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Judge tosses suit by veteran who says Wal-Mart worker misinterpreted comment as bomb threat

Posted Jul 7, 2014 9:42 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Police and a Wal-Mart in Maryville, Tenn., didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a veteran and his wife when a store employee interpreted the man’s comments as a bomb threat, a federal judge says.

Robert Steven Roberts and his wife, Rethia Marie Roberts, sued after Wal-Mart reported the supposed threat, and police held Roberts for about 35 minutes while they investigated, according to the opinion (PDF) by U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves of Knoxville. The Knoxville News Sentinel covered Reeves’ decision.

A Wal-Mart employee had alerted management after he asked Robert Roberts if he needed any help, and the employee thought Roberts replied, “No, I’m just walking around with a bomb somewhere.”

Roberts maintains he said no such thing; his wife suggested he may have said he was “bummed out,” given a recent issue with his son. Robert Roberts was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and had thought about hurting himself in the past, but he told police he felt fine on the day in question in September 2011, except for the upset and embarrassment caused by his detention.

Reeves of Knoxville dismissed the case after the plaintiffs failed to respond to the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Reeves interpreted the plaintiffs’ silence as a waiver of any opposition to the motions.

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