Sue Ashworth is a former sergeant and investigator for the Blount County Sheriff’s Department in Alabama. She was involved in a controversial case in 2017, where she arrested two lawyers who refused to hand over their client’s cell phone that was subject to a search warrant.
In 2021, a federal court rejected the attorneys’ civil rights lawsuit against Ashworth and other police. Ashworth retired from the sheriff’s department in 2019 after 25 years of service.
The Case of Sue Ashworth
Garcia v. Casey
The case that brought Sue Ashworth into the spotlight was Garcia v. Casey, a civil lawsuit filed by two Birmingham lawyers, Victor Revill and Megan Garcia, against Ashworth and other law enforcement officers. The Blount County Courthouse incident on February 23, 2017, prompted the complaint.
Sue Ashworth’s involvement
On that day, Ashworth was investigating Lloyd Edwards, a suspect accused of child sex abuse and child pornography. She had obtained a search warrant for Edwards’ person and vehicle and was waiting for him at the courthouse, where he had a protection from abuse hearing. Edwards was represented by Revill and Garcia, who spoke with him inside the courthouse after the hearing. They requested his mobile phone to obtain further case information during that talk.
As Edwards, Revill, and Garcia were leaving the courthouse, they were stopped by Ashworth and another officer. Ashworth told them that she had a warrant to search Edwards and his vehicle, and asked to see Garcia’s satchel, where she saw Edwards put his cell phone. Revill and Garcia declined to submit to the search of the satchel, claiming it was not covered by the warrant and included confidential attorney-client information. Ashworth then arrested Revill and Garcia for obstructing a governmental operation and refusing to permit inspection of property subject to a search warrant.
Allegations and Claims
Revill and Garcia accused Ashworth and his fellow officers of undermining their constitutional rights through unmerited arrests, undue force application, disruption of their legal counsel rights, retaliation for asserting their rights, and a conspiracy to strip them of those rights.
They further implied that these officers conducted themselves with a disregard for their rights, displaying malice and recklessness. Their request included financial compensation for damages, punitive fines, and a court order to cease future rights infringements.
The Outcome of the Case
In March 2018, Revill and Garcia sued in the Northern District of Alabama. Ashworth, Blount County Sheriff Loyd Arrington, District Attorney Pamela Casey, Deputy Sheriff Michael Walker, Oneonta Police Officer Chris Mosley, Oneonta Police Chief James Chapman, and Blount County were designated defendants.
Qualified immunity, lack of jurisdiction, inability to state a claim, statute of limitations, and Eleventh Amendment immunity were the defendants’ reasons for dismissal.
Dismissal or Settlement
In September 2021, U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre issued an order granting the defendant’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit. She found that Revill and Garcia failed to show that Ashworth and the other officers violated any clearly established constitutional rights when they arrested them for refusing to comply with the search warrant. She also found that Revill and Garcia failed to allege sufficient facts to support their claims of excessive force, interference with the right to counsel, retaliation, conspiracy, or state law violations.
She dismissed all claims against all defendants with prejudice, meaning that Revill and Garcia cannot refile them.
Impact on Sue Ashworth’s Career
The lawsuit did not have a significant impact on Sue Ashworth’s career as a law enforcement officer. She continued to work for the Blount County Sheriff’s Department until her retirement in 2019. She received commendations for her service and dedication to her job.
Sue Ashworth’s Career in Law Enforcement
Background and experience
Patrol deputy Sue Ashworth joined the Blount County Sheriff’s Department in 1994. In 2004, she became a sergeant, and in 2006, an investigator. Child abuse and sexual assault were her specialties. She was a crisis intervention team member and hostage negotiator.
Crime scene investigation, forensic interviewing, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking, and mental health were among her training and certifications.
Controversies and Public Perception
Sue Ashworth faced difficulties and problems during her career. For her participation in Revill and Garcia’s arrest, she was criticized by several members of the public and media. In the instance of a former teacher accused of sexually abusing a pupil, she was accused of misbehavior and prejudice.
However, her professionalism and ethics were lauded by many. Her abilities and expertise earned her the respect of colleagues and superiors. Many victims and families admired and supported her compassion and efforts.
Retirement or Continuation in the Field
Sue Ashworth retired from her service at the Blount County Sheriff’s Department in 2019, marking 25 years of commitment. Her sense of pride in her career stood evident, matched by gratitude for the chance to contribute to her community. Her outlook included more moments with family and friends. She made no explicit plans for further engagement in law enforcement or other fields. Regardless, she assured her continued readiness to provide assistance or advice to those in need.