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Charleston v. McCarthy

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 13, 2019

Dan Charleston Plaintiff - Appellant
Bill McCarthy, in his individual and official capacity as Polk County Sheriff Defendant-Appellee Helen Youngs, in her individual capacity; Florence Buhr, in her individual capacity; Bill Hansen, in his individual capacity; Victor J. Munoz, in his individual capacity Defendants

          Submitted: January 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before GRUENDER, WOLLMAN, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          Shepherd, Circuit Judge.

         Following his unsuccessful bid to unseat Polk County, Iowa Sheriff Bill McCarthy, Dan Charleston sued Sheriff McCarthy and several other county employees, alleging various claims related to the treatment Charleston asserts he suffered as a result of his political beliefs and associations. After dismissing the other defendants and several claims, the district court[1] granted summary judgment in McCarthy's favor on the remaining First Amendment discrimination and retaliation claims. Charleston appeals the adverse grant of summary judgment. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


         Dan Charleston joined the Polk County Sheriff's Office in 1997 and served as a sergeant in that office at all times relevant to this action. In 2008, Bill McCarthy was elected as Polk County Sheriff. He sought reelection in 2012, again running as a Democrat. In 2010, Charleston announced his intentions to challenge McCarthy, running as a Republican candidate for sheriff.

         The campaign between McCarthy and Charleston was contentious, with each candidate criticizing the other. Several issues regarding Charleston's performance arose. During the campaign, a sheriff's department employee disclosed to a reporter that Charleston had been previously terminated from the Pomona, California Police Department after the department discovered that Charleston had lied in an official police report. Additionally, in February 2012 Charleston served a two-day suspension from the Polk County Sheriff's Department related to failure to render medical aid to a person with a medical emergency. This suspension stemmed from an incident where Charleston arrived on the scene of an emergency call before paramedics and observed an unconscious man bleeding from the nose; neither Charleston nor another deputy on the scene rendered any aid to the man, who later died. After a complaint from the Fire Chief and an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), Charleston's direct supervisor recommended that Charleston be suspended for three days, and the next highest officer recommended that Charleston be suspended for two days.[2] Charleston appealed his suspension to McCarthy, who imposed the recommended two-day suspension. A medical examiner later determined that the deceased individual would not have survived even if Charleston and the other deputy rendered aid.

         During an October 2012 campaign debate, McCarthy spoke about Charleston's campaign website referencing a group called the Oath Keepers. McCarthy described the group's views as "about as radical as it gets" and "the kind of garbage you're going to get if [Charleston] is elected." During this same debate, Charleston expressed his view that he had been intentionally left off of a promotion list and that McCarthy refused to promote Charleston due to his political beliefs. McCarthy responded that "sometimes when people don't get promoted, there's a reason behind that too," but did not mention Charleston's political beliefs.

         Sheriff McCarthy was reelected. On December 6, 2012, McCarthy held a "clear the air" meeting with Charleston. Both men discussed issues that had arisen during the campaign, including Charleston's suspension and his termination from the Pomona Police Department. Prior to the campaign, McCarthy had been unaware of Charleston's termination and expressed his concerns, including whether he had an obligation to disclose to criminal defendants Charleston's previous dishonesty. McCarthy also made several statements about Charleston's continued role in the Polk County Sheriff's Department:

You're not going to be a shadow sheriff and be here and survive in this office. You're not going to be the spokesperson for the rank and file, and you're not going to talk against policies in this administration and get by with it. I'm going to hold you accountable to the general orders, and you're going to have some difficult road ahead if you can't fall in and just act as a sergeant and support the administration.
You're going to be talked to by internal affairs shortly about some of the things that you've done to undermine here since the election so you need to cooperate with that, and you need to understand you're going to be held accountable to the standard that's outlined in the rules and regulations. You're not the shadow sheriff, and I say that again, and you're not going to be viewed that way.

         McCarthy also expressed his view that Charleston had been "a cancer [in the department] for 18 months." Charleston challenged McCarthy as to whether McCarthy's true intention was to push Charleston out of law enforcement; McCarthy responded that while he believed Charleston's dishonesty in a police report should preclude him from serving in law enforcement and that Charleston should resign, he intended to allow Charleston to remain with the department, stating Charleston had "a place here [in the department] if [he would] just accept the position [he had] and make the best out of that."

         In January 2013, the Department OPS began an investigation into whether, in November 2012, Charleston had acted improperly by directly contacting three other department employees and discussing union practices and officer transfers. After OPS determined that Charleston's conduct violated the Iowa Code provision governing collective bargaining and the rights of public employees and that Charleston had interfered with employees and had been untruthful during the course of the investigation, three of Charleston's supervisors recommended to McCarthy appropriate discipline. The discipline ranged from counseling Charleston regarding the interference to demotion, suspension, or termination for lying and violating the Iowa Code. On February 15, 2013, Charleston and McCarthy met again to discuss the recommended discipline. During this conversation, McCarthy admitted that he had previously stated that Charleston was "cancerous" and "a liar," that he did not trust Charleston, and that he wanted to "decertify," or force Charleston out of law enforcement, but maintained that these statements did not reflect McCarthy's true feelings: "I have said ...

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