Tristan Hall files federal lawsuit claiming malicious prosecution, violations of constitutional rights
Tristan Hall, whose legal ordeal encompassed almost four years, numerous felony and misdemeanor charges and 570 days in the Whitley County Detention Center or on home incarceration while awaiting trial on charges that were later, mostly dismissed, has filed a federal lawsuit against prosecutors and law enforcement.
In the 65-page lawsuit filed Dec. 28 in U.S. District Court in London, Hall names Whitley County Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, Whitley County Attorney Bob Hammons, Knox/Laurel County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, Kentucky State Police Trooper Richie Baxter, Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird, the City of Williamsburg, USAA Casualty Insurance Company, USAA General Indemnity Company, Veracity Research Company and James Wilder, Jr. as defendants in the lawsuit.
Hall accuses the municipal defendants of malicious prosecution for violations of his fourth and fourteenth amendment rights under the United States Constitution, deprivation of liberty and engaging in conduct that shocks the conscience in violation of the 14th amendment.
Hall accuses all of the defendants of defamation, negligence, false imprisonment under state law, negligent infliction of emotional distress and civil rights conspiracy.
Finally, Hall accuses Veracity and/or USAA of negligent hiring and supervision.
According to the lawsuit, “Hall claims that from May 13, 2013 to the present, the defendants, individually, together or in concert, without probable cause, caused and continue to cause Hall to be falsely charged with numerous crimes or offenses, hence to be maliciously prosecuted for those crimes, thereby depriving him of his constitutional rights including his right to liberty and personal integrity…”
Hall said he filed the lawsuit in an effort to end the corruption that became apparent throughout the course of his ordeal.
“What happened was not right,” Hall said. “It was not the act of just one person. It was several people.”
“Everybody was against me,” Hall added.
The saga began on Jan. 10, 2013 when an unknown individual using the pseudonym “Serious as a Heart Attack” posted on the Topix internet site that they would pay someone $5,000 cash for the murder and concealment of Melissa Jones body.
“At the time the Topix Post was made, Hall was in Church Hill, Tennessee visiting his father,” the lawsuit contends.
Kentucky State Police obtained a search warrant ordering Topix to disclose the internet service provider and internet address from which the post originated.
On March 25, 2013, Topix officials replied, stating that the IP address in question identified the provider as Time Warner.
State Police then submitted a subpoena to Time Warner requesting the subscriber information for the IP address.
“On May 7, 2013, Time Warner identified Hall as the subscriber to the IP address,” the lawsuit states.
“The IP address was an ‘open’ network address, available for use by anyone within range or connective access to the open network,” the lawsuit states adding that Time Warner Cable official told police that they could not specify who actually used the IP address on the date and time in question.
According to the lawsuit, the investigation was transferred to KSP Post 11 in London and assigned to Baxter on May 13, 2013.
Baxter determined that the “Melissa Jones” mentioned in the post referred to local radio personality Melissa Jones.
“Record checks verify that there was more than one ‘Melissa Jones’ in or near the Whitley County, Kentucky geographic area,” the lawsuit contends.
According to the lawsuit, Baxter never spoke with Jones, or any of the other possible “Melissa Jones” residing in or near the county, nor did he investigate any other possible suspects other than Hall.
The lawsuit notes that Hall’s then-girlfriend, Angela Reeves, did had a violent history with Jones that resulted in Corbin Police being called to the scene.
“There was no probable cause or sufficient evidence suggesting that Hall created the Topix Post or was involved with it in any way,” the lawsuit contends.
Despite the flimsy evidence against Hall, the lawsuit states that Trimble instructed Baxter to secure an arrest warrant charging Hall with murder.
“No reasonable prosecutor with only this limited information would have acted in the same or similar manner,” the lawsuit contends adding that the charge was based soley on the Topix post and that Jones was alive.
The lawsuit notes that when Hall learned of the charge, he returned from Tennessee and turned himself in.
At Hall’s arraignment the following day, the lawsuit notes that his request for bond was denied as he was declared a danger to the public.
“That same day, an unknown individual posted on Topix under the pseudonym ‘Oh yes’ that ‘I guess the wedding is off…LOL.’”
The lawsuit explains that Hall and Reeves’ upcoming wedding had not been publicly announced at that time, suggesting that either Reeves or someone else in her family or someone close to her made the post.
“The authorities failed to even consider this information or investigate it in relation to the charges asserted against Hall,” according to the lawsuit.
At a preliminary hearing, the court set a bond of $1 million.
The lawsuit contends that Baxter gave false testimony at the preliminary hearing, stating that Melissa Jones took the threat seriously even though he had not, in fact, spoken with her, and there were multiple Melissa Jones in the area.
Based on Baxter’s testimony, the case was sent to the grand jury.
