Sargeant et al v. Bell et al
ORDER DISMISSING CASE with prejudice. Signed by Judge Dana L. Christensen on 5/26/2017. (ASG)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
MIKE SARGEANT and RYAN
MAY 2 6 2017
Clerk, U S District Court
District Of Montana
DON BELL, in his individual and
official capacities, LAKE COUNTY
SHERIFF'S OFFICE, LAKE COUNTY
and JOHN DOES 1-5, in their individual
and official capacities,
United States Magistrate Judge Richard W. Anderson entered findings and
recommendations in this case on January 12, 2017, recommending that Defendants
Don Bell, Lake County Sheriffs Office, and Lake County's (collectively "LSCO")
motion for summary judgment be granted in all respects and that Plaintiffs'
complaint be dismissed. Plaintiffs Mike Sargeant ("Sargeant") and Ryan Funke
("Funke") filed a timely objection to the findings and recommendations, and so
they are entitled to a de novo review of those findings and recommendations to
which they specifically object. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l)(C). This Court reviews for
clear error those findings and recommendations to which no party objects. See
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313
(9th Cir. 1981); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists ifthe
Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations
This case stems from investigations into an alleged poaching ring called the
"Coyote Club" in Lake County, Montana. Sargeant and Funke were accused of
participating in the poaching ring while on duty and while in law enforcement
vehicles. The first investigation was initiated by the Montana Fish Wildlife and
Parks ("FWP") in 2010, but no charges were brought against the Plaintiffs or any
other individuals. In 2014, Don Bell was elected Sheriff of Lake County and took
office in January 2015. Similarly, Steve Eschenbacher ("Eschenbacher") was the
newly elected Lake County Attorney. Eschenbacher had heard of the Coyote Club
and was concerned when a few years prior no charges were brought.
Eschenbacher obtained the investigative files from the FWP investigation,
spoke with several Lake County deputies, and decided to task LCSO Detective
Lenz with re-investigating possible charges. Detective Lenz researched and
learned that Funke and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Police Officer
Jason Nash ("Nash") had removed several mounts from Sargeant's residence years
earlier when Sargeant received an email threat that the Coyote Club would be
exposed. Detective Lenz determined that a search warrant was necessary to
discover if animal mounts of the allegedly illegally taken animals were hidden at
Sargeant's residence, Funk.e's residence, or Nash's residence. In the affidavit for
the search warrant, Detective Lenz described evidence that Sargeant had
unlawfully taken a number of deer and at least two black bears, and that he
believed Sargeant, Nash, and/or Funke still possessed these mounts due to their
valuable and coveted nature. Lake County District Court Judge James A. Manley
and Detective Lenz discussed the fact that several years had passed since the
unlawfully possessed mounts had been seen and since the FWP investigation. But,
Judge Manley informed Detective Lenz that he did not believe that the passage of
time posed a problem and that probable cause existed that the mounts could still
be possessed by Sargeant, Funke, or Nash. Judge Manley signed and issued the
search warrant. The search warrant authorized a search for any mounts believed to
be unlawfully possessed and any hunting photographs.
Detective Lenz seized seven whitetail deer mounts and a black bear rug
from Sargeant's residence. Around this time, Sheriff Bell discussed the ongoing
investigation with Funke, and Bell provided Funke with a copy of the search
warrant but did not execute the search warrant at his residence. Funke voluntarily
invited Bell into his residence. Bell took photographs of deer mounts, but nothing
was seized from Funk.e's home.
As a result of these activities, Sargeant and Funke both claim that they have
experienced debilitating stress and emotional and mental damages. Plaintiffs filed
a civil rights petition against LSCO in Montana's Twentieth Judicial District
Court, which was removed to federal court. Sargeant and Funke alleged four
claims: Count I: Violation of Plaintiffs Rights under the Montana Constitution;
Count II: 42 U.S.C. §1983, Violation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by
Sheriff Bell and John Does 1-5 in their individual capacities; Count III: Negligent
Infliction of Emotional Distress; Count IV: Intentional Infliction of Emotional
Distress; and punitive damages and attorneys' fees. LSCO moved for summary
judgment on all counts, which Judge Anderson granted. 1
Judge Anderson found that the search warrant in this case was sufficient
with respect to the items subject to seizure, which meets the requirements for a
valid search warrant. Plaintiffs argue that Judge Anderson erred because there are
Judge Anderson also denied Plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment as moot.
no facts in the record to support the existence of probable cause prior to applying
for the search warrant, and that the affidavits presented in support of Defendants'
motion for summary judgment fail to demonstrate that there was sufficient
probable cause. In effect, the Plaintiffs argue that the evidence supporting the
2015 search warrant was no greater than the evidence available in 2010, which
was determined to be insufficient to support a search. Plaintiffs argue that the
only evidence that was presented at the time Detective Lenz applied for a search
warrant was speculative at best. Plaintiffs cite to no authority to support their
position on this issue. The only case law in support of their objection relates to
the particularity requirements for a search warrant.
A judge's determination that probable cause exists to grant a search warrant
should be granted deference. Montana v. Rinehart, 864 P.2d 1219, 1223 (1993);
Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236 (1983). A reviewing court should only
consider whether the judge possessed "a substantial basis" for finding probable
cause to issue the warrant. Rinehart, 864 P.2d at 1223. Further, "every reasonable
inference possible should be drawn to support that determination." Id. (citation
omitted). "Probable cause must be determined solely from the information
contained within the four comers of the search warrant application." Id.
Moreover, under the totality of the circumstances test, "the issuing judicial officer
must make a practical, common sense determination, given all the evidence
contained in the application for a search warrant, whether a fair probability exists
that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place."
Montana v. Barnaby, 142 P.3d 809, 816 (Mont. 2006) (citing Gates, 462 U.S. at
After reviewing the application for search warrant (Doc. 35-1 ), the search
warrant (Doc. 35-3), and the accompanying affidavits (Docs. 32, 33, 34), the
Courts finds that probable cause existed for a valid search warrant. The
application for the search warrant, which relied on over twenty witnesses'
statements combined with taxidermy records, payments for taxidermy by Sargeant,
and a 2005 report authored by FWP Warden Schoening regarding the alleged
illegal taking of animals by Sargeant and Nash, constitutes sufficient probable
cause under a totality of the circumstances to suspect that illegal mounts and
evidence could still be at the Plaintiffs' residences. While Plaintiffs contend that
all of the witnesses' statements in the application do not amass the totality of
circumstances needed to satisfy probable cause, this Court finds that argument
unpersuasive. Many of the witness statements were from informants wholly
unconnected to each other that independently establish that Sargeant was illegally
spotlighting and/or taking wild animals, and that Funke may have helped conceal
the illegal conduct. (See Doc. 35-1at8-18.) The Court gives deference to Judge
Manley who issued the search warrant, and the Court does not find that he erred in
his determination that probable cause existed. Further, there is no question that
the search warrant application stated with particularity the homes and places to be
searched. (See Doc. 35-1at2-3.)
Thus, the Court finds that the search warrant application and warrant were
sufficient in all respects, and there was no violation of either the Montana
Constitution or the United States Constitution. Consequently, because no
negligent or intentional conduct occurred, the Plaintiffs' claims for negligent and
intentional infliction of emotional distress are without merit.
Considering the remainder of Judge Anderson's conclusions for clear error,
and finding none,
IT IS ORDERED that Judge Anderson's Findings and Recommendations
(Docs. 48, 49) are ADOPTED IN FULL. Defendants' motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 29) is GRANTED. Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (Doc.
36) is DENIED as moot. This case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
DATED this 26th day of May, 2017.
Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge
United States District Court
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