In a § 1983 action, a Defendant City and Defendant police officer in Alabama sought to exclude the expert opinion testimony of one of Plaintiff’s experts—an expert witness on police procedure.
Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit after an incident occurred during a morning walk in his son’s neighborhood when a police officer employed by the City, illegally stopped him. Plaintiff claimed that the “stop was without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” The officer searched Plaintiff for weapons. None were found, but Plaintiff claims that the officer restrained his arms and slammed him face first into the ground. It is this use of force that Plaintiff claims was “unnecessary and excessive.” Plaintiff said he suffered significant injuries from this event, including partial paralyzation.
Plaintiff’s police procedures expert a high school graduate but didn’t obtain a degree from a college. He was first employed with the Sheriff’s Office in New Orleans before joining the Birmingham Police Department. His final position with the Birmingham Police Department was Assistant Commander of the Patrol Bureau. Before then, he was a Precinct Commander, Assistant Commander of Administrative Division, Lieutenant Patrol Division, Group Supervisor of HIDTA/DEA Task Force, Sergeant, Vice Narcotics Unit, Narcotics Detective, Vice/Narcotics & Technical Surveillance Unit, and Patrol Division.
Since 1990, he attended six significant continuing education/training courses. None of these courses explicitly state that they covered the police use of non-deadly force, but one of the courses was on “Officer Involved Shootings.” He also attended several other law enforcement continuing education courses. However, most of these courses are not related to police use of force. The expert was awarded the Police Star Medal in 1991.
The expert opined that the Officer acted contrary to common police practices and training and violated Police Department Policy as well as the Fourth Amendment by compelling Plaintiff to answer the question, conducting a frisk without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and detaining Plaintiff.
Defendants claimed that the police procedures expert wasn’t qualified as an expert witness. They portrayed him as relying solely on his “training and experience” to create the expert report. Defendants argued that “Plaintiff’s police procedures expert’s qualifications to provide expert opinions on the use of force are plainly lacking in each of these respects.”
Defendants argued that the police procedures expert’s training was lacking. In support, they argued that he hadn’t received any formal training on the standards governing the use of force or suspect takedowns since he attended the Police Academy over 30 years ago and that he wasn’t familiar with the Strategic Self-Defense & Gunfighting Tactics and the Pressure Point Control Tactics standard training programs. He also wasn’t familiar with current Police Academy training or standards from the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission.
In response, Plaintiff asserted that the challenge to his police procedures expert’s qualifications went only to the weight of his testimony and not to admissibility. Further, he argued that he was to provide context, especially given that Defendants retained their own expert witness.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins found that the police procedures expert wasn’t qualified as an expert witness able to testify about the use of force. The judge said that the expert’s career didn’t qualify him, under any prong of Rule 702, to be an expert witness on the use of force. While he started out at a low level in the police force and worked his way up in the Police Department, his training, experience, and demonstrated knowledge at his deposition specifically on the use of force was deficient, Judge Hopkins held.
Plaintiff’s police procedures expert hadn’t crossed that minimum threshold necessary to qualify him as an expert. There may have been many areas where Plaintiff’s police procedures expert could be considered an expert, but the use of force wasn’t one of them, the judge said.
In conclusion, the judge excluded Plaintiff’s police procedures expert’s testimony because he was unqualified as a use-of-force expert, as well as the fact that his testimony was unreliable and unhelpful to the jury.