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Jefferson v. Guerrero

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

April 3, 2017




         After this Court's September 1, 2016 memorandum opinion and order ("Opinion") that denied the motion of Officer Pablo Guerrero ("Guerrero") for summary judgment against Nathaniel Jefferson ("Jefferson"), a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Department of Corrections ("County Jail"), an opinion that left Guerrero as the sole defendant in the case, the parties developed and this Court entered a Final Pretrial Order ("FPTO") that teed up the case for trial. As directed by this Court during the conference with the parties that resulted in the approval of the FPTO, each side has tendered motions in limine to which the other side has responded. This memorandum opinion and order will speak to those motions, beginning with Jefferson's and concluding with Guerrero's.

         Jefferson's Motions in Limine

         There is no need to discuss the bulk of Jefferson's motions in limine, for Guerrero's counsel has treated only three of them as subject to dispute. Although some confusion has been created by the fact that Jefferson's Memorandum in Support of His Contested Motions in Limine (Dkt. No. 76) has numbered those disputed motions differently from the numbers assigned in the motions in limine themselves (Dkt. No. 76-1), this opinion will refer to the disputed matters by using the same altered identification numbers that the parties' dueling memoranda have employed. That means that Jefferson's Motions Nos. 1, 3 and 6 through 15 as originally numbered in Dkt. No. 76-1 are granted, and Guerrero's counsel are ordered to comply with those motions at trial.

         As for Jefferson's Motion No. 2, which seeks "to bar reference to any other inadmissible criminal history or arrest record of Plaintiff Nathaniel Jefferson, " Guerrero's counsel disclaims any intention of referring to any prior arrests but does seek to introduce Jefferson's prior felony convictions (that same contention as to felony convictions forms the gravamen of Guerrero's Motion No. 6). Jefferson has the better of that dispute by a wide margin, for his prior convictions all relate to controlled substance offenses, which have no direct correlation to his credibility, [1] and the Evid. R. 403 balancing test plainly teaches that any arguable probative value is substantially outweighed by its highly prejudicial effect (see such directly relevant cases as United States v. Galati, 230 F.3d 254, 261-62 (7th Cir. 2000) and United States v. Neely, 980 F.2d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 1992)) and cases that address Evid. R. 403 balancing generally, such as United States v. Gorman, 613 F.3d 711, 718 (7th Cir. 2010) and Thompson v. City of Chicago, 472 F.3d 444, 456-67 (7th Cir. 2006)).

         Even putting to one side the numerous deficiencies in Guerrero's response displaying his counsel's periodic misuse of the English language, that response comes down to a thinly disguised appeal to the prejudice that Evid. R. 403 is designed to avoid. Nothing more need be said. Hence Jefferson's Motion No. 2 is also granted.

         Next, Motion No. 4 in the Dkt. No. 76-1 compendium asks "to bar any reference to Division IX of Cook County Jail as a 'maximum security' Division." In response, in an example of the numerous English language problems referred to earlier, defense counsel states:

         Defendant should be able to illicit (sic) that Division IX is a maximum security division.

         But once again that type of argument runs afoul of Evid. R. 403, for it is highly likely (and indeed it may well be intended) to deflect jurors' attention from the actual issues in the case, not the viability or lack of viability in Jefferson's substantive case.

         Indeed, in response to Jefferson's allegation that Guerrero "was aware of a threat of serious harm at the hands of other detainees, Thaddeus Thompson and Martice Smith, " Guerrero's counsel asserts at her responsive Mem. 2-3:

Therefore, Officer Guerrero should be able to assert protocol for the handling of more dangerous detainees who are classified in a manner that cause them to be placed in maximum security.

         That of course misses the whole point that awareness of an inmate's dangerous proclivities ought to heighten a correctional officer's alertness to the possibility of harm -- a fact-intensive matter as to which both sides are free to offer their competing versions for jury consideration. And that has nothing to do with the label attached to a particular custodial facility and to the potential prejudice that such a pejorative label can foster. Again Jefferson's motion is granted.

         Lastly, Jefferson's Motion No. 5 in Dkt. No. 76-1 seeks "to preclude reference to any ticket, proceedings or discipline received by Plaintiff Nathaniel Jefferson as a result of this incident and any argument that such discipline absolves Defendant Guerrero of any wrongdoing." There Guerrero's opposition essentially seeks to have someone else's judgment influence the jury's own judgment, a particularly inappropriate prospect when jurors necessarily have no familiarity with the nature of the administrative proceedings in effect at the Cook County Jail (in this instance "tickets" were given to Jefferson, his cellmate and, importantly, the two inmates that Jefferson claims were enabled by Guerrero's misconduct to harm him).

         This Court makes no factual findings, of course, either for or against Jefferson's claim or Guerrero's defense. But it is plainly inappropriate to create the prospect that the jury's own determination after it hears firsthand about the parties' respective positions might be influenced by the rulings made in an administrative proceeding that lacked ...

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