The U.S Supreme Court has denied a petition to review the dismissal of a former McIntosh school board member’s federal lawsuit against Darien, several police officers and another school board member over his arrest for using profanity at a meeting.
With that final word from the nation’s highest court, Dwight Jordan must reimburse those he sued for costs they incurred as the suit played out. The court awarded a bill of costs to the defendants amounting to more than 57 percent of Jordan’s annual salary.
In his suit, Jordan asserted Darien Police Chief Donnie Howard, police officers, the city of Darien and former school board chair Bonita “Bonnie” Caldwell violated his constitutionally protected right to free speech and had him unlawfully arrested.
Jordan filed his suit April 16, 2015, in U.S. District Court in Brunswick two years after Darien police escorted him off the grounds of the county Board of Education office after he shouted profanity in the parking lot. Not only was he humiliated and embarrassed, Jordan blamed his loss in the 2014 election on the “drummed up publicity” after his subsequent arrest on a disorderly conduct charge, the suit says.
The police were called to the school board office after he and Caldwell got into a heated debate over school uniforms. As Jordan persisted in his argument, Caldwell recessed the meeting and she and other board members left the meeting room.
Jordan eventually went to the school parking lot, where he was met by city police officers. Jordan admitted using profanity but said he stopped when police officer Archie Davis warned him he would be arrested if he continued.
After the police escorted him back into the meeting room to retrieve his belongings, Jordan left the grounds, but it wasn’t over. He subsequently sent several protest emails, the suit says, accusing police of manufacturing an offense, saying he believed they had threatened his life, abused their authority, prevented him from carrying out his duties and of collusion.
A charge of disrupting a public meeting was dropped. But after an investigation by officer Nick Roundtree, police secured a warrant from a judge charging Jordan with disorderly or indecent conduct. Jordan surrendered and, after an hour at the county jail, was released on a $1,2000 property bond, his suit says. The State Court solicitor decided not to prosecute Jordan and dismissed the charge.
Cleared of the charges, Jordan filed the suit.
On Nov. 22, 2016, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood found no evidence the defendants acted improperly and dismissed the suit. Jordan appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed Wood’s order on Sept. 28, 2017.
The defendants’ lawyers asked the court to award a bill of costs for the expense of providing transcripts, copies and other material they had provided in defending the suit. It all came to $23,000 and in a Feb. 20, 2018, order Wood said she had no choice but to make Jordan pay under federal Rule 51.
“It’s easy to file a lawsuit, and Rule 51’s taxation of costs to the losing party is meant to provide a disincentive for plaintiffs to bring non-meritorious claims,’’ she said.
But citing Jordan’s financial status, Wood said she would reduce the amount Jordan must pay.
As a special education paraprofessional in Glynn County, Jordan’s pre-tax income is $22,000 a year, he has no home of his own and lives with his father, Wood noted.
She said, however, he must pay 75 percent of the defendants’ cost, $5,104.73 to Howard and other officers, $6,712.88 to Caldwell and $5,486.54 to former police officer Nick Roundtree.