A lawsuit that alleged a Pine Bluff Police officer violated federal and state law stemming from three separate incidents was thrown out Monday by U.S. District Judge Brian Miller. Donald R. Frazier Jr., a.k.a. Donald Muhammad, had filed suit against Officer Mike Sweeney, then-Police Chief Jeff Hubanks and the City of Pine Bluff, as well as a civilian, Matthew Henry, who did not answer or participate in the case.
Among other things, Frazier claimed in the lawsuit that he was the victim of racial discrimination. But in a 27-page ruling, Federal Judge Brian Miller said Frazier submitted no evidence to back up those claims.
“Instead Frazier relies on accusations and conclusions,” Miller said in the ruling. “For example, he concludes that the police department fails to investigate racial bias allegations and fails to record complaints of racial bias but provides no evidence to support that allegation. Similarly, in what appears to be claims related to videotaping officers, he notes in his observation that a practice of ‘racially motivated and/or the product of a policy or custom of the city to engage in racial discrimination’ … because he noticed unquestionable favor being shown to a white camera man. Frazier does not support these conclusions or provide evidence to support them.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2016, and according to the case file, the first of the three incidents involving Frazier and Sweeney occurred on Sept. 12, 2012, when Frazier, who operated the Pine Bluff News website, was filming police arresting a suspect. Sweeney allegedly grabbed Frazier by the arm and twisted it, then “spoke to him (Frazier) like he was trash.”
Frazier filed a complaint with the police department’s Internal Affairs Office, but Hubanks, now retired, later notified Frazier that Sweeney had been exonerated.
Recording an event also played a part in Frazier’s second point, specifically videotaping the Pine Bluff City Council meeting on March 22, 2013. Frazier had alleged that the incident occurred on July 21, 2014. In that incident, Sweeney was working security at that meeting and asked Frazier to move back, but Frazier responded by saying, “you are not making anybody else move. I’m part of the media.”
A second individual moved to the area where Frazier had been, then moved when he was approached by Sweeney, and when Frazier moved back to his original position, another person blocked him and his camera lens.
Both those claims are barred by the statute of limitations, which in Arkansas is three years for personal injury cases. To meet that standard, Frazier would have had to file his lawsuit on the claim involving taping police officers by Sept. 12, 2015, and his recording of the City Council meeting by March 22, 2016. He did not file the suit until May 2, 2016.
Frazier’s third claim involved his arrest by Sweeney on a charge of criminal mischief, an arrest Frazier claimed was unlawful. The incident in question occurred at a rental apartment building owned by Henry, who occasionally asked Frazier to do maintenance work. On July 29, 2015, Henry asked Frazier to serve an eviction notice on a tenant and to change the locks after the tenant vacated. According to the tenant, Frazier came to the apartment to change the locks while the tenant and his family were still inside; on one occasion, he tried to kick in the door.
Approximately two weeks earlier, Frazier and another person went to the apartments to switch out breakers and said that after removing the breakers, he left to get replacements. When he returned, he was confronted by the tenant, who had a gun.
Frazier left and called police.
Sweeney and Pine Bluff Police Detective Billy Robertson went to the apartments to investigate a possible assault, with Frazier and the other man as victims, and Frazier gave a statement that he was the manager of the apartments, a statement later denied by Henry.
Several witnesses also told Sweeney and Robertson that Frazier flipped over a metal shed and destroyed it while leaving.
Sweeney also interviewed Henry, who said at that time that Frazier was not the manager but admitted that he used Frazier to do maintenance from time to time.
Based on the investigation, Sweeney drafted a probable cause affidavit to charge Frazier with criminal mischief and sent it to prosecutors to file charges. On July 29, Sweeney was informed that the warrant was on the judge’s desk to be signed. Frazier saw Sweeney driving and flagged him down to check on the progress of the assault case where Frazier was the victim.
A recording of the events that transpired after that was introduced into the record and indicated that Sweeney told Frazier that there was a warrant for Frazier’s arrest.
“Although Frazier denies resisting arrest, the audio recording is clear that Sweeney asked Frazier to place his hands behind his back multiple times, to which Frazier responded with requests to make a phone call first and to place his phone in his pocket,” the court document said.
After being handcuffed and placed in Sweeney’s car, Frazier complained that the handcuffs were too tight. Robertson then loosened the cuffs, straightened Frazier’s arm, then tightened the cuffs again. After Frazier’s arrest, Henry said he was contacted by “multiple individuals” asking him to provide a statement to prosecutor’s to have the charges dismissed.
He said that led to phone calls to his home, a personal visit to his home, calls to his office from Frazier’s wife and Pine Bluff Alderwoman Thelma Walker, and a visit to his office by Frazier’s wife, Walker and “Muhammad,” who is assumed to be another person since Henry referred to Frazier as Donald.
In his ruling, the judge said Sweeney had probable cause to arrest Frazier for criminal mischief, and a warrant signed by a neutral judge based on information Sweeney provided “is the clearest indication that he (Sweeney) acted in an objectively reasonable manner.”
Frazier also contended that the probable cause affidavit submitted by Sweeney was based on false information.
“The problem is that Frazier has not shown that Sweeney submitted a deliberate falsehood or acted with a reckless disregard for the truth,” Miller said in the ruling. In addition, Miller said Frazier’s contention that he was targeted by Sweeney because of past interactions could not be substantiated because Frazier could produce no evidence that he was targeted because of his race.
“The only evidence submitted is that Sweeney arrested Frazier based on probable cause stemming from his investigation into the incident at Henry’s rental property,” the court said. “There has been no showing that Sweeney arrested Frazier because he is black.”