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Ex-Bauxite alderman's suit against four tossed by judge

By Aziza Musa

This article was published July 31, 2014 at 4:19 a.m.

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by a former Bauxite alderman who contended that the mayor, two former police chiefs and a former police officer oppressed, slandered and retaliated against her.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller dismissed the case Wednesday, saying Deborah Purifoy's claims that her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated were unsubstantiated. Purifoy could appeal the decision. She did not return a message left for her late Wednesday on her cellphone.

Bauxite Mayor Johnny McMahan was pleased with the judge's ruling.

"I thought all along her allegations were bogus, frivolous and a waste of taxpayers' money and our time, and obviously the judge agreed," McMahan said. "It cost the taxpayers $3,000 to hire the Municipal League attorney, Mike Mosley -- that we didn't have to spare -- and I appreciate his hard work and due diligence in his efforts."

Purifoy, a Bauxite City Council member between January 2007 and December 2012, first sued McMahan, former police officer Michael Turner and former Police Chiefs Jimmy Hood and Ron Parsons in November 2012. The lawsuit followed an unsuccessful attempt to recall McMahan, who was elected in 2010.

In 2010, Turner, an officer at the time, "falsely arrested, physically assaulted and unlawfully jailed" Purifoy "in a systematic retaliation for having opposed" Hood's contract. She was arrested Sept. 11, 2010, after refusing to return to her own home while Turner checked on a domestic disturbance report involving Purifoy's neighbor.

Purifoy did not follow Turner's commands to stay at her own home and she later resisted arrest, police have said. She was later convicted of refusing to submit to her arrest. Purifoy has said the arrest was retaliatory for her political activities.

The lawsuit also contended that after the arrest, McMahan, Parsons and other officers have continued to harass her. She said Parsons told her to leave her house, searched it without consent and allowed others to remove property from it.

A month after the arrest, McMahan sent paid postcard advertisements with her mugshot, discouraging residents from electing her to office.

According to Miller's order, Purifoy's claim that the defendants violated her First Amendment rights failed "because she cannot show that the retaliatory motive was the but-for cause of her arrest." Submitted video evidence shows that Purifoy was arrested "only after failing to heed the officer's warnings," Miller wrote.

"Although the basis for her claim against Parsons is less than clear, it appears that Parsons was present at Purifoy's residence on two occasions: once, while a medical team responded to a call that Purifoy had overdosed on pills and, on another occasion, while a relative moved out of Purifoy's house," Miller said in the order. "This is insufficient, however, to prove a Fourth Amendment violation as she concedes that Parsons neither entered her home, nor searched her or her home, nor arrested anyone at the home."

The judge added that Purifoy did not offer any legal argument on her claims of violations of the state constitution, state Civil Rights Act, state tort claims of defamation, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.

The judge ruled Wednesday, nearly two months after the two parties couldn't come to an agreement for a settlement.

Three Bauxite aldermen were ready to shell out $6,000 to settle, while one held out, the mayor said. McMahan has said negotiations broke down after Purifoy asked for $25,000 -- a jump from her initial request of $9,500 and about 15 acres of city property.

Alderman Mona Struble sent an email to council members a month ago, saying they should reconsider giving the land -- part of a park -- to Purifoy.

"I went out and walked over the area," Struble wrote in a July 1 email. "Mosquitoes were bad. No one uses the park because everything gets tore up by vandels. They shoot out the lights. The city has not been keeping it up. It floods on the lower back side."

Struble added it was in the best interest of the town that it try to settle the lawsuit and move on.

McMahan has maintained that the settlement proposal with the land "was nuts."

"I can safely say that I have one council member that thinks like a federal judge and three that think like the Three Stooges," he said. "[Purifoy] rolled the dice and got nothing."

Metro on 07/31/2014

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