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Pierce v. Ruiz

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 11, 2016

CEDRIC N. PIERCE, Plaintiff,
J. RUIZ, Badge No. 5143, Chicago Police Officer, S. WHITEHEAD, Badge No. 12097, Chicago Police Officer. Defendants.



         Plaintiff Cedric Pierce brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two Chicago police officers, Officer J. Ruiz and Officer S. Whitehead, claiming that the Defendants used excessive force during their arrest of Pierce on September 19, 2011, and that they were deliberately indifferent to Pierce's medical needs following his arrest and subsequent booking at the 11th District Police Station in Chicago, Illinois. Before the court are the parties' motions in limine.


         “Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). The court has broad discretion to rule on evidentiary questions raised in motions in limine. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, a court should grant a motion in limine excluding evidence only when the movant shows that the evidence “is inadmissible on all potential grounds.” CDX Liquidating Trust ex rel. CDX Liquidating Trustee v. Venrock Assocs., 411 B.R. 591, 597 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (citing Townsend v. Benya, 287 F.Supp.2d 868, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2003), and Robenhorst v. Dematic Corp., No. 05 C 3192, 2008 WL 1821519, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 22, 2008)). “‘[E]videntiary rulings should [ordinarily] be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context.'” Id. (quoting Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993)). Rulings on motions in limine are preliminary; “the district court may adjust a motion in limine during the course of a trial.” Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Trust of Chi., 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42); Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42 (“[A] ruling [in limine] is subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual testimony differs from what was contained in the defendant's proffer. Indeed, even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling.”). Accordingly, the parties may renew their objections at trial as appropriate.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Regarding Pre- and Post-Arrest Conduct

         Pierce moves to bar any evidence or discussion regarding his conduct before and after his arrest on September 19, 2011. Pierce argues that the verbiage of his arrest report, which the Defendants completed, contains irrelevant and prejudicial evidence that the Defendants may attempt to use at trial to portray Pierce in a negative light. The arrest report indicates that at the time of Pierce's arrest, Pierce was patronizing prostitutes by “curbing” his car next to a group of known prostitutes, and that after his arrest, he was irate, profane, and aggressive while being driven to the police station and while in the interview room of the police station. Pierce argues that the court should exclude this evidence as irrelevant under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402, unduly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, and speculative under Federal Rule of Evidence 602. The Defendants counter that Pierce's pre-arrest conduct is admissible under Rules 401 and 403 because it is relevant to support their contention that Pierce “acted aggressively and uncooperatively during his arrest.” (Dkt. # 103, at 2). The Defendants also maintain that the conduct is admissible under Rule 608 because it is probative of Pierce's credibility or character for truthfulness or untruthfulness. They point out that Pierce admitted at his deposition that he was sitting in his car when the police first approached him, that he had a large quantity of cash in his pocket at the time, and that he had booked a nearby hotel room for four hours for purposes of having intimate relations with a woman (although Pierce stated that he was intending to be with a female friend named Liz, and not, as the Defendants contend, with a prostitute). As for Pierce's post-arrest behavior, the Defendants maintain that this conduct meets both Rule 401 and Rule 403's requirements for relevance and admissibility as it is necessary for understanding what occurred between the parties that night and “explains how much force the officers could legitimately use” on Pierce. (Id. at 6).

         The court finds that evidence concerning what the Defendants believed Pierce was doing when they first observed him “curbing” his car-namely, soliciting prostitutes-is unduly prejudicial and speculative and therefore will be excluded. The Defendants' alleged initial observations were of Pierce parking his car. At that point in time, Pierce was alone. He was not actually arrested in the act of solicitation, nor did he have anyone in the car with him. Accordingly, the court agrees that the relevance of testimony regarding what Pierce “might have been” doing immediately prior to his arrest is outweighed by the speculative nature of the testimony and the likelihood that jurors will view Pierce in a negative light. That being said, evidence that the Defendants noted Pierce to be intoxicated in the moments before his arrest certainly aids in explaining the facts and circumstances the Defendants faced immediately before and during the arrest. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-97 (1989) (in excessive force cases, the “calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation”). Evidence that Pierce was intoxicated makes it more likely that he acted in the way the Defendants say he did. See Saladino v. Winkler, 609 F.2d 1211, 1214 (7th Cir. 1979).

