Police Procedures Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed in Excessive Force Litigation

Plaintiff sued defendant related to excessive force.  Plaintiff hired a Police Procedures Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude the testimony of this expert.  The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Facts:  This case (Estate of Casimero Casillas et al v. City Of Fresno et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Louisiana – February 13th, 2019) involves a Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force under  42 U.S.C. § 1983.  This case arises out of a fatal shooting of the decedent by the defendant.  The plaintiff has hired Police Procedures Expert Witness William Harmening to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude the testimony of this expert.

Discussion:  The defendants allege that Mr. Harmening is not qualified to opine of the subjects he lists, pointing to his CV and his lack of experience in qualifying or testifying about use of force issues.  In addition, the defendants oppose allowing many of Mr. Harmening’s opinions to reach the jury, stating that he has offered no reliable basis for how he came to form his opinions, contending that these statements are speculation and conjecture.  The plaintiff counters that the defendant can dissect their arguments on cross examination.

The court opines  that the plaintiffs have met their burden to show that Mr. Harmening has special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education on police practices and proper police tactics in use-of-force situations.  The court further opines that the defendants arguments go to the weight of the evidence, not the admissibility, which includes Mr. Harmening’s qualifications concerning Tasers and other specialized knowledge in the use of force.

The court also opines that it has some concerns as to the low probative value on certain aspects of Mr. Harmening’s testimony when weight against the potential that if he were to state certain things, he is likely to mislead the jury in their role as fact-finder.  The court further opines that the experts in this case should not be deciding for the jurors what happened during critical moments in the case.

The court also states that it would be improper for Mr. Harmening to testify about what actually transpired between the decedent and the defendant.  The court also states that any attempt by Mr. Harmening to establish these facts or opine on a witness’s credibility would usurp the province of the jury, is of little probative value, presents a danger of misleading the jury, and must be excluded.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of William Harmening is granted in part and denied in part.