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Md. woman’s unreasonable seizure lawsuit moves forward

A lawsuit filed last year by an Anne Arundel County woman who alleged she was jailed for a week because her identifying information was listed on an arrest warrant for a woman with a similar name who was suspected of involvement in a heroin deal can move forward, a federal judge ruled this week.

Barbara Spicknall sufficiently alleged her rights against unreasonable seizure were violated when she was brought into custody based on an indictment and warrant that incorrectly contained her personal information, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled in denying a motion to dismiss filed by Det. William D. Spencer, the lead investigator in the heroin case.

Spencer was responsible for providing the state’s attorney’s office with identifying information for the targets of the heroin investigation so that prosecutors could draft the necessary paperwork to issue their arrest warrants after the indictment. He “deliberately or with reckless indifference” provided false identification information to a grand jury and to the drafter of the arrest warrant, leading to Spicknall’s unlawful arrest in 2013, the lawsuit alleged.

“In this case, Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to plead a plausible violation of her Fourth Amendment rights,” Bennett wrote in an opinion filed Tuesday. “She alleges that Defendant made false statements and omitted material facts while investigating the heroin conspiracy and testifying before the grand jury. Detective Spencer allegedly made these statements and omissions recklessly because ‘any well trained officer’ would have recognized and investigated the glaring differences between Barbara Melton, a Pennsylvania-based woman whom police witnessed purchasing heroin, and Barbara Spicknall, a lifelong Anne Arundel County resident with no criminal history.”

Michael L. Marshall of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner P.A. in Baltimore, an attorney representing Spencer, did not return requests for comment on the ruling.

The state of Maryland was dismissed as a defendant in the case in April, court records show.

Law enforcement officials intercepted a phone call in 2012 between two individuals who were planning a drug deal and set up a sting operation. They observed Melton purchasing gel caps that contained heroin and conducted a traffic stop of the car she was riding in, according to the suit.

In December 2012, Spencer testified in front of a Baltimore grand jury about the case, the suit states. The testimony is sealed, but the result was an indictment charging Melton with conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin. Melton was identified in the indictment by name, but her name was accompanied by Spicknall’s address, date of birth and other personal information, the suit alleged.

A warrant issued for Melton’s arrest also contained Spicknall’s information. On March 14, 2013, Spicknall, a 57-year-old Davidsonville resident, was arrested in Annapolis by a local police officer.

She explained that she had been using her married name rather than her maiden name of “Melton” for decades, but when the City of Annapolis Police Department contacted Baltimore city police concerning the identify of “Barbara Melton,” they were told the person sought under the warrant was also known as Barbara Spicknall, the suit alleged.

Spicknall was taken to central booking and eventually to the Baltimore City Detention Center, where she was held for seven days. Charges against her were dismissed in April 2013 in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Spicknall is represented by Joseph F. Devlin and Brian T. Gallagher of Council, Baradel, Kosmerl & Nolan P.A. in Annapolis.

The case is Barbara Spicknall v. William R. Spencer, 1:15-cv-03418-RDB.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.