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Chestnut v. Hall

April 01, 2002

STEVEN J. CHESTNUT, KIMBERLY M. CUNNINGHAM AND BARY L. BROWN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
OFFICER TERRY HALL, INDIVIDUALLY AS A SERGEANT FOR THE INDIANAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT; OFFICER RON BURGESS, INDIVIDUALLY AS AN OFFICER FOR THE INDIANAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND OFFICER DAVID NEAL, INDIVIDUALLY AS AN OFFICER FOR THE INDIANAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND THE CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP00-0525--John D. Tinder, Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, Bauer and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

Argued January 17, 2002

The plaintiffs-appellants filed suit against the defendants-appellees, claiming constitutional rights violations. The case went to trial and a jury returned a verdict in favor of the appellees and against the appellants on all claims. On appeal, the appellants argue that the district court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of a witness's past misconduct and in submitting flawed instructions to the jury. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

Background

The appellants are supporters of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union that orchestrated a strike and established a picket line outside of the Overnite Transportation Company's ("Overnite") Indianapolis facility toprotest claimed unfair labor practices in late 1999. Wackenhut Corporation ("Wackenhut"), a private security firm, was hired by Overnite to provide security during the strike, which was by all accounts riddled with clashes between the union supporters and Overnite employees.

One such incident occurred on the night of December 17, 1999. At approximately 10:00 p.m., Paul Tutsie, a former police officer employed as a supervisor by Wackenhut, contacted Sergeant Terry Hall of the Indianapolis Police Department. Tutsie informed Hall that one of his subordinates then working the Overnite location reported that strikers were vandalizing Overnite property. In particular, Tutsie told Hall that one of his subordinates reported that some strikers were throwing down nails in front of the main gate in an effort to block non-striking truckers from entering and exiting. In response to Tutsie's call, Hall called for backup and proceeded to the Overnite facility.

Upon arriving at Overnite, Hall, followed by Officers David Neal and Ron Burgess, approached the picket line. Standing near Overnite's front entrance were all three appellants, Steven J. Chestnut, Kimberly M. Cunningham and Bary L. Brown, and a fourth individual, Bruce Hamilton. What happened next is not altogether clear. The appellants complain that they were "seized, searched and intimidated" by the appellees "without probable cause, a warrant, the consent of the individuals, or exigent circumstances." Though the appellees concede that they did not have a search warrant when investigating the report of vandalism at Overnite, they argue that no unlawful search or seizure occurred because (i) their actions were nothing more than a protective pat-down for weapons as a result of a lawful investigatory stop; (ii) even if their conduct amounted to a search, each of the appellants voluntarily consented;*fn1 and (iii) there existed probable cause that a crime was being or had been committed, and there existed exigent circumstances.

After a three day jury trial and verdict, the district court entered final judgment in favor of the appellees on May 11, 2001. The appellants now seek reversal, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of a defense witness's past misconduct and in submitting flawed instructions to the jury. We find these arguments unavailing.

Discussion

A. Excluded Evidence

Prior to trial, the appellants and the appellees filed several motions in limine. At issue here is the appellees' first motion in limine, which sought an order excluding any evidence that witness Paul Tutsie was involved in an incident known as the "Meridian Street Police Brawl" when he was employed by the Indiana Police Department. In support of their motion, the appellees argued that any such evidence was irrelevant to the appellants' claims and its introduction would be unduly prejudicial. The district court granted the appellees' motion, finding Tutsie's involvement in the Meridian Street Police Brawl "clearly irrelevant to any issue in this case." We agree.

The Federal Rules of Evidence define "relevant evidence" as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of a fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 401 (emphasis added). Evidence of Tutsie's involvement in the Meridian Street Police Brawl is of no consequence to the determination of this action, nor can such evidence reasonably be said to have any tendency making the existence of a fact that is of consequence more or less probable. Tutsie's role on the night of December 17, 1999, was limited to relaying information received from a subordinate at Wackenhut that strikers were vandalizing Overnite property. As the district court noted, Tutsie was not even present at the scene when the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred. Evidence of past misconduct by a witness whose narrow ...


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