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Matthews v. McNeil

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

March 21, 2019

MONTE MCNEIL, in his official and individual capacities; JOHN DOE, in his official and individual capacities; and CITY OF NORTH PLATTE, A Nebraska political subdivision, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on defendants' Monte McNeil's and the City of North Platte's (“the City”) motion for summary judgment, Filing No. 69. This is an action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         I. FACTS

         In his amended complaint, plaintiff Wendell Matthews alleges that North Platte Police Department Investigator Monte McNeil and his supervisor, Rich Thompson, [1] violated Matthews's Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure and his Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process by conducting a reckless investigation of sexual assault allegations by a minor and wrongfully arresting him. He also alleges the defendants and other investigative, supervisory, and policymaking personnel conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights. Further, he asserts that the City of North Platte is liable for failing to properly train and supervise its officers with respect to child sexual assault investigations.

         The defendants argue that Investigator McNeil is entitled to qualified immunity because the record shows there has been no constitutional violation. It further argues that the City is entitled to summary judgment for the same reason.

         The following facts are gleaned from the pleadings, the parties' briefs and the supporting evidence. See Filing No. 70, Defendant's Brief at 2-8; Filing No. 74, Plaintiff's Brief at 4-55; Filing No. 71, 75, and 80, Indices of Evidence. Defendant City of North Platte is a Nebraska political subdivision (“the City”). Defendant Monte McNeil has been an employee of the North Platte Police Department since 1995. For the last eight to ten years, Investigator McNeil has been the lead investigator for most cases involving sex crimes against minor victims. Lieutenant Richard Thompson has been Investigator McNeil's supervisor for the last seven or eight years. Filing No. 75-2, Deposition of Monte McNeil (“McNeil Dep.”) at 25-26.

         Bridge of Hope Child Advocacy Center (“Bridge of Hope”) is a nonprofit organization that coordinates investigation of child abuse cases, provides intervention services, and brings professionals and agencies together to work as a multidisciplinary team. Investigator McNeil is one of five or six forensic interviewers that Bridge of Hope uses to conduct interviews. Investigator McNeil sat on Bridge of Hope's Board of Directors, a volunteer position, for several years. He is paid by the City.

         In January 2012, Investigator McNeil was assigned to investigate a report by school personnel that that an eight-year old student (hereinafter, “S.S.”) was hearing voices in her head and had been experiencing “pooping incidents.” Filing No. 75-14, Incident Report dated January 12, 2012. The juvenile was interviewed at Project Harmony, a child advocacy agency in Omaha, and vaguely alluded to fear of a male and secrets. Id. The interviewer noted the child had a history of lying, but stated she seemed honest in the interview. Id. at 4. The case was referred to law enforcement and Investigator McNeil was assigned to the case. Id. Investigator McNeil determined he did not have enough evidence to interview S.S. at Bridge of Hope and he did not do any further investigation as a result of the 2012 report. Filing No. 75-2, McNeil Dep. at 100-02. Later, in December 2013, when she was 10 years old, S.S. recounted sexual or sexualized incidents with a minor friend in 2012 to her psychologist, Dr. Luke McConnell. 75-40, Behavioral Medicine Associates' notes at 1.

         On December 30, 2013, Investigator McNeil received a call from Dr. Luke McConnell, a therapist at Behavioral Medicine and Associates. Filing No. 71-1, McNeil Dep., Ex. 16, CM/ECF Page ID # 271. Dr. McConnell reported that S.S. had disclosed during a counselling session that she had been molested by Wendall Matthews. Id. at CM/ECF Page ID # 272. Investigator McNeil directed McConnell to call the child abuse hotline. Id. The Department of Health and Human Services Child Abuse/Neglect Intake Worksheet relayed the information conveyed by Dr. McConnell to Debbie Gill at Omaha-Project Harmony. Filing No. 75-21. The matter was referred to law enforcement with this stated reason:

Intake Closure Status: Law Enforcement, Reason: 10-year-old female reported that when she was in the 3rd grade living in North Platte, her then mother's live in boyfriend digitally penetrated her and penetrated her with his penis both anally and vaginally five to six times. Last contact with him was two years ago.

