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Porter v. Campbell

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 14, 2013

ROBERT PORTER, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
JOSHUA CAMPBELL, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. BERNTHAL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Porter, Sr. brings an excessive force claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and a state law battery claim against Defendant Joshua Campbell, alleging that Defendant, a Danville police officer, exerted excessive force in arresting Plaintiff on January 3, 2012, tearing Plaintiff's rotator cuff and causing serious and permanent injury to Plaintiff's arm. Before the Court are various Motions in Limine, filed in anticipation of the trial set to begin June 17, 2013. For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's Motions in Limine (#71) are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and Defendant's Motion for Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts (#70) is DENIED.

I. Background

A brief recitation of the facts is necessary to provide context for the pending motions. On January 3, 2012, Defendant and his partner Officer Michael Bransford went to Danville Paper and Supply, where Plaintiff worked, to investigate a December 17, 2011, burglary of Danville Paper and Supply. Defendant and Bransford interviewed other potential witnesses and then began to interview Plaintiff. Defendant alleges that when he confronted Plaintiff with evidence linking him to another burglary that occurred at Holiday Hills church in 2010, Plaintiff attempted to leave. A struggle (the details of which the parties dispute) ensued, and Defendant and Bransford arrested Plaintiff.

On July 26, 2012, Plaintiff pled guilty to committing burglary and criminal damage to property at Danville Paper and Supply Company on December 17, 2011, and to committing two counts of aggravated battery of a peace officer against Defendant and Bransford on January 3, 2012.

In his Motions in Limine (#71), Plaintiff moves to bar evidence of the following: 1) Plaintiff's 2012 conviction for burglary and criminal damage to property, arising from Plaintiff's involvement in the December 17, 2011, burglary of Danville Paper and Supply; 2) Plaintiff's 2012 convictions for aggravated battery to a peace officer, arising from the incident with Defendant on January 3, 2012; 3) Plaintiff's 2007 convictions for burglary and vehicle theft; 4) Plaintiff's 2003 conviction for burglary and aggravated assault on a peace officer; 5) Plaintiff's convictions between 1983 and 1998; 6) Plaintiff's interactions with Officer Wilson, particularly during Plaintiff's 2006 arrest by Officer Wilson; 7) Plaintiff's alleged involvement in the 2010 burglary of Holiday Hills Church; 8) Plaintiff's alleged 2012 violation of his furlough, for which he was not convicted; 9) Plaintiff's 2001 letter to Detective Bruce Stark, and Plaintiff's interactions with Stark; 10) Plaintiff's prior civil litigation; and 11) Plaintiff's past, current, or future status as incarcerated.

II. Discussion

Plaintiff's 2012 Conviction for Burglary and Criminal Damage to Property

Plaintiff seeks to bar, as substantive and impeachment evidence, his felony convictions in July 2012 for Burglary and Criminal Damage to Property of Danville Paper and Supply on December 17, 2011. Plaintiff argues that these convictions are irrelevant as substantive evidence and unduly prejudicial as impeachment evidence under Rule 609. Defendant responds that he should be permitted to use, as substantive evidence, Plaintiff's admission that he committed the Danville Paper and Supply burglary to show Plaintiff's state of mind on January 3, 2012, when Defendant questioned Plaintiff about the burglary before arresting him. Additionally, Defendant argues that the convictions are admissible as impeachment evidence under Rule 609 and that they are not unfairly prejudicial.

Plaintiff's state of mind regarding his guilt is irrelevant to whether Defendant used excessive force to arrest Plaintiff. As a general rule, "when evaluating the reasonableness of an officer's actions, the fact finder must do so with blinders on - viewing the circumstances and facts only as they were known to the officer at the time." Common v. City of Chicago, 661 F.3d 940, 943 (7th Cir. 2011)[1]; see also Padula v. Leimbach, 656 F.3d 595, 602 (7th Cir. 2011) ("The dispositive question [in an excessive force case] is whether, in light of the facts and circumstances that confronted the officer (and not 20/20 hindsight), the officer behaved in an objectively reasonable manner."). At the time Defendant arrested Plaintiff, Defendant had no knowledge of Plaintiff's state of mind regarding his guilt, nor did Defendant know that Plaintiff would later plead guilty to burglary and criminal damage to property.[2] Therefore, Plaintiff's burglary and criminal damage to property guilty pleas are irrelevant to the excessive force claim. Defendant makes no argument as to why Plaintiff's state of mind could be relevant to the battery claim at issue, and the Court sees no such relevance. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to bar use of Defendant's guilty plea to burglary and criminal damage to property of Danville Paper and Supply as substantive evidence.

The Court addresses the admissibility of these convictions as impeachment evidence together with the rest of Plaintiff's felony convictions below.

Plaintiff's 2012 Conviction for Aggravated Battery of a Peace Officer against Defendant and Officer Bransford

Plaintiff also seeks to bar, as substantive and impeachment evidence, his convictions for committing aggravated battery of a peace officer against Defendant and Officer Bransford during the incident that gave rise to this case. Although the general rule, as stated above, is that information unknown to an officer at the time of the arrest is irrelevant to an excessive force claim, a subsequent guilty plea is admissible in an excessive force case, where the facts that underlie the guilty plea are relevant to what happened during the incident at issue. See Wells v. Coker, 707 F.3d 756, 763 (7th Cir. 2013) (plaintiff's guilty plea to reckless conduct for having pointed gun at officer admissible in subsequent excessive force case against officer); Saunders v. City of Chicago, 320 F.Supp.2d 735, 738 (N.D. Ill. 2004) (plaintiff's resisting arrest conviction admissible in subsequent excessive force case regarding same incident). The factual basis for Plaintiff's plea to aggravated battery of a peace officer against Defendant and Bransford, as described in his guilty plea proceeding, was: "They would testify Bransford and Campbell - that when they tried to arrest him he pushed them into a wall, and that Mr. Campbell did receive an injury to one of his fingers." Transcript of Guilty Plea Proceedings at 10:20-22 (#41-4). This factual basis is directly relevant to Plaintiff's excessive force claim because it is evidence of how Plaintiff acted during his interaction with Defendant and Bransford. Therefore, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion in limine to bar his aggravated battery of a peace officer convictions and finds that Defendant may use Plaintiff's guilty pleas, and the factual basis underlying them, as substantive evidence.

This ruling raises the question, however, of the mechanics of presenting evidence of Plaintiff's guilty plea. Defendant, in a separate motion entitled Motion for Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts (#70), moves to admit, in their entirety, 1) a certified copy of the Vermilion County Court Docket for the 2012 criminal proceedings regarding Plaintiff's aggravated battery of a peace officer, burglary, and criminal damage to property charges; and 2) a certified copy of Plaintiff's guilty plea proceedings, in which he pled guilty to burglary, criminal damage to property, and aggravated battery of a peace officer. Defendant asserts that judicial notice is appropriate but makes no argument as to why these documents, in their entirety, are relevant to this case. The Court sees no relevance of the docket itself, which is merely a summary of various dates and proceedings. Likewise, the guilty plea transcript is filled with irrelevant information, some of it highly prejudicial, such as the fact that the assistant state's attorney agreed not to file escape charges against Plaintiff in exchange for his plea. The guilty plea transcript also refers to the details of Plaintiff's burglary and criminal damage to property convictions, which the Court has ruled inadmissible. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant's motion to take ...


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