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La Cresha Williams v. City of Madison

January 13, 2012

LA CRESHA WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF MADISON, ET AL., JURY DEMAND DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:

ORDER

Before the Court are the following motions: 1) plaintiff La Cresha Williams' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37); 2) defendants' (the City of Madison, Lieutenant Steve Shelby, Chief of the Madison Police Department, individually and in his official capacity, and Sergeant J.D. Harris of the Madison Police Department, individually and in his official capacity) counter motion for sanctions (Doc. 38); 3) defendants' motion to strike (Doc. 39); and 4) defendants' motion to bar plaintiff's witnesses (Doc. 40). For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37) is denied, defendants' counter motion for sanctions is denied (Doc. 38), defendants' motion to strike (Doc. 39) is granted in part and denied in part, and defendants' motion to bar plaintiff's witnesses (Doc. 40) is granted.

I. Background

Without getting too much into the facts, because most of them are in dispute, the following series of events provides the relevant context for deciding the motions before the Court. On November 19, 2007, plaintiff was stopped by Sergeant J.D. Harris (Officer Harris) of the Madison Police Department for not wearing a seat belt approximately 200 to 300 feet from the Madison Police Department. Soon thereafter, another Madison police officer, Officer Michael Renthe responded to the scene. At some point, the facts of which are heavily in dispute, Officer Harris and plaintiff ended up in a verbal and physical altercation, that resulted in Officer Harris seizing plaintiff. The facts that led up to this point and those that follow are in dispute, but ultimately it resulted in plaintiff being hit by a Taser*fn1 or "stun gun" fired by Officer Harris.

On November 19, 2009, plaintiff filed a six count complaint, alleging the following four counts against all defendants: 1) a federal claim for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 2) a state law assault and battery claim; 3) a state law unlawful use of excessive force claim; and 4) a state law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Plaintiff further alleged a state law claim for failure to adequately train, instruct, correct, discipline, supervise, and train police officers against the City of Madison, Lieutenant Steve Shelby, and Officer Harris, and spoliation of evidence claim against Officer Harris. The spoliation of evidence claim was dismissed without prejudice at plaintiff's request. (Doc. 47).

On April 19, 2011, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37). Despite filing a six count complaint, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37) fails to identify each claim or defense on which summary judgment is sought. Rather, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment sets forth a number of disputed facts, many of which defendants claim are irrelevant and inadmissible in this case, and generally claims that Officer Harris had no reasonable cause to believe his action in Tasing*fn2 plaintiff was justified or warranted. Defendants responded to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37) by filing a counter motion for sanctions (Doc. 38), a motion to strike (Doc. 39), and motion to bar plaintiff's witnesses (Doc. 40). Because the motion to strike and motion to bar impact the Court's decision on the motion for summary judgment, the Court considers them first.

II. Motion to Strike

Defendants present three arguments in their motion to strike. First, defendants contend that this Court should strike plaintiff's counts and allegations alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because those amendments are inapplicable to excessive force claims. Second, defendants posit that plaintiff's failure to train, supervise, and instruct claims against Officer Harris should be stricken because Officer Harris is not a supervisory official. Third, defendants argue that this Court should strike plaintiff's spoliation of evidence count because plaintiff suffered no damages warranting spoliation of evidence claim. Plaintiff responds to defendants' motion to strike by agreeing that any reference to the Eight Amendment should be stricken, contending that the failure to train, supervise, and instruct claim is not brought against Officer Harris, and noting that the spoliation of evidence claim has been dismissed. Accordingly, defendants' motion is denied as moot with regard to the spoliation of evidence argument and granted in the remainder as plaintiff concedes these arguments. Plaintiff, however, is given leave to amend her complaint to allege whatever constitutional amendment she believes she has a right to sue under and to allege the supervisory personnel she believes is responsible for failing to properly train, supervise, and instruct.

