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Rainsberger v. Benner

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 18, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Detective Charles Benner's (“Benner”) Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony (Filing No. 115). On February 7, 2019 the Seventh Circuit issued a mandate affirming the district court's determination that Benner is not entitled to qualified immunity in this action for malicious prosecution filed by Plaintiff William Rainsberger (“Rainsberger”). This matter is now scheduled for trial by jury on January 27, 2020. In his final witness list, Rainsberger lists two expert witnesses to testify about the quality of the police work in this case and how it compares to accepted methods of policing. Benner moves to exclude the reports and testimonies of those experts. (Filing No. 115.) He argues that their expected testimony does not comply with Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704(b). Rainsberger responds that the Seventh Circuit has interpreted the Rules of Evidence to allow the bulk of the expert opinion he intends to offer at trial. (Filing No. 119.) For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Benner's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case are set forth in detail in the Court's Entry on Motion for Summary Judgment (Filing No. 73 at 2-13). The Court provides an abbreviated summary of the facts below.

         As he did at the summary judgment stage, Benner disputes many of these facts. On November 19, 2013, Rainsberger discovered that his mother Ruth Rainsberger (“Ruth”) had been attacked in her home. A blanket covered most of her shoulders and head, and Rainsberger did not remove it because it was stuck to the wound and he believed it was acting as a bandage. He called 9-1-1 from her landline telephone. When the responding paramedic arrived, Rainsberger told him that someone had “caved in his mother's head.” The paramedic later reported to Benner that he thought it was “odd” that Rainsberger said his mother's head had been caved in because he had not removed the cloth to look at her injuries.

         Benner arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and did a walkthrough of the apartment. The walkthrough revealed no signs of forced entry, and Benner ruled out robbery as a motive for the attack. The following day, Ruth died from her injuries. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force trauma to the head, possibly caused by a hammer or similar object. Her death was ruled a homicide.

         Benner interviewed Rainsberger as well as his brother Robert Rainsberger (“Robert”) and his sister Rebecca Rainsberger in connection with the investigation. Later he asked the three to come to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, ostensibly to review the results of Ruth's autopsy. There he accused Rainsberger and Robert of murdering Ruth for money and asked them to take a polygraph test. Upset at being brought to the station under false pretenses and being accused of his mother's murder, and because he considered polygraphs unreliable, Rainsberger refused to take a polygraph. However, Rainsberger and Robert agreed to give fingerprints and DNA buccal swabs. Benner, however, did not wait for the results of DNA tests before seeking to have Rainsberger arrested and charged. The prosecutor declined to pursue the first arrest request, and Benner went back to find more evidence.

         In May 2014 Benner went to the prosecutor with a second probable cause affidavit. The second probable cause affidavit did not disclose the results of the DNA test-the DNA of two males was found, but it did not implicate Rainsberger or Robert. Benner's investigation focused on Rainsberger for several reasons. Security camera footage from outside a Kroger, where Rainsberger was just before he discovered his mother's body, showed him disposing of an item in the trash. Rainsberger's mother had roughly $20, 000.00 in cash and $80, 000.00 in certificate balances at the time of her death. Her three children were the beneficiaries for all of her assets. Telephone records showed that two calls were placed from Ruth's landline to Robert's cell phone just after Rainsberger claimed he discovered his mother had been attacked.

         According to Rainsberger, Benner composed and submitted a probable cause affidavit that was riddled with lies and undercut by the omission of exculpatory evidence. (Filing No. 96 at 4.) Based on that flawed affidavit, Rainsberger was arrested, charged and imprisoned for two months. Id. at 4-5. On July 7, 2015, the Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case against Rainsberger. On January 12, 2016, Rainsberger filed the instant Complaint, alleging unlawful seizure in contravention of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and unreasonable or malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Filing No. 1 at 5.)

         Additional facts will be provided below as necessary.


         Federal Rule of Evidence 104 instructs that “[t]he court must decide any preliminary question about whether a witness is qualified … or evidence is admissible.” Fed.R.Evid. 104(a). Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that expert testimony is admissible if:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or date; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the ...

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