On June 17, 2013, Hall was indicted on an amended charge of solicitation to commit murder.
The lawsuit contends that according to Kentucky law, even if the accusation was true, it did not meet the legal definition of solicitation as neither Trimble nor any of the municipal defendants identify another person who Hall was alleged to have commanded or encouraged to commit murder.
Hall’s bond was reduced to $75,000 fully secured and he was released and placed on home incarceration.
“I had never had any experience with jail,” Hall said adding that career criminals told him on multiple occasions that they had never seen anything like what he was going through.
The lawsuit contends that as the case moved forward Trimble and Baxter continued to fixate on Hall as the culprit.
The lawsuit contends that in his testimony to the grand jury, Baxter revealed that Hall had obtained a concealed carry permit.
“Trimble and Baxter’s theory seems to have been that since Hall had access to a legally obtained weapon and a permit to use it, he ahd to be nefarious and thus had to be involved in the original Topix Post,” the lawsuit states. “No reasonable prosecutor or police officer could have come to or reached that conclusion, no would any reasonable prosecutor present such information to the grand jury or the court in order to obtain indictment and gain excessive bail.”
According to the lawsuit, in the original investigation Trooper Jay Sowders, who is assigned to KSP Post 10 in Harlan, spoke with Melissa Jones. In that interview, Jones could not identify any possible suspects or anyone who might have created the Topix post.
However, the lawsuit notes that Baxter wrote in his report that the only person who would have written it is Hall, based on a new statement from Jones.
“During the period from Hall’s indictment on the solicitation charge and all through the remainder of 2013, 2014 and 2015 neither Trimble, Baxter, or others in their command conducted any kind of reasonable or professional investigation into the origin of the Topix Post,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Trimble’s wife, Sherry, was an expert on IP addresses and computer technologies of the kind at issue in the case.
“Nonetheless, even when confronted with evidence by Hall that holding him and prosecuting him soley on the basis that his IP address was traced back to the Topix Post did not support probable cause for arrest, much less prosecution, Trimble continued to ignore those facts and proceeded to further the prosecution of Hall under the Solicitation Charge even without evidence sufficient to justify probable cause for same,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, on or around April 15, 2014, Reeves wrote a reference to the Kentucky Rule of Professional Conduct with window chalk on Trimble’s office window.
On April 23, 2014, Reeves delivered a news article regarding false arrests and open wi-fi as well as a legal opinion stating that an allegation that an IP address is registered to an individual is not sufficient in and of itself to support a claim that a person is guilty, to the home of Whitley Circuit Judge Paul Winchester.
Both incidents were reported by the local media.
According to the lawsuit on May 3, 2014, Trimble filed a motion to revoke Hall’s bond claiming that, among other things, a speeding ticket issued to Hall had violated the conditions of his release.
On June 4, 2014, Hall filed several motions, seeking a bill of particulars requesting the identity of the person he was alleged to have solicited and a motion to dismiss.
On Feb. 2, 2015, the case was turned over to Special Circuit Judge Samuel Spalding.
The case continued to drag out until February 2016, when special prosecutor Jackie Steele voluntarily dismissed the charge citing insufficient “witness or evidence.”
“Nothing had changed in those three years,” the lawsuit contends. “This makes it abundantly clear that the Commonwealth never had, from the state, sufficient ‘witnesses or evidence’ to charge or prosecute Hall on the Solicitation Charge, much less incarcerate or confine him for all of that time.”
According to the lawsuit, prior to the murder charge, Hall was an honor student at Eastern Kentucky University and had been admitted to the University of Dayton Law School.
However, according to the lawsuit, in the midst of the case, in May 2014, someone contacted the Dayton Law School, informing officials that Hall had not disclosed his prior arrest history.
“His only prior arrest history related to the false Murder and Solicitation Charge,” the lawsuit states.
As a result, on May 2, 2014, Hall’s admission to Dayton Law School was recinded.
“There is no possibility,” Hall said when asked if he would continue his efforts to become a lawyer. “That is gone.”
“After everything that occurred there will always be a stigma for the rest of my life,” Hall added.
According to the lawsuit, Reeves contacted Trimble on May 16, 2014, advising him that Hall was considering a bar complaint against him based on his belief that it was Trimble that contacted the university.
“[y]ou tell him to go right ahead and do that,” Trimble replied according to the lawsuit, adding that Trimble mentioned the University of Dayton by name, even though Reeves had not done so.
On June 23, 2014, Hall finalized a bar complaint against Trimble.
On June 24, 2014, while still on house arrest in relation to the solicitation charge, Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird arrested Hall on a charge of intimidation of a legal participant stemming from phone calls made by Reeves and her voice message on June 11, 2014.