         The court also finds admissible the evidence related to Pierce's post-arrest conduct while he was handcuffed and riding in the back of the officers' SUV, with Officer Ruiz at the wheel. This behavior occurred in the immediate aftermath of Pierce's arrest and thus can be construed as part of a continuing interaction between Pierce and the Defendants. Again, this conduct constitutes evidence that is relevant to whether the Defendants' actions were reasonable under the circumstances presented, and its probative value outweighs the danger of any unfair prejudice. However, the court excludes evidence pertaining to Pierce's behavior while being held in the interview room of the police station. This conduct is sufficiently far removed from the events surrounding his arrest as to be of dubious relevance. Pierce stated that after he was booked at the station, he was handed off to different officers and did not see Officer Ruiz again. Officer Whitehead was not involved in the transportation of Pierce to the police station, but had remained behind at the scene of the arrest to search Pierce's car and then transport it to the police station. Accordingly, Pierce's conduct at the police station while he was attended to by different police officers is not relevant to his excessive force and denial of medical attention claims.

         In sum, Plaintiff's first motion in limine is granted in part and denied in part. Evidence of pre- and post-arrest behavior is limited to the Defendants' observance of Pierce “curbing” his car; the Defendants' observations as to Pierce's demeanor, physical appearance, and behavior when they approached Pierce in his car; the parties' interactions immediately prior to Pierce's arrest (i.e., the Defendants asking Pierce to produce his license and registration and Pierce rolling up the window, etc.); and Pierce's and Officer Ruiz's interaction during the drive to the police station, up to the point Officer Ruiz handed Pierce off to other, non-defendant officers.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Bar the Use of the Terms “Resisted Arrest” or “Resisted Police Officers”

         In his next motion in limine, Pierce seeks to preclude the Defendants from using the terms “resisted arrest” or “resisted police officers” because he was never convicted of the misdemeanor crime of resisting arrest and use of the terms would convey otherwise to the jury. The Defendants have agreed to stipulate that they will not allege Pierce was convicted of this misdemeanor in connection with the events underlying this case but otherwise maintain that the terms “resisted arrest” or “resisted police officers” are common to policing and are necessary to describe the encounter. The court agrees with the Defendants. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the word “resist” to mean “to fight against (something); to try to stop or prevent (something).” Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, (last visited Oct. 5, 2016). This is a commonly used English word. The court cannot be charged with monitoring each time the Defendants use a form of the word “to resist” to determine the context of the usage. To the extent Pierce believes the word “resist” in certain contexts might lead to jury confusion as to whether he was ever charged with the misdemeanor crime of resisting arrest, the court notes that Pierce may clarify during trial that he was never so charged. The motion in limine is denied.

         C. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude and Limit the Use of Evidence of his Past Criminal Convictions

         Pierce's next motion in limine seeks to exclude evidence of his January 2012 misdemeanor convictions for driving on a suspended license and driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”), as well as earlier felony convictions for aggravated sexual abuse (approximately nine years ago) and for a violation of Illinois' sex offender registry (approximately three years ago). Pierce argues that the 2012 convictions were for Class A misdemeanors that carried a sentence of less than one year, and did not involve a dishonest act or false statement as an element, and therefore are improper impeachment evidence. As for the felony sexual abuse and sex offender violations, Pierce argues that evidence pertaining to these convictions would be unduly prejudicial and cause the jury to find him an unsympathetic plaintiff. The Defendants argue that Pierce's felony convictions are admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 609, and that the misdemeanor convictions are admissible as relevant foundation to Pierce's claim of excessive force.

         Rule 609(a)(1) allows the admission of evidence of felony convictions punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year or that involved dishonesty or false statement regardless of the punishment. However, this rule is tempered by Rule 403, which permits a court to exclude such evidence where the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Added to the mix is the Seventh Circuit's limitations regarding the use of evidence of past felony convictions. In Campbell v. Greer, 831 F.2d 700 (7th Cir. 1987), the court explained that while a felony conviction may be used to impeach a witness in a civil action, opposing counsel may not:

harp on the witness's crime, parade it lovingly before the jury in all its gruesome details, and thereby shift the focus of attention from the events at issue in the present case to the witness's conviction in a previous case. He may not. Essentially all the information the cross-examiner is permitted to elicit is the crime charged, the date, and the disposition. Id. at 707. See also Gora v. Costa, 971 F.2d 1325, 1330 (7th Cir. 1992) (noting that “all that is needed to serve the purpose of challenging the witness's veracity is the elicitation of the crime charged, the date, and the disposition”).

