City policeman subject of lawsuit

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   An Elizabethton City police officer is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking $400,000 after two men allege that he arrested them falsely.
   In a lawsuit filed by attorney Scott Pratt in the U.S. District Court at Greeneville on Monday, the two plaintiffs - Michael Butler and Jeff Grindstaff - allege that on Oct. 2, 2003 they were falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned by Elizabethton Police Department Capt. Clyde Croy following a traffic stop on a busy city highway.
   According to the lawsuit, Butler is an 18-year-veteran of the Johnson City Police Department and Grindstaff is a Carter County resident and friend of Butler.
   The suit alleges that Butler was off-duty at the time and the two men were in Butler's personal vehicle when Croy pulled them over. "As he passed Creekside Market, Officer Butler noticed blue lights in his rear-view mirror. He recognized the vehicle behind him as a police cruiser, and Officer Butler immediately pulled his car to the side of the road and stopped," states the complaint. "Capt. Croy got out of his cruiser and walked up to the driver's side of Officer Butler's vehicle. Capt. Croy offered no explanation as to why he had stopped Officer Butler's vehicle, and he did not ask for a driver's license or any other type of identification. He simply said, 'Shut your motor off and get out of the car.'"
   Butler then exited the vehicle and identified himself as a Johnson City police officer and offered to show Croy his identification, according to the lawsuit, but Croy refused to check the identification. Croy then ordered Butler to "shut up" and place his hands on top of the vehicle, according to the complaint.
   "Again, Officer Butler requested that Capt. Croy allow him to produce his identification. Capt. Croy ignored the request and pulled Officer Butler's hands behind his back," states the lawsuit. "Capt. Croy then handcuffed Officer Butler and escorted him to the back of Capt. Croy's cruiser. Capt. Croy instructed Officer Butler to remain standing behind the cruiser and to "keep your mouth shut."
   After placing Butler in handcuffs, the suit alleges that Croy then returned to Butler's vehicle where Grindstaff was sitting in the passenger seat. At that time, Croy requested to see Grindstaff's identification, which Grindstaff then produced.
   "Capt. Croy told Mr. Grindstaff that there were seven 'felony warrants' outstanding against Mr. Grindstaff, and that Mr. Grindstaff was 'going to jail for a 107 years,'" states the lawsuit. Mr. Grindstaff informed Capt. Croy that Capt. Croy was mistaken, but Capt. Croy ignored Mr. Grindstaff. Capt. Croy physically removed Mr. Grindstaff from the vehicle, handcuffed him, and escorted him to Capt. Croy's vehicle."
   While Croy was handcuffing Grindstaff, the suit alleges, Croy noticed fresh scars on both of Grindstaff's wrists. "Mr. Grindstaff had, indeed, attempted suicide by cutting his wrists three weeks prior to this incident," the lawsuit states. "When Capt. Croy noticed the scars, he said to Mr. Grindstaff: 'You can't kill yourself by cutting across your arm like that. You have to cut up and down, this way.' Capt. Croy then showed Mr. Grindstaff a more efficient way of committing suicide, tightened the cuffs, and placed Mr. Grindstaff in the police car."
   While Croy was "talking with Grindstaff and subsequently taking him into custody, Butler was standing behind Croy's cruiser, in broad daylight on a busy street, in handcuffs," the lawsuit states. "Officer Butler experienced extreme humiliation as he watched hundreds of vehicles pass buy, knowing that he was well-known in the community as a police officer," states the complaint. "Officer Butler was also forced to witness Mr. Grindstaff's humiliation while his repeated pleas to Capt. Croy were ignored."
   Approximately 15 minutes after the traffic stop began, another Elizabethton Police Department officer arrived on the scene and immediately told Capt. Croy that she recognized Butler as a Johnson City Police Department officer. "Only then did Capt. Croy look at Officer Butler's identification," states the suit. "Capt. Croy then unlocked the handcuffs and released Officer Butler without so much as an apology."
   Grindstaff was then transported to the Elizabethton Police Department where he was detained for more than three hours. "He was later released after Capt. Croy realized that there was no reason to hold him," states the lawsuit. "Capt. Croy did not apologize to Mr. Grindstaff, but he did tell him that they could 'work something out.'"
   According to the lawsuit, there were outstanding warrants in Carter County on a man named Jeff Grindstaff. "The 'Jeff Grindstaff' that Capt. Croy was apparently seeking, however, is described in those warrants as being six feet, two inches tall with red hair. The Jeff Grindstaff who was arrested is five feet, eight inches tall and has brown hair," states the lawsuit. "The 'Jeff Grindstaff' Capt. Croy was seeking also has a different date of birth and social security number than the Jeff Grindstaff who was arrested."
   The lawsuit alleges that Croy violated both Butler and Grindstaff's First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights in that he illegally invaded their privacy and subjected them to an unreasonable search and seizure. The suit also claims that Butler and Grindstaff were additionally deprived of the due process of law which is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
   "Capt. Croy's actions in this incident also constitute the torts of assault, false imprisonment, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress as to both plaintiffs," states the lawsuit.
   The lawsuit is requesting a total of $400,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for both plaintiffs.
   Croy was not on shift at the Elizabethton Police Department on Tuesday afternoon to be reached for comment.