         Filing No. 75-21. The case was assigned to Investigator McNeil. Filing No. 26, Answer.

         The following day Investigator McNeil received the intake report. Filing No. 75-15, Incident report at 2. He called the victim's mother to arrange for an interview of S.S. at Bridge of Hope. Id. S.S. was interviewed at the Bridge of Hope on January 6, 2014, by Amber McNutt. Id.; see Filing No. 71-1, McNeil Dep. at 132-34; Filing No. 75-29, Transcript of Interview (“Tr.”). Investigator McNeil testified he gave Bridge of Hope the intake report, but did not share any other details with McNutt to prepare her for the interview of S.S. Filing No. 71-1, McNeil Dep. at 137. Investigator McNeil watched the entire interview of S.S. from the monitor room. Id., McNeil Dep. at 142-43. Investigator McNeil testified Ms. McNutt did not express any concerns about the reliability of S.S.'s story. Id. at 159. McNutt has been trained as a forensic interviewer. Filing No. 75-3, Deposition of Amber McNutt (“McNutt Dep.”) at 17.

         In the interview, S.S. gave a detailed and graphic account of abuse by Wendell Matthews two years earlier during evenings when he mother went to pool league. Filing No. 75-29, Tr. at 3-6, 27-29. Ms. McNutt asked S.S. why she had come to Bridge of Hope that day and S.S. stated “because someone sexually abused me.” Id. at 3. She identified Wendell Matthews as the perpetrator without further prompting. Id. S.S. also made vague statements about sexual activities with several others: a girl her age, two little boys (at the direction of the girl), and three cousins. Id. at 20-25. She also mentioned a five-year-old and a nine-year old and reported that she had taken baths with at the home of an adult named Todd without her mother there; that Todd “got mad at me for locking the door, ” and unlocked the door with a key and let his son get in the bath with her. Id. at 24. S.S. also stated that other than Wendell Matthews, there were no other “grownups” who had abused her. Id. at 25. McNutt took a break in the interview to consult with Investigator McNeil, and Investigator McNeil did not request any follow-up. Filing No. 75-3, McNutt Dep. at 77.

         Investigator McNeil noted the following background in his report on the December 30, 2013, incident:

It should be noted that a case was generated in January of 2012 in which [S.S.] was reported to be having issues at School and the possibility of her being molested was questioned. [S.S.] was defecating in her pants at School during this time. [McNeil] had contacted [Lutheran Family Services] and spoke with [S.S.'s] Counselor, Sue Heubner. Sue was going to talk about good touch bad touch with [S.S.]. I later received a call in which Sue advised [S.S.] never disclosed anything. In October 2013, [S.S.] had disclosed she had a touching episode with a peer named [redacted]. [Redacted] had moved. [McNeil] learned the name as [redacted]. The family had since moved to Alabama. [McNeil] did call a cell number left with School Officials, but it was discontinued.

         Filing No. 75-15, North Platte Police Prosecutor Report at 4.

         A sexual abuse nurse examination (“SANE exam”) on January 8, 2014, revealed anal “possible multiple healed trauma @ 8 o'clock to 6 o'clock” and also showed a septal hymen with possible thickening present.” Filing No. 75-32, SANE examinations at 5, 8; Filing No. 71-1, McNeil Dep. at 192-93. A further exam on January 22, 2014, stated the same observation, noting “possible multiple healed trauma still present @ 6 o'clock to 8 o'clock.” Filing No. 75-32, SANE examinations at 15. In his report, McNeil stated:

It is believed the acts began in 2007 when [S.S.] was in second grade and 7 years of age. Behavior problems escalated when [S.S.] was attending third grade and she was eight years old. Wendell met Cristina and moved in with her and [S.S.] when [S.S.] was 1 to 2 years of age. They split up shortly ...

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