Squirrel Fights the Law, Squirrel Wins
Mar. 25, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A squirrel fought the law and the squirrel won. That’s the easiest way to describe former Mountain City Police Officer Jody Putnam’s woes after U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifton Corker granted Mountain City’s motion to dismiss Putnam’s $2 million lawsuit stemming from a 2013 incident where Putnam tried to pepper spray, then shoot, a squirrel in a Dollar General store.
Yes, that’s as ridiculous a scenario as it sounds. When the Magistrate Judge hearing your case in federal court starts citing Ray Stevens’ body of work as legal authority, you know you’re due a bad day in court. This is where Jody Putnam finds himself, after an animal call in September of 2013 went south so fast it defined local yokel evening news fodder.
On September 27, 2013, Putnam found himself dispatched to the local Dollar General store on report of a menacing, killer squirrel terrorizing the store patrons. The squirrel was such a threat that the store manager told Putnam to neutralize him “by any means necessary.” “Chemical spray” seemed to have no effect on the rodent’s failure to comply, so after consultation with the store manager, Putnam decided lethal force was necessary. He would shoot the squirrel.
That’s not exactly correct. Putnam decided to shoot “at” the squirrel, because the last thing a police force needs is a PETA protest over the death of a criminal rodent. Magistrate Judge Corker explains this “shooting” quite well.
As the squirrel scurried off the shelf and down the aisle, it came running by Putnam, who managed to stomp his foot down on the squirrel’s tail, stopping it in its tracks. He turned the squirrel over to the store manager who then released the squirrel, unharmed, back to its native habitat. For the patrons at the Dollar General, disaster had been averted. But for Putnam, his problems had just begun.
Those problems came hot and heavy when the incident made the evening news, thanks to Mountain City’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen alleged dissemination of the incident to press in a manner that “ruined” Putnam’s career.
In his claim, Putnam said that after he was fired, the town gave accounts about the incident “to several press outlets and ruined any chance of (Putnam) recovering his 17-year career. (Putnam) could not get a job with any law enforcement agency in the country; due to the defendants making this event a national news story.”
The truth was Putnam discharged his service firearm in a store, and didn’t do the required paperwork for when such an incident occurred. Putnam’s rationale was an “internal investigation” was underway for the “shooting,” and he didn’t need to explain himself through some silly paperwork. That led to his termination.
As a result of discharging his firearm, Putnam was required to file a “discharge report.” He did not do so. When he was asked to file the report, he refused “because [he claimed] there was an internal investigation that had been started without [his] notification.” On October 1, 2013, the Police Chief recommended to the Board of Mayor and Alderman (“BMA”) that Putnam be terminated with the police department because “he fired his weapon in an unsafe manner and against policy.” The BMA, after receiving the requisite motion and second, voted unanimously to terminate Putnam’s employment.
Putnam’s ruinous, Barney Fife-esque actions weren’t the end of this matter. It was time to sue his former employer, because the Constitution said he had a right to pursue the silliest shit possible for anyone to follow. This was a case for federal court, and the Fourth, Sixth, and, well, hell, let’s throw all the Amendments in for consideration, to see what sticks, ripe for a payoff.
This Complaint arises under Sixth and the Fourth Amendments through the Fourteenth Amendment which bounds the States to abide by those Amendments of The United States Constitution under Federal Law, especially 42 U.S.C. §§1983.
Deprivation of rights secured under a federal law by someone acting under color of state law? Not cool, Jody, especially when you had a chance to “clear your name” and didn’t show up for the hearing.
Putnam said he requested a “public name clearing” before the Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen after the board unanimously voted to fire him, but was not afforded one. The town disputed that claim in its response to Putnam’s suit, and board minutes for the town’s December 2013 meeting show a hearing was held, but neither Putnam nor an attorney or other representative attended.
Maybe a squirrel held Jody Putnam hostage in December, 2013. We don’t know. What we do know is that Magistrate Corker found Mountain City’s peace officers were “at-will” employees and that no property interest existed in any claim Putnam asserted. This is “summary judgment” 101, especially when you consider Putnam failed to dispute any facts Mountain City claimed were true.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) provides that where a party “fails to properly address another party’s
assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may … consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Putnam has not properly responded to Mountain City’s statement of material facts; he has not cited to the record anything that places at issue any material fact. Thus, these facts are undisputed for purposes of addressing Mountain City’s motion for summary judgment.
So that damn squirrel cost Putnam his job, his career, and his reputation. Or maybe it was the basic inability to follow procedural rules and do actual paperwork. One thing’s for sure, though: in Mountain City, the squirrels are having the last laugh.