According to the warrant, Hall and Reeves allegedly placed eight different phone calls to Trimble making threats in relation to the solicitation case.
A Whitley County grand jury indicted Hall on an amended charge of retaliation against a legal participant.
According to the lawsuit, the citation listed Trimble as a witness in the case, even though he was the prosecutors on the solicitation charges as well as the intimidation.
“The information provided by Bird in Hall’s arrest warrant for the intimidation of a witness charge was false,” the lawsuit contends adding that it was Reeves who made all of the calls to Trimble and none of the calls contained any threats to him as defined in Kentucky law.
According to the lawsuit, this latest charge was an effort to sway public opinion against Hall by pressuring him to accept a plea deal.
“Hall had no contact with Trimble or any legal participant in the Solicitation Case at any point in time prior to his arrest on those new, fabricated charges,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to the warrant, Bird executed a search warrant at Hall’s residence, seizing Hall’s vehicles, computers, as well as all phone records and phones or other devices in Hall’s home, among other things.
“However at the same time, the government also improperly seized attorney client privileged records and work product prepared and exchanged between Hall and attorney (Warren) Scoville,” the lawsuit states.
On June 25, 2014, Trimble petitioned the court to revoke Hall’s original bond.
The court agreed and Hall was held in the detention center for more than two months.
On Aug. 21, 2014, Trimble recused himself from the case and on Aug. 25, 2014 Steele was appointed to be the special prosecutor in the case.
On Aug. 29, 2014, the intimidation charge was dismissed by order of Judge Henry Johnson, citing the failure to properly or timely indict Hall within the requisite 60 days.
However, the charge was later refilled and Hall was eventually indicted on the retaliation charge.
According to the lawsuit, Trimble may have been motivated to prosecute Hall, in part, because Hall’s grandmother’s other grandsons were perpetually before the court, while Hall was seen as his grandmother’s favorite.
“His (Trimble’s) motive also appears to have been the bar complaint Hall had pursued against Trimble, in as much as there was clearly never any basis for the new charge,” the lawsuit contends.
According to the lawsuit, Reeves reportedly confessed to Bird that she had made all of the phone calls to Trimble on Sept. 24, 2014.
However, Steele continued to seek an indictment against Hall on the retaliation charge.
“At the same time, they refrained for unknown reason from charging Reeves with that same crime,” the lawsuit contends. “In fact, at no point in time thereafter did the Commonwealth ever charge Reeves in connection with the alleged intimidating phone calls even though they had a confession from her that she was the one who made the calls and that Hall was not involved.”
On Oct. 2, 2014, Hall hired Herbert Moncier as his new attorney.
According to the lawsuit, Moncier repeatedly requested a hearing on a motion for bail in the case. However, Judge Johnson refused to hold a hearing without Steele’s participation. As a result, Hall continued to be held in the detention center.
According to the lawsuit, the case was presented to a grand jury, during which Bird gave false testimony regarding the source of the phone calls to Trimble.
“When asked by a grand jury member if the phone message left in Trimble’s office had been confirmed to be the accused (Hall), Bird’s response was ‘Yes,” which was clearly false and a knowing lie…’” the lawsuit states.
On March 2, 2015, the grand jury indicted Hall on one count of retaliation against a participant in the legal process.
Hall and his attorneys continued to press prosecutors for a bill of particulars, or to provide any evidence supporting the retaliation charge. While the bill was never produced, according to the lawsuit, Trimble, Steele and others continued to make offers or suggestions that the issue could be resolved if Hall would make a plea deal.
On February 11, 2016, Steele made a motion to dismiss both the retaliation and solicitation charges.
“Nothing had changed by February 11, 2016,” the lawsuit states. “The Commonwealth had the same ‘evidence’ at that point that it did when it first determined to prosecute Hall on the Retaliation Charge. Clearly no reasonable prosecutor or official would have prosecuted Hall on the basis of the information they had in connection with the charge.”
At the same time Bird arrested Hall on the intimidation charge, Bird reportedly asked about Reeves stating that he had an arrest warrant for her as well.
According to the lawsuit, Hall responded that he and Reeves had separated several months prior.
“Reeves was later found hiding in a closet on the premises,” according to the lawsuit.
Halls bond on the hindering prosecution charge was set at $250,000 cash, even though it is a misdemeanor under Kentucky law.
According to the lawsuit, Bird gave multiple conflicting statements regarding the arrest.
Hammons was appointed as the prosecutor in the case. Laurel County District Court Judge Wendell “Skip” Hammons was appointed as the special judge in the case.
According to the lawsuit, Hall’s aunt posted the bond on Dec. 5, 2014.
However, Hall was only released on home incarceration on Jan. 12, 2015 after several complaints from Moncier about the clerk of court ignoring the court order releasing Hall.
