claims to state court.
“Collier was an angry parent who happened to be in uniform, have handcuffs and a firearm, which she used for the private ends of scaring a young man she caught in bed with her daughter,” the judge found.
The Atlanta, Ga.-based federal appeals court affirmed, finding that “any irate mother with an anger management problem could have done what Collier did.”
“When Collier punched Butler, she was acting as an enraged parent; she was not purporting to exercise her official authority to subdue a criminal for the purposes of an arrest,” Carnes wrote.
Collier called her husband as a wife and parent, the panel added. She called the sheriff’s department as any citizen might to inquire about possible criminal conduct.
“Although Collier did use the pistol that she wore as an officer, any adult without a felony record can lawfully possess a firearm (and tens of millions do),” she added.
The court said that “any other angry parent with a firearm in the house could have done what Collier did.”
Butler may feel justifiably mistreated, but that does not mean he has a federal case.
“If the allegations are true, Collier’s treatment of Butler was badder than old King Kong and meaner than a junkyard dog,” Carnes wrote, picking up the thread of Croce quoting. “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.”
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