Police Procedures Expert Witness Allowed In Part

Plaintiff sued defendants after he was mistook for a fleeing suspect.  Plaintiff hired a Police Procedures Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert witness, which was granted in part and denied in part by the court.

Facts:  This case (Swink v. Mayberry et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Missouri – June 8th, 2018) involves a civil rights claim under 42 USC section 1983 and 1988.  The plaintiff claims that he was mistook for a fleeing suspect while the police were on a pursuit.  He claims that the defendant pointed his gun at him and ordered him to the ground, was pushed against the asphalt, punched in the back, and placed in handcuffs.  The plaintiff has sued for unreasonable stop, unreasonable arrest, and excessive force.  The plaintiff hired Police Procedures Expert Witness Geoffrey Alpert to provide testimony on his behalf.  The defendants subsequently filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: Albert has a Ph.D in sociology and is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina.  He has twenty-five years of experience conducting research on police and law enforcement agencies and has written over 150 publications on criminal justice, many of which deal with police policies and procedures. Alpert used the following material from which he based his opinions: Numerous police department reports, pursuit policies, the plaintiff’s petition and first amended complaint, and witness depositions.  He concluded that lack of proper police procedures and the failure to identify to correct suspect was the cause of the unreasonable use of force against the plaintiff.

The defendants argue that Alpert’s testimony would not helpful to the jury, invades the province of the jury, and amounts to legal conclusions.  The plaintiff admits that his opinions go to the reasonableness of the actions, but that this is permissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a).  The plaintiff acknowledges that Albert’s opinions address the three central issues for the jury: 1) the reasonableness of defendants’ mistaking the plaintiff for the suspect, 2) the unreasonably excessive force used by the defendants, and 3) the liability of the city based on failure to discipline, failure to obtain a report; and knowing ratification of the pursuit by the Chief.

The court opines that Alpert will not be allowed to testify about legal conclusions that touch upon the ultimate legal issues in this case, which is whether the Defendants’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances and in light of Fourth Amendment standards.  However, the court also opines that Alpert may testify on issues that help the jury understand police practices, and the basics on how to apprehend a fleeing suspect.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness opinions of Geoffrey Alpert is granted in part and denied in part.