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Federal judge denies qualified immunity in suit against Bettendorf Police Officer and city

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A U.S. District Court judge has denied a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity in a lawsuit against a Bettendorf police officer and the city of Bettendorf.

In his ruling dated Oct. 19, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Wolle said Bettendorf Police Officer Bryan Payton’s investigation of a woman’s claims of sexual misconduct by her attorney, Stephen Newport, which led to Newport’s arrest and public trial, was incomplete and did not meet the standard for qualified immunity.

In April 2018, Newport was arrested on charges of third-degree sexual abuse and indecent exposure, as well as a prostitution charge but was found not guilty of those charges at trial.

Newport filed a lawsuit against Payton and the city of Bettendorf on June 22, 2019, in U.S. District Court, Davenport.

According to the suit, Newport had represented Deborah Deevers for more than a year concerning a personal-injury claim in 2017 and 2018. On March 14, 2018, Payton and the city of Bettendorf obtained a search warrant for Newport based on what the suit alleges were “false statements and claims made by Deevers to Payton and without probable cause.”

Payton, according to the suit, should have known that Deevers’ statements “were false and malicious but relied upon them without any good-faith basis to do so.”

Deevers was upset with Newport over a settlement Newport had negotiated on her behalf as her lawyer.

According to the suit, the search of Payton’s offices was unlawful as the warrant was based on false statements and claims.

The statements Deevers made led to the filing of complaints and affidavits by Payton in Scott County District Court on April 20, 2018. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office used those statements to prosecute the case.

The suit claims that Newport’s civil rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were violated.

The actions of Payton led to the infliction of emotional distress on Newport, as well as the abuse of the legal process upon Newport and the malicious prosecution of Newport, the suit alleges.

In his motion for summary judgment, the attorney for Payton and the city of Bettendorf, Skylar Linkemann of Cedar Rapids, claimed that Newport had failed to establish facts or evidence supporting his claims and that Payton is entitled to qualified immunity.

Linkemann said that Newport was unable to show Payton violated any of Newport’s Constitutional or federal statutory rights and that Newport “bears the burden of proving Payton intentionally or recklessly included false statements in Payton’s warrant affidavits.”

He added that Payton is entitled to qualified immunity “because it is undisputed that he believed and accepted the information submitted in his warrant affidavits.”

Linkemann also said that Payton was entitled to qualified immunity because “Newport cannot show that Payton knowingly or with reckless disregard included or omitted material information from the arrest warrants.”

In his ruling, Wolle said Payton had ample time to conduct a thorough investigation in the more than one month from the time he was assigned to the case until the date the arrest warrant was issued.

Given Deever’s allegation that she was present with Newport at the law office on Jan. 19, 2018, and Newport’s denial that he was present there with her on that date, a reasonable official before arresting Newport would have sought to interview any person present at the law office on that date, Wolle said.

Payton made no attempt to interview any office employee, Wolle said. He failed to verify the basic fact that a meeting occurred on the date Deevers alleged, then failed to alert the judge of the “blatant flaw in his investigation,” Wolle said.

“Payton could not have appropriately accepted the facts in his affidavit as true because he did not attempt in any way to corroborate the date and time of the alleged meeting,” Wolle said.

The investigation was incomplete in other ways, too, Wolle said, adding that the photographs taken of Newport were at odds with Deever’s descriptions. The investigation failed to alert the issuing judge that the “accusations were those of a disgruntled client who was dissatisfied with the legal services Newport had provided her,” he added.

The trial remains scheduled for April 7, 2022.

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