The lawsuit contends that Hammons let the case languish for approximately 18 months with no action before moving forward.
“Instead, during that period as with the other charges, Hammons sought to offer Hall various plea deals if he would merely stipulate to probable cause on one or more of the charges or plead guilty and accept diversion or other reduced penalties,” the lawsuit states. “Hall refused, determined to clear his name of all false charges.”
According to the lawsuit, on Oct. 25, during a rescheduled suppression hearing, Judge Hammons added bond conditions to Hall that he have no contact with Bob Hammons.
“In the process of setting those new ‘bond conditions’ the Court used its ‘white noise ability to prevent a recording at the bench of the reasons the Court had determine to add the new bond conditions,” the lawsuit notes.
Within eight hours of the setting of the new bond conditions, Bob Hammons received an email allegedly from Hall.
“in lieu of today’s hearing I have a request: keep the miscarriage out of it. That really bothers me; it does not have any relevance in any way… I would hope you are not shallow enough to use this against me…let’s keep it civil.”
On Oct. 28, based on the email, Bob Hammons moved for the court to revoke Hall’s bond and to hold Hall in contempt for the alleged violation of the new bond conditions.
“The actual email allegedly sent to prosecutor Hammons has not been provided to Mr. Hall’s criminal defense counsel despite request for examination so as to allow Hall to demonstrate that he did not originate the email,” the lawsuit contends.
“To the best of Hall’s knowledge the Commonwealth has never established that the email came from Hall’s IP address, let alone that he was the person who drafted or sent the email upon which the Court assed the contempt charge at the bequest of prosecutor Hammons.
According to the lawsuit, the contempt charge carried a potential jail sentence of up to 180 days, or to be held indefinitely on a revoked bond, unless he pleaded to the hindering charge and confessed that he sent the email in question, despite that Hall had already served time far beyond the statutory limits for which he could be sentenced on the hindering charge.
“Hall believes and avers that the new bond conditions and the subsequent email were a set up by prosecutor Hammons, Bird, Reeves or others working in conspiracy to manufacture an additional basis to either keep him incarcerated or to force him into a plea deal or otherwise stipulate to probable cause on the hindering charge,” the lawsuit states adding that prosecutors never investigated who else may have sent the email and could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Hall.
At the same time, Hammons continued to offer Hall a plea agreement.
On Nov. 21, Hall agreed to plead to the contempt and hindering charges, while reserving his right to appeal.
Hall hired Louisville attorney Steven Romines to file and prosecute the appeal. However, before the appeal could be filed, Bob Hammons filed a motion to set aside the plea deal on the grounds that he could have been a witness in the proceeding and therefore should have been disqualified as prosecutor.
The appeal has since been filed.
Over the course of events, Hall has also been charged with harassing communications based on a complaint by Reeves on Jan. 26, 2015.
On March 21, 2016, Bob Hammons determined that Reeves’ statements were inconsistent with her allegations and the charge was dismissed.
On March 2, 2015, while Hall was being held in the detention center, he was served with an indictment warrant charging him with fraudulent insurance acts over $500 for allegedly filing a false insurance claim.
According to the lawsuit, the charge stemmed from a fur coat that Hall had inherited which Reeves had lost.
“Subsequent to her loss of the coat, on April 9, 2013, Hall reported the loss, and an investigation was initiated by USAA,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, USAA contracted with Veracity, which in turn hired Wilder as a private investigator to investigate the events surrounding the loss of the coat.
The lawsuit claims that neither USAA nor Veracity investigated Wilder, who had been terminated from several Louisville area police departments for violations of their respective rules.
According to the lawsuit, 10 days after the loss was reported, Reeves notified Wilder that the coat had been found.
However, Wilder came to Hall’s residence and interviewed Reeves.
On April 23, 2013, Wilder provided a report on the loss of the coat and his communications with Reeves.
Based on that report, the lawsuit states that on June 6, 2013, USAA noted in company records that it was considering filing charges against Reeves for the false claim, but that no charges were warranted against Hall.
“However, on June 12, 2013, despite the conclusions reached by their own legal department, USAA sent a copy of the claim file to the National Insurance Crime Bureau and initiated (at least in part) the Fraudulent Insurance Charge against Hall,” the lawsuit states.
Despite multiple inconsistencies, the lawsuit states that Steele continued to prosecute the fraudulent insurance charge against Hall.
On November 12, 2015, the commonwealth dismissed the charge at Hall’s request.
None of the defendants have yet filed a response in the case.
Hall is seeking unspecified damages along with punitive damages based on the defendants’ “grossly reckless, intentional malicious, fraudulent or oppressive conduct…”
“I think the lawsuit is vindication,” Hall said.
“I think, even if it fails, there will be a record of these events.”