Jails & Prisons Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part in Constitutional Rights Case

Summary: Jails & Prisons Expert Witness allowed to provide testimony in part even though the defendants argued that he did not reliably apply his methodology when assessing the use of force at issue in this case.

Facts:  This case (Jackson et al v. Catanzariti et al – United States District Court – Southern District of Georgia – May 14th, 2019) involves the use of force against two prisoners.  The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants alleging that the defendants, correctional officers, violated their constitutional right to be free from excessive force while they were incarcerated.  The plaintiffs have hired Eugene E. Atherton (Jails & Prisons Expert Witness) to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendants have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  The defendants argue that Mr. Atherton should be excluded from offering expert testimony in this case.  The court will first look into whether Mr. Atherton reliably applied his methodology when assessing the use of force at issue, and then determining whether Mr. Atherton’s proffered opinions would assist the trier of fact and be admissible in the matter at hand.  Last, the court addresses whether Mr. Atherton may opines on the cause of the plaintiff’s head injuries.

As the court will explain, the court finds that Mr. Atherton reliably applied his methodology for reviewing use of force incidents and that his testimony regarding general use of force standards would assist the trier of fact. However, Mr. Atherton’s interpretations of the handheld video evidence, and his opinion on the severity and cause of the plaintiff’s head injuries, are not admissible due to the unhelpfulness of the former and Mr. Atherton’s lack of qualifications on the latter.

Mr. Atherton’s self-described methodology involves evaluating and considering all documentation, including the incident report, medical assessments, witness statements from inmates and officers, and video evidence.  The defendants allege that Mr. Atherton did not reliably apply this method because his opinions are based only on the handheld video and the versions of events given by inmates.   The court opines that the defendants’ assertion relies on an overly strict interpretation of Mr. Atherton’s methodology and is refuted by his testimony.  The court opines that the plaintiffs have established that in this case, Mr. Atherton reliably applied his methodology of reviewing all available documentation generated by the use of force incident.

The defendant’s argue that Mr. Atherton should be precluded from offering both case-specific expert testimony and general expert testimony on permissible use of force standards.  The court agrees, and opines that Mr. Atherton’s proffered opinions on the defendants alleged conduct will be excluded because the do not assist the trier of fact.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Eugene E. Atherton is granted in part and denied in part.