By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners have been dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a man claiming county sheriff’s deputies illegally raided his home.
District Judge Khristan K. Strubhar on March 30 dismissed all claims against the Board of County Commissioners of Canadian County.
A hearing on a motion to dismiss regarding claims against Canadian County Sheriff Chris West has been continued to May 30.
Brandon Michael Whitman on Oct. 3, 2022, sued Canadian County’s elected sheriff and commissioners for infliction of emotional distress, negligence that led to physical and emotional injuries and loss of his electronic equipment.
The civil action stems from a January 2022 incident at Whitman’s home on Sunway Street.
Judge Strubhar dismissed the County Commissioners from the suit after reviewing court pleadings and hearing arguments of attorneys on both sides.
Plaintiff Whitman appeared through his attorney Doug Carel and the defendants were represented by attorney Stephen Geries at the March 30th hearing.
The plaintiff’s claim for emotional negligent infliction of emotional distress was dismissed and he was given 45 days to amend the petition if he chooses.
“(N)egligent infliction of emotional distress is not an independent tort recognized under Oklahoma law,” defendants’ attorney argued in a brief filed March 23.
“Rather, emotional distress is merely a category of damages which may be awarded to a plaintiff in certain negligence actions where the plaintiff has suffered emotional distress associated with some physical injury caused by the defendant.”
In November 2022, attorney Geries filed the motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against Canadian County Commissioners and Sheriff West because the lawsuit was “devoid of any factual allegations implicating” them.
“Defendants are immune from suit for all of plaintiff’s claims pursuant to the terms of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act,” according to a brief signed by Geries.
The lawsuit is “devoid of any allegation of fact” indicating that Whitman suffered any physical injuries that resulted from any conduct by Sheriff West or any other agent, employee or officer of the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office,” the motion reads.
‘CAN BE NO JUSTIFICATION’
Sheriff’s deputies raided Whitman’s eastern Canadian County home after the plaintiff’s Facebook account was hacked and child pornography images were posted to the account, according to the lawsuit.
Although the hack issue had been resolved in August 2021 after being reported to Oklahoma City Police, Whitman alleges “numerous” Canadian County sheriff’s deputies on Jan. 12, 2022, walked down his street with brandished firearms, circling his property and frightening his neighbors.
“(I)n front of plaintiff’s wife and minor daughter, Canadian County Sheriff deputies burst into the plaintiff’s home, detained plaintiff and his family and removed every computer and electronic item contained in plaintiff’s home,” according to the petition.
In the suit, Whitman claims he tried to explain to the armed sheriff’s deputies that his Facebook account had been hacked. The plaintiff alleges he was treated rudely and was ordered to remain seated while his personal property was removed from the home.
“The plaintiff uses his computers for work,” the suit reads. “Despite his repeated pleas for the return of his personal property, he was ignored by West for several weeks.”
The personal property was returned to Whitman on Feb. 10, 2022. He was never arrested or charged with a crime.
In a court brief filed Dec. 9, 2022, attorney Carel wrote that sheriff’s investigator David Cates “was apparently unable to unearth the fact that the plaintiff’s account had been hacked” and this was reported to Oklahoma City Police and Facebook in August 2021 – five months before the raid.
“There can be no justification for such shoddy and inept police work,” the brief reads. “Defendants cannot claim that armed officers barging into one’s home are not an endangerment, and defendants can certainly not claim that they exercised any duty of care whatsoever in raiding plaintiff’s home.”
The “slightest bit of police work” done by Sheriff West and his deputies would have revealed Whitman “had nothing to do” with the child pornography posted to his social media account, the plaintiff’s attorney argued.
“It defies belief that any investigator, with any experience whatsoever, would believe that an individual that reported the existence of child pornography on his computer to law enforcement would be guilty of having child pornography on his computer that he had personally put there.”
SEARCH WARRANT AUTHORIZED
Judge Strubhar is due to hear the motion to dismiss the suit against Sheriff West at 1:30 p.m. May 30.
Attorney Geries has argued the plaintiff cannot claim Canadian County’s sheriff “breached any legal duty owed to him with regard to the purported ‘raid’ of his property.”
That’s because the search of his home and seizure of his electronic equipment were conducted pursuant to a search warrant authorized by Canadian County Special Judge Charles Gass.
The Canadian County Sheriff’s Office had received information indicating that images of child pornography had been downloaded at the IP address at the plaintiff’s residence, according to a search warrant affidavit signed by investigator Cates.
This gave the sheriff’s office “probable cause to believe that images of child pornography may have been stored on digital devices at (Whitman’s) residence regardless of plaintiff’s own involvement or lack of involvement therein,” attorney Geries’ March 23rd motion reads.
“Accordingly, plaintiff’s negligence and conversion claims against the defendants should be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to (state statute) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Whitman’s electronic equipment was returned to him after the property had been examined and the investigation concluded, according to the court brief.