The Associated Press
JACKSON (AP) — A south Mississippi sheriff, a drug task force and board of county supervisors want to be dismissed from a $551 million lawsuit that says a doctor was jailed for 14 months on false drug and witness tampering charges.
The lawsuit is related to a 2009 drug raid on a sprawling property in south Mississippi and the subsequent arrest of Dr. David Bruce Allen, a well-known heart surgeon who had moved to Sacramento, Calif., to open a medical marijuana clinic.
Allen was arrested in the weeks after the raid in Jackson County, Miss., but he was eventually cleared of most charges and a jury couldn’t reach a verdict on others.
Allen’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Gulfport on Feb. 22, 2012. An amended complaint with more detailed allegations was filed earlier this month.
The lawsuit says the agents who raided Allen’s property lit a bonfire in his yard and “acted like hooligans, yelling and screaming about how this was going to be their property, how this would be their vacations resort and shooting range, camp grounds, fishing place, scuba training facility” and played pool and ping pong on Allen’s tables.
Attorney Jackye C. Bertucci said Wednesday in an answer to the complaint that the defendants “deny their participation in any wrongdoing.”
Bertucci also asked the judge to dismiss the sheriff’s department, the Jackson County Narcotics Task Force, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Mike Byrd from the lawsuit.
The motion argues that the board, task force and sheriff’s office are not legal entities, but rather departments of the county and not subject to being sued. And the claim against Byrd in his official capacity “is actually a claim against the governmental entity itself” and should be dismissed, the motion said.
Another document says Byrd acted in good faith as sheriff and has qualified immunity. Byrd was out of the office and did not return a call Friday.
Bertucci did not immediately respond to phone and email messages on Friday.
The task force raided Allen’s property in February 2009. He’d already moved to California, but still owned the land.
Authorities said they found hashish and a marijuana growing operation, but the lawsuit says no marijuana was found.
Allen’s sister and brother-in-law, who lived there at the time, were later arrested, thrown in solitary confinement and threatened with 30 years in prison, the lawsuit says.
Michael Crosby, Allen’s lawyer, said in a telephone interview Friday that authorities dropped the charges against Allen’s sister and her husband in exchange for them falsely implicating the doctor.
Allen was indicted on three drug charges. He was later charged with three more counts, including witness tampering, when authorities accused him of trying to persuade his sister to flee to California, Crosby said.
Allen was locked up without bond for 14 months. At his trial, the judge issued a directed verdict and dismissed the witness tampering charges and one of the drug charges, Crosby said. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on the remaining two drug charges and the doctor was released.
“For a directed verdict, the judge has to find that those allegations are so without merit that the there’s nothing for the jury to consider,” Crosby said.
Allen is back in California, Crosby said.
The lawsuit seeks $50 million in compensatory damages for alleged violations of Allen’s federal civil rights, $1 million for alleged violations of state rights and $500 million in punitive damages.