III. Motion to Bar Plaintiff's Witnesses

In defendants' motion to bar plaintiff's witnesses, defendants contend that the Court should prohibit Janika Love, Jazmine Briggs, Sharilette McDonald, and Travontrez Brown from testifying and should strike those witnesses because their testimony is irrelevant. Plaintiff seeks to introduce these witnesses testimony to show that Officer Harris has Tasered other individuals in investigatory stops similar to plaintiff's stop. Specifically, plaintiff seeks to offer Travontrez Brown to testify that during an investigatory stop, Officer Harris handcuffed him, took him to another officer's squad car, forced him face first and face down into the squad car, and then repeatedly proceeded to Tase Brown, all because Brown made a statement to another passenger expressing his displeasure with being stopped. Janika Love is being proffered to testify that she was also Tased by Officer Harris after she was handcuffed and placed in the back of his squad car with two other females following a verbal dispute with another female. Jazmine Briggs is being proffered to testify that she saw the other two girls in the back of the squad car with Love Tased repeatedly. Sharilette McDonald is being proffered to testify that she was repeatedly Tased by Officer Harris, causing her to drop her son on the floor and subjecting him to this same Taser shock, after she refused to let officers take her son when she went to the Madison Police Department to file a complaint.

Defendants argue that plaintiff intends to elicit testimony from the above witnesses pertaining to irrelevant and unrelated arrests. Specifically, defendants contend that in excessive use of force cases, evidence of prior incidents of misconduct involving a police officer is inadmissible. Plaintiff contends that because defendant Harris raised the affirmative defense of self- defense, evidence of commission of prior crimes or acts of misconduct may be admissible to prove motive, intent, identity, absence of mistake or any material question other than the propensity to commit a crime.

"The Federal Rules of Evidence, not provisions of state law, govern the admissibility of evidence in federal court." Park v. City of Chi., 297 F.3d 606, 611 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Schrott v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 403 F.3d 940, 943 (7th Cir. 2005) ("Federal courts do, and must, apply both the Federal Rules of Evidence and other evidentiary rulings derived from federal statutes, Supreme Court decisions, or other sources of federal law, in their proceedings."). Despite this, plaintiff cites solely to Illinois state law in support of her position that the evidence at issue should be admitted. While state law may affect relevancy determinations, see Schrott, 403 F.3d at 943, that does not take away from the fact that the Federal Rules of Evidence apply in this case, and that under Seventh Circuit precedent, evidence of an officer's intent or motivation is irrelevant to whether he acted objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him.

The issue under the Fourth Amendment is whether the officer's actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989); Common v. City of Chi., 661 F.3d 940, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 21178, at *4 (7th Cir. 2011); Richman v. Sheahan, 512 F.3d 876, 882 (7th Cir. 2008); Soller v. Moore, 84 F.3d 964, 968 (7th Cir. 1996). The officer's intent or motivation in using force is irrelevant in a Fourth Amendment case. Graham, 490 U.S. at 397; Richman, 512 F.3d at 882; Soller, 84 F.3d at 968. "This standard requires that a fact finder analyze whether the officer's actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and under the circumstances confronting the officer at the time of the incident, without regard to the underlying motive or intent of the officer, and without the benefit of hindsight." Common, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 18301 at *4. The only thing that matters is whether the officer's force was objectively reasonable. Richman, 512 F.3d at 882. "'[E]vidence outside the time frame of the shooting is irrelevant and prejudicial.'" Common, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 18301 at *5 (quoting Palmquist v. Selvik, 111 F.3d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir. 1997)). The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with 20/20 hindsight. Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 768 (7th Cir. 2005). The calculus of the reasonableness must take into account that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. Id. Nevertheless, there may be certain circumstances, where evidence outside the officer's knowledge is admissible for certain purposes. See Common, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 18301 at *6 (citing Sherrod v. Berry, 856 F.2d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 1998)).

Here, plaintiff seeks to introduce evidence of prior incidents where Officer Harris allegedly used excessive force by Tasing individuals during the course of his employment as a police officer. Plaintiff agues this evidence should be admitted to show Officer Harris's intent or motivation. This evidence is inadmissible. The case law is clear that an officer's intent or motivation is irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment's ...


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