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Lawsuit Against Sheriff's Dept. Given New Life

William Richards v. County Of San Bernardino Docket: 19-56205, Opinion Date: June 24, 2022. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment for the County of San Bernardino and County investigator in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging Defendants violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights during his murder investigation and prosecution, resulting in his erroneous conviction for the murder of his wife. Plaintiff alleged that County of San Bernardino investigator fabricated evidence against him by planting. Plaintiff further alleged claims for municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against the County, arguing that the County’s customs and policies, and the absence of better customs and policies, resulted in the alleged constitutional violations. The court held that because the district court erred by failing to find potential civil rights liability as to the investigator, its derivative ruling as to potential County liability under Monell should also be reversed. The court further held that the district court erred by not addressing whether Plaintiff could show that he suffered a constitutional injury by the County unrelated to the individual officers’ liability under Section 1983. Plaintiff put forth at least two Monell claims that were not premised on a theory of liability: (1) that the County’s policy of prohibiting coroner investigators from entering a crime scene until cleared by homicide detectives resulted in the loss of exculpatory time-of-death evidence, and (2) that the lack of any training or policy on Brady by the Sheriff’s Department resulted in critical exculpatory evidence being withheld by the prosecution. The court, therefore, remanded to the district court to consider these claims.

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