831 F.2d at 707.

         The court finds that Pierce's two felony convictions fall within the ambit of Rule 609(a)(1)(A), but that admission of specific information pertaining to the nature of Pierce's nine year-old aggravated sexual assault conviction and associated three year-old conviction for violating the sex offender registry is sufficiently inflammatory as to cause unfair prejudice to Pierce that substantially outweighs any probative value the conviction offers. U.S. v. Neely, 980 F.2d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 1992) (citing United States v. Robinson, 956 F.2d 1388, 1397 (7th Cir. 1992)). That being said, concerns of prejudice to Pierce can be mitigated by “sanitizing” the evidence of the two felony convictions. Schmude v. Tricam Indus., Inc, 556 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, the Defendants may introduce evidence stating that Pierce was convicted of two felonies and provide the dates of those convictions. The Defendants may not reveal the nature of the crimes underlying the convictions. Pierce's motion in limine as to the felony convictions is denied except as provided regarding the sanitization parameters.

         As for the misdemeanor violations arising out of the night in question, these convictions (DUI and driving on a suspended license) do not fall within the scope of Rule 609(a), and for this reason Pierce argues that these convictions are inadmissible. The Defendants argue that the convictions-which stem from the events underlying this lawsuit- are relevant to their defense against Pierce's excessive force claim because they demonstrate that Pierce was in fact intoxicated on the night in question. The Defendants also argue that Pierce should be barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-97 (1994), from arguing against his sworn admissions.

         The use of state criminal convictions in subsequent § 1983 actions has been addressed by the Seventh Circuit in Calusinski v. Kruger, 24 F.3d 931, 933-34 (7th Cir. 1994) (finding that “evidence of a prior criminal conviction is admissible in a civil proceeding as prima facie evidence of the facts upon which the conviction is based if those facts are relevant to some issue involved in the civil proceeding” and where the criminal proceedings are of “‘sufficiently serious import' to ensure the reliability of the conviction”) (quoting Thornton v. Paul, 384 N.E.2d 335, 342 (Ill. 1987)); see also Saunders v. City of Chicago, 320 F.Supp.2d 735, 738 (N.D. Ill. 2004). We agree with the Defendants that evidence of Pierce's misdemeanor convictions, particularly his DUI conviction, are relevant to whether the Defendants used excessive or reasonable force in their arrest of Pierce because of the fact that Pierce was intoxicated during his interaction with the Defendants. Pierce pleaded guilty to these misdemeanor violations during criminal proceedings that were certainly of sufficiently serious import to ensure their reliability. Pierce's motion in limine as to the misdemeanor violations is denied.

         D. Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 1

         For their first motion in limine, the Defendants seek to bar evidence regarding a general “code of silence, ” “blue wall, ” or any claim of a cover up. The Defendants argue that Pierce has not pointed to sufficient evidence showing that there is such a code as relates to Officers Ruiz and Whitehead, and that unsubstantiated and generalized allegations of a larger “code of silence” would be highly prejudicial and of weak probative value. Pierce maintains that such evidence is admissible because there is a strong inference that a “code of silence” exists within the Chicago Police Department, and he should not be barred from raising the inference that the Defendants and other police officer witnesses are biased and motivated to protect each other.

         “Proof of bias is almost always relevant because the jury, as finder of fact and weigher of credibility, has historically been entitled to assess all evidence which might bear on the accuracy and truth of a witness' testimony.” United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 52 (1984). Indeed, “[a] party's and a witness's common group membership is probative of bias....” Townsend v. Benya, 287 F.Supp.2d 868, 876 (N.D. Ill. 2003). The court agrees with the Defendants that generalized allegations, separate and apart from what may be true of the officers named as defendants here, are not helpful and are akin to impermissible propensity evidence. Maldonado v. Stinar, No. 08 C 1954, 2010 WL 3075680, at *4 (N. D. Ill., Aug. 5, 2010) (allowing evidence of bias among the particular officers involved in the incident at issue there, while excluding generalized evidence of a “code of silence” or “blue wall”) (citing Christmas v. City of Chi., 691 F.Supp.2d 811, 819 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (same), and Moore v. City of Chi., No. 02 C 5130, 2008 WL 4549137, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 15, 2008) (same)).

         With this case law in mind, the court grants the Defendants' motion in limine in part and denies it in part finds as follows: (1) Pierce may not use the term “blue wall” as this term is unduly prejudicial; (2) Pierce may not introduce evidence that law enforcement officers generally or typically adhere to a “code of silence” or seek to cover up misconduct in order to protect fellow officers; (3) Pierce may present evidence specific to Officers Ruiz and Whitehead demonstrating bias and an attempt to cover up the allegedly wrongful nature of Pierce's arrest and/or their denial of medical attention following the arrest; and (4) Pierce may question the Defendants to attempt to demonstrate that the officers' synchronized narrative of the events of September 19, 2011 stemmed from an expectation among officers patrolling together to present a unified front and to protect each other.

         E. Defendants' ...

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