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Facts and Proceedings in the Trial Court

15 January, 2016 - 09:35

On June 28, 1998, Sandra Cockrell was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol by Officer Joey James who was employed as a security patrol officer with the Reservoir Patrol of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District. Officer James then transported Cockrell to the Reservoir Patrol office and administered an intoxilyzer test. The results of the test are not before us; however, we do know that after the test was administered, Officer James apologized to Cockrell for arresting her, and he assured her that he would prepare her paperwork so that she would not have to spend much time in jail. As they were leaving the Reservoir Patrol office, Officer James began asking Cockrell personal questions such as where she lived, whether she was dating anyone and if she had a boyfriend. Officer James then asked Cockrell for her cell phone number so that he could call and check on her. As they were approaching his patrol car for the trip to the Rankin County jail, Officer James informed Cockrell that she should be wearing handcuffs; however, he did not handcuff Cockrell, and he allowed her to ride in the front seat of the patrol car with him. In route to the jail, Cockrell became emotional and started crying. As she was fixing her makeup using the mirror on the sun visor, Officer James pulled his patrol car into a church parking lot and parked the car. He then pulled Cockrell towards him in an embrace and began stroking her back and hair telling her that things would be fine. Cockrell told Officer James to release her, but he continued to embrace her for approximately five minutes before continuing on to the jail.

On June 30, 1998, Cockrell returned to the Reservoir Patrol office to retrieve her driver’s license. Officer James called Cockrell into his office and discussed her DUI charge with her. As she was leaving, Officer James grabbed her from behind, turned her around, pinned both of her arms behind her and pulled her to his chest. When Officer James bent down to kiss her, she ducked her head, thus causing Officer James to instead kiss her forehead. When Officer James finally released Cockrell, she ran out of the door and drove away. [Subsequently, Cockrell’s attorney threatened civil suit against Patrol; James was fired in October 1998.]

On September 22, 1999, Cockrell filed a complaint for damages against the District alleging that on the nights of June 28 and June 30, 1998, Officer James was acting within the course and scope of his employment with the District and that he acted with reckless disregard for her emotional well-being and safety.…On April 2, 2002, the District filed its motion for summary judgment alleging that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding Cockrell’s claim of liability. The motion alleged that the conduct described by Cockrell was outside the course and scope of Officer James’s public employment as he was intending to satisfy his lustful urges. Cockrell responded to the motion arguing that the misconduct did occur in the course and scope of Officer James’s employment with the District and also that the misconduct did not reach the level of a criminal offense such that the District could be found not liable under the MTCA.

The trial court entered a final judgment granting the District’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint with prejudice. The trial court found that the District could not be held liable under the MTCA for the conduct of Officer James which was both criminal and outside the course and scope of his employment. Cockrell…appeal[ed].