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Porter v. Campbell

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 14, 2013

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

ORDER

DAVID G. BERNTHAL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Porter, Sr., has filed a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Defendant Joshua Campbell, a police officer, alleging that Defendant used excessive force while trying to arrest Plaintiff. Plaintiff has also alleged a claim of battery under Illinois law.

Defendant has filed motions in limine in anticipation of the trial, which is scheduled to begin June 10, 2013. The Court's disposition and reasoning follows.

Defendant's Motion in Limine Number 1 (#58)

Plaintiff testified in his deposition that the officers involved in the arrest used racial slurs. Defendant and the other officers deny the use of racial slurs or racial bias and intimidation. Defendant argues in his first motion in limine that the Court should bar any evidence, mention, or implication of racial slurs or racial bias and intimidation because whether Defendant or other officers used racial slurs or demonstrated racial bias is irrelevant to whether Defendant used excess force or committed battery. See F.R.E. 401, 402. In addition, Defendant contends that, even if such evidence is relevant, its use would lead to unfair prejudice against Defendant and the officers who will be testifying and would also lead to a confusion of the issues because the use of racial slurs is not an issue in this case. See F.R.E. 403.

Plaintiff responds that evidence of racial bias may be probative in determining the reasonableness of the force applied because it can inform the jury about the credibility of the witnesses and can prove that Defendant's conduct was improperly motivated, malicious, wanton, or oppressive, and therefore unreasonable. Plaintiff contends that although this evidence would be prejudicial, its probative value is not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice because it implicates the central issue in the case: the reasonableness of the force used by Defendant. Plaintiff also contends that this evidence would not confuse the issues because it would be offered in the context of how much force Defendant used.

The Court agrees that evidence of racial slurs and bias is relevant to Defendant's motivation and to the reasonableness of his conduct and concludes that the probative value of this evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Defendant. The Court is confident that counsel will be able to clarify for the jury that the issues in this case relate to Defendant's use of force and that the possible existence of racial bias or discrimination per se is not at issue except to the extent it relates to the reasonableness of the force. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant's Motion in Limine Number 1 (#58).

Defendant's Motion in Limine Number 2 (#59)

Defendant argues in his second motion in limine that the Court should bar any evidence or implication as to whether the officers involved had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff or had obtained an arrest or search warrant prior to arresting Plaintiff because such evidence is irrelevant to the claims in this case. See F.R.E. 401, 402. In addition, Defendant contends that, even if such evidence is relevant, its use would lead to unfair prejudice against Defendant and the officers who will be testifying and would also lead to a confusion of the issues. The Court notes that Defendant does not explain how this evidence might lead to unfair prejudice or confusion. Specifically, Defendant contends that Plaintiff admits that he pled guilty to burglary as well as aggravated assault of a police officer; therefore, whether the officers had probable cause to arrest or had obtained a warrant is not germane to this case. See F.R.E. 403.

It is unclear whether Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motion to bar evidence related to probable cause. Plaintiff states that the probable cause evidence is relevant to the claims but he agrees that presentation of evidence about whether Defendant had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff would be prejudicial and confusing for the jury. In fact, Plaintiff asks the Court to extend the bar on probable cause evidence to DNA evidence related to Porter's involvement in the 2010 burglary of Holiday Hills.[1] On the other hand, Plaintiff acknowledges that Defendant had probable cause to arrest him and states that "Defendant is free to state that he had probable cause in this case." (#81, p. 3.) The Court agrees with both parties that this evidence would be prejudicial and confusing to the jury; therefore, the parties are barred from eliciting testimony about whether Defendant had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff.

As to evidence related to search or arrest warrants, Plaintiff does not oppose the motion insofar as it seeks to bar evidence regarding a search warrant. However, Plaintiff objects to Defendant's motion to the extent it seeks to preclude Plaintiff from presenting evidence related to Defendant's decision not to obtain an arrest warrant.

Plaintiff notes that Defendant stated in his deposition that he did not seek an arrest warrant for Plaintiff because he normally would not seek an arrest warrant unless he thought "somebody is going to be fleeing town." (Campbell dep., p. 23.) Thus, Defendant's decision not to obtain an arrest warrant is evidence that he had no concerns about Plaintiff fleeing in spite of his prior knowledge of Plaintiff. Plaintiff notes that Defendant may try to introduce evidence and testimony of other officers' previous interactions with Plaintiff to establish that Defendant believed that Plaintiff might attempt to flee. Plaintiff contends that this is inconsistent with his deposition testimony that implied he did not think Plaintiff would flee.

The Court concludes that the evidence regarding whether a police officer had obtained an arrest warrant is irrelevant to the question of whether the officer used excess force or committed battery during an arrest. This evidence also raises the risk of confusing the jury as to the propriety of the arrest.

The Court grants Defendant's Motion in Limine Number 2 (#59) in its entirety. All evidence as to whether the officers had probable cause or obtained an ...


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