Police Practices Expert Testimony Partially Allowed

Plaintiff sued the City of Chicago Heights and others alleging that he was deprived of his constitutional rights after his murder and attempted murder convictions were overturned.  The defendants challenged the expert witness testimony of plaintiff’s police practices expert.

Facts: This case (Rodell Sanders v. City of Chicago Heights, et al – United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois – May 2nd, 2016) involves an alleged deprivation of constitutional rights by the City of Chicago Heights and police officers (CHPD)of the city.  The plaintiff (Rodell) spent twenty years in prison for murder and attempted murder.  The conviction was vacated in 2011 and in 2014, a jury acquitted him of all charges.  Rodell has sued the defendants on numerous counts.  The current issue involves the testimony of  Dr. William T. Gaut, plaintiff’s police procedures expert witness.  The defendants filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony on reliability factors as well as that some of his opinion are irrelevant.

Discussion:  The Defendants argue that 1) Some of Dr. Gaut’s opinions are not supported by the record; 2) He made improper credibility determinations and legal conclusions; and 3) He misapplied a specific legal standard, known as the Brady standard.

In relation to the reliability of Dr. Gaut’s expert witness testimony, he stated that he relied on the deposition testimony of Germaine Haslett (who was arrested on other charges), as well as depositions of other police officers, police reports.  The judge ruled that this is enough to satisfy the Daubert standard for reliability.

Regarding the relevancy arguments (credibility, legal conclusions, and the application of a specific legal standard) from the defendant’s arguments, the court looked at each one individually.

The defendant’s maintain that Dr. Gaut made improper credibility determinations, specifically in relation to confidential informants and the CHPD’s investigative practices.   In coming to these conclusions, Dr. Gaut relied on Haslett, specifically, some of his recantations.  The defense based its argument on these recantations when stating that Gaut’s testimony was not credible.  In his expert report, Dr. Gaut stated that he was not providing an opinion based on Haslett’s credibility and did not make any credibility determinations.  He stated that he had reviewed over 8,000 documents to come to his expert opinions.  The court opined that this part of Gout’s testimony was allowed as he based his opinions on facts that he gleaned from the court record.

Regarding legal conclusions, the defense argued that Dr. Gaut used the term “deliberate indifference” as well as when he stated that Rodell was convicted of murder and attempted murder on the basis of certain confessions and identifications.  The court agreed with these arguments in part, not allowing Dr. Gaut to utilize the term “deliberate indifference”, but allowing the latter testimony on Rodell’s conviction.

The last aspect of the relevancy arguments involves the Brady standard, which deals with the disclosure of material exculpatory evidence.  The court disagreed with the defendants on this point and denied this part of the Daubert motion.

Conclusion:  The defendants’ motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Gout is denied, except where he uses the term “deliberate indifference”.  That part of the motion is granted.