SALT LAKE CITY — Lawyers for two black men who said they were falsely arrested on Interstate 15 have filed new documents blaming Box Elder County Sheriff Kevin Potter for the alleged civil rights violations.
Idaho State University football players Nehemiah McFarlin and Atoatasi Fox sued the county and others Dec. 5, 2018, for their arrest and jailing during a hunt for an armed robber in December 2016.
Authorities later arrested an Ogden man, also an African American, for the Malad robbery and several other holdups in the West.
Attorneys representing Box Elder County filed documents May 22 in U.S. District Court urging dismissal of the suit, saying the complaint failed to cite policies the county defendants supposedly violated.
The county denied all allegations, said the arrests were made in good faith, and also said the suit failed to sufficiently detail alleged wrongful acts by individual defendants.
But in a response filed June 19 by Pocatello, Idaho, attorney Bron Rammell, McFarlin and Fox singled out Potter, Box Elder’s elected sheriff.
They accused Potter of abdicating responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of suspects who were arrested by other police agencies within Box Elder County.
After a Malad, Idaho, bank was robbed earlier on the day of their arrest, McFarlin and Fox were traveling on I-15 on the way to California for Christmas break.
Three Utah Highway Patrol officers, acting upon a broadcast by the Oneida County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office, arrested the two men at the roadside where their car had slid off the icy highway and took them to the county jail in Brigham City.
The county, Rammell’s filing said, “failed to implement a policy that would address the probable constitutional harm that would occur when outside agencies instruct (county) employees, or use (county) resources and facilities, to violate a criminal suspect’s constitutional rights.”
Absence of such policy, the document said, “shows a deliberate indifference to the danger that criminal suspects’ constitutional rights will be violated.”
A Box Elder sheriff’s sergeant at the scene on I-15 called Potter to tell him of the arrests, “including the fact that no agency had yet obtained a warrant” to arrest the men and seize McFarlin’s car, Rammell’s filing said.
“Sheriff Potter instructed his employees to proceed with their plan to hold plaintiffs in custody,” Rammell said. “He condoned and ratified their actions, thereby establishing a policy or custom.”
Potter’s response to the situation “constitutes a deliberate indifference to the violations of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” Rammell said. He added that the county’s alleged failure to prevent other agencies from using its resources to violate criminal suspects’ constitutional rights “is a deliberate failure to adopt policies and provide the training necessary to prevent constitutional violations.”
Efforts to contact Potter and the county’s contracted civil attorney, Blake Hamilton, were not immediately successful Monday.
One of the Box Elder deputies pointed a rifle at and used excessive force against McFarlin and Fox, the document said.
McFarlin’s Camaro did not match the description of the car used in the Malad robbery, the suit said.
“The only thing that matched was that plaintiffs were the same race as the robbery suspect,” Rammell’s filing said.
Oneida authorities later advised Box Elder there was no probable cause for the arrests, and the two were released from jail the next day, according to the suit.
Fox recently accepted an undisclosed out-of-court settlement from Oneida County, but the case against the Box Elder defendants remains active.