Sanders and Fox v. city of Greensboro, redux

Greensboro police officers Scott Sanders and Tom Fox have filed suit against the city of Greensboro and a host of former and current employees, including former City Manager Mitchell Johnson and former Chief Tim Bellamy in Forsyth County Superior Court.

The officers, who were part of a special intelligence section under former Chief David Wray that was accused of racially motivated investigations of black officers, claims malicious prosecution, abuse of process and civil conspiracy. A federal judge threw out a similar lawsuit last August.

The lawsuit argues that Forsyth County Superior Court is the proper venue for the complaint to be heard “as several parties reside or have their principal place of business in Guilford or Forsyth counties and the events underlying this lawsuit occurred in Guilford County.”

The complaint lists only one of the parties, Greensboro police Officer Norman O. Rankin, as being a resident of Forsyth County. All the other defendants, including retired Assistant Chief Gary Hastings, retired Capt. Martha Kelly, Officer Ernest L. Cuthbertson and Officer John D. Slone, are referenced as residents of Guilford County. The city of Greensboro is located in Guilford County.

The more recent lawsuit was filed last month. Sanders and Fox are represented by John Vermitsky, who also represented them in the federal case, and Michael P. Crowe. Vermitsky and Crowe work out of law offices in Winston-Salem.

The city of Greensboro is also defending lawsuits brought by 39 black officers, Capt. James Hinson, Officer Julius Fulmore and Wray himself.

Sanders and Fox alleges that in June 2005, Rankin, a black officer assigned to special intelligence approached the city legal department and began giving false statements about Fox and Sanders, and that Johnson as city manager directed an “improper investigation” into special intelligence, specifically targeting Fox and Sanders.

The complaint alleges that all defendants provided “misleading, incomplete and/or inaccurate information” about Sanders and Fox to the State Bureau of Investigation. The two were indicted in 2007, and Sanders stood trial in Guilford County Court in 2009. A jury found Sanders not guilty of accessing a government computer without authorization, and shortly afterwards a state special prosecutor dropped all charges against the two.

The complaint filed by the two officers alleges that “after Sanders was found not guilty, a newly promoted officer of the police department provided the SBI with statements that had been suppressed by the defendants that led to all remaining charges against Scott Sanders and Tom Fox being dismissed by the SBI.”

US District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder addressed claims that the defendants mislead the State Bureau of Investigation or withheld exculpatory investigation in an opinion released when he threw out the previous suit.

“The amended complaint does not explain the significance of these alleged actions, however, much less how they affected the grand jury proceeding or could have caused the grand jury to find probable cause where none allegedly existed,” Schroeder said at the time.

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