A Vilonia man who was wrongfully jailed and charged with disorderly conduct says his civil rights were violated during the April arrest and has since filed a federal case against the officer who arrested him.
Matt Raeburn, a 42-year-old Vilonia resident and former Conway Police Department officer, was arrested and charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespassing and disorder conduct during a doubleheader baseball game April 9 at the Vilonia High School for allegedly causing a disturbance among other attendees during the home game between the Vilonia varsity baseball team and the Searcy Lions. However, just as Raeburn argued in an interview with the Log Cabin Democrat, a judge found that the charges against the former officer were unjust and soon dismissed the case against him.
The case against Raeburn was formally dropped May 14 in Vilonia District Court.
Online records show a federal civil rights case was filed in the United States District Court Eastern District of Arkansas' Western Division against Raeburn's arresting officer — James Gibson — on Monday.
Luther Oneal Sutter, who represents Raeburn in his federal civil rights complaint against the Vilonia reserve officer, argues that Gibson should pay out $1 million to compensate Raeburn for his troubles and medical issues that followed his unjust arrest.
"Defendant Gibson, without legal justification, refused to allow Plaintiff to remain at the ballgame for the limited purpose of collecting his personal property and protecting his children," the complaint filed Monday in federal court reads in part. "When Plaintiff did not leave within [three] seconds, Defendant arrested Plaintiff, using excessive force and with no probable cause. Plaintiff protested, as was his First Amendment right to do so, but the more [the] Plaintiff protested, the less reasonable Officer Gibson became. During the arrest, Plaintiff was body-slammed unnecessarily, and the Defendant bragged about it. Plaintiff's back and neck were seriously injured, causing him to [be] permanently impaired and causing him to incur medical expenses."
Raeburn, who recorded his encounter with the Vilonia reserve officer on his cell phone, previously told the Log Cabin that he immediately felt there were issues with his case and that his arrest was unconstitutional.
"Police agencies have a protocol ... I haven't seen Vilonia's polices and procedures, but I know that guy made an illegal arrest," he previously said.
In the video, the arresting officer tells Raeburn he cannot collect his belongings before leaving the ball fields on April 9.
"Mr. Raeburn, you need to leave," Gibson said after confirming Raeburn did not have any active warrants. "I'm going to tell you that one time and one time only."
After being informed he needed to leave the area immediately, Raeburn requested he be allowed to collect his belongings and find an alternate way for his two children, who were also at the game, to get home that night.
“You’ve got three seconds [to leave] or you’re going to jail,” Gibson said in response to Raeburn's request. “Either go [now] or go to jail.”
According to the newly filed complaint, Raeburn still feels "the city has refused to make it right," noting Gibson abused his power as a police officer during the April 9 incident.
"There was no reasonable basis to support the filing of any charges against the Plaintiff," the complaint reads. "Accordingly, [the] Defendant has engaged in a malicious prosecution and abuse of the process."
Sutter also said the complainant believes Vilonia officers are not properly trained.
According to an incident report, authorities were called out to the scene April 9 after Raeburn allegedly caused a disturbance during the game by yelling at other attendees.
Gibson wrote in his report of the incident that James Kelley, the school’s principal, contacted authorities regarding “a parent at the game [that] had been unreasonably excessive in arguing with fans and was shouting at others to include the athletic director from Searcy High School [and] creating an annoyance to the public that were present as well as a disturbance to the baseball game that was in progress.”
According to Raeburn, the incident in question stems from him yelling, “Sit down and shut up” at two other attendees that night.
Raeburn said he saw a man from Searcy High School arguing with one of the Vilonia player’s parents.
“I saw a guy arguing with one of the catcher’s dads,” he said, noting the argument showed “the potential for physical confrontation” so he decided to help break up the rising tensions.
Raeburn said he later learned one of the individuals involved in the argument was Searcy’s athletic director.
According to Raeburn’s statement, by the time he was asked to speak with Vilonia authorities, the situation had settled down. Raeburn said he was never banned from the facility nor did administrators ask him to leave prior to VPD’s arrival, so the criminal trespass charge “makes no sense.” He also said in a previous interview that he felt he was “pinpointed” as the source of complaints and that he did not feel the Gibson had the grounds to arrest him.
"The Defendant took these actions because he did not know better," the complaint filed earlier this week reads in part. "The city had failed to train the Defendant in the appropriate use of force and the appropriate response to protected speech under the Arkansas Constitution and the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution. As a direct and approximate cause of Defendant's intentional actions, Plaintiff has suffered severe mental and emotional distress, lost wages, incurred medical bills, has been seriously, physically injured and incurred other expenses in an amount to be proven at trial. The individual defendant should be held liable for punitive damages under federal and state law. The Defendant should be liable for individual and punitive damages in his individual and official capacity under state law."
Gibson had not yet filed a response to Raeburn's complaint by press time Thursday.