Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hurt v. Vantlin

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

December 13, 2019

William Hurt, Deadra Hurt, and Andrea Hurt, Plaintiffs,
v.
Jeff Vantlin, Jack Spencer, William Arbaugh, Jason Pagett, Matthew Wise, and Zachary Jones, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiffs William Hurt, Deadra Hurt, and Andrea Hurt[1] allege in this action that they were wrongfully targeted, arrested, and prosecuted for the death of their uncle, Marcus Golike, whose body was found in the Ohio River in June 2012. The parties have filed several motions in advance of the two-week trial scheduled to begin on April 20, 2020, including: (1) Motions in Limine filed by Defendants Zachary Jones and Matthew Wise (the “KSP Defendants”), [Filing No. 391]; (2) Motions in Limine filed by Defendants Jeff Vantlin, Jack Spencer, William Arbaugh, and Jason Pagett (the “EPD Defendants”), [Filing No. 397]; (3) a Motion to Take Judicial Notice and Motion for Determination on Collateral Estoppel filed by the KSP Defendants and the EPD Defendants, [Filing No. 398]; (4) Agreed Motions in Limine filed by all parties, [Filing No. 401]; (5) Motions in Limine filed by Plaintiffs, [Filing No. 407]; and (6) Supplemental Motions in Limine filed by the EPD Defendants, [Filing No. 420]. These motions are now ripe for the Court's ruling.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         Given the evidentiary vacuum in which denials of motions in limine are made, such a denial is not final. Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D.Ill. 1993). A court's ruling on a motion in limine is subject to reconsideration “as events at trial unfold.” Moore v. General Motors Corp., Delco Remy Div., 684 F.Supp. 220, 220 (S.D. Ind. 1988). Accordingly, none of the Court's rulings here precludes counsel from objecting to offers of evidence during trial or from offering excluded evidence outside the presence of the jury as part of an offer of proof. Indeed such acts are required for preservation of the record for purposes of appeal.

         II.

         Threshold Issues Regarding Underlying Criminal Proceedings

         At the outset, the Court addresses the issue of which components of Plaintiffs' criminal proceedings may be admissible at trial. These issues are raised throughout all parties' Motions in Limine and Defendants' Motion to Take Judicial Notice and Motion for Determination on Collateral Estoppel. Each side is seeking exclusion of parts of the criminal proceedings that may be unfavorable to their case, yet arguing that favorable parts should be admitted for consideration by the jury. The following chart reflects issues related to the underlying criminal proceedings, and which parties seek their exclusion:

Issue

Defendants Seeking Exclusion

Plaintiffs Seeking Exclusion

Probable cause existed for Plaintiffs' arrests

No criminal charges were filed against Andrea

State court judge suppressed Deadra's confession

State court judge did not suppress William's confession

Jury could not reach verdict on William's obstruction of justice charge

Jury acquitted William on murder and robbery charges

         As to the issues for which Defendants seek exclusion - that no criminal charges were filed against Andrea, that the state court judge suppressed Deadra's confession, and that the jury acquitted William on the murder and robbery charges - Plaintiffs argue that this evidence is relevant in order to provide the jury with important context. Plaintiffs also assert that they expect Defendants to contend at trial that Plaintiffs are guilty of murdering Mr. Golike, and so Plaintiffs should be permitted to explain that they were subjected to an adversarial criminal legal system and prevailed. They argue that absent this context, the jury may speculate that Plaintiffs were found guilty, but were released on a technicality. Additionally, Plaintiffs note that the jury will need to consider whether William and Deadra's confessions were used in their criminal proceedings in connection with their Fifth Amendment claims. Plaintiffs also argue that evidence regarding the outcome of the criminal cases is relevant to their damages, which include the anxiety of facing criminal charges and waiting to learn their fates. They assert that this evidence is also relevant to show that Detective Vantlin continued to try to dig up evidence after the criminal proceedings were over. Finally, Plaintiffs suggest that the Court can instruct the jury that favorable terminations of the criminal proceedings cannot be used to determine whether Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs, but may be used for other evidentiary purposes.

         In response to Plaintiffs' arguments seeking exclusion of other issues related to the underlying criminal proceedings - that probable cause existed for Plaintiffs' arrests, that the state court judge did not suppress William's confession, and that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the obstruction of justice charge against William - Defendants argue that the jury has a right to know the information, and that Defendants should be able to present the information to counter Plaintiffs' arguments regarding a lack of probable cause or that Defendants should have known the confessions were coerced. Defendants also note that if Plaintiffs are allowed to present evidence regarding issues from the criminal proceedings that are favorable to them, then Defendants should be permitted to do the same.

         The Court addresses each component of the criminal proceedings below.

         A. The Existence of Probable Cause

         The finding of probable cause is especially intertwined with Plaintiffs' claims for wrongful pretrial detention and false arrest. The Seventh Circuit has held that an arrest “is constitutional if the arresting officers (1) have probable cause to arrest the person sought and (2) reasonably believe that the person arrested is the person sought.” Tibbs v. City of Chicago, 469 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2006) (citation and quotation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has also held, however, that when a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 related to probable cause “is more accurately characterized as a challenge to the integrity of the evidence than to its sufficiency, ” collateral estoppel does not bar the § 1983 claim. Schertz v. Waupaca Cty., 875 F.2d 578, 581 (7th Cir. 1989); see also Brokaw v. Weaver, 305 F.3d 660, 670 (7th Cir. 2002).

         Because the state court judge's finding of probable cause has no preclusive effect in this case, the Court finds that it is not relevant to the issues in this case and that its risk of prejudicial effect substantially outweighs any probative value. Betts v. City of Chicago, Ill., 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1032 (N.D.Ill. 2011) (granting motion in limine to preclude evidence of state court judge's finding that probable cause did not exist); Hillard v. City of Chicago, 2010 WL 1664941, at *5 (N.D.Ill. 2010) (“Some courts have found it appropriate to advise the jury of the disposition of a plaintiff's criminal charge in a false arrest case to prevent the jury from assuming the plaintiff was found guilty. Notifying the jury of the ‘no probable cause' finding is unnecessary to meet this purpose…. There is no need to delve into the specifics of the state court disposition…. [I]ntroduction of the ‘no probable cause' finding risks a substantial prejudicial effect, as the jury may equate the state court's finding with a determination as to the propriety of the defendant officers' actions. [Plaintiff] insists the court can address this concern with a limiting instruction. However, the tenuous relevance of this evidence does not outweigh the risk that it will confuse and mislead the jury”).

         The Court finds that evidence that the state court judge found that probable cause existed for Plaintiffs' arrests is inadmissible at the trial in this case.

         B. The Absence of Criminal Charges Against Andrea

         Defendants seek to exclude any mention of the fact that criminal charges were not filed against Andrea. The underlying criminal proceedings are intertwined with the claims that Plaintiffs assert in this case in such a way that the Court cannot conceive of a scenario where the jury is able to determine those claims without knowing the outcome of the criminal proceeding, which began with Andrea's detention but was concluded without charges. Additionally, the jury needs to know Andrea's fate in order to be able to evaluate her damages. Evidence that no criminal charges were filed against her will be admissible at trial.

         C. The Fact That Deadra's Confession Was Suppressed

         Defendants also seek to prevent the jury from knowing that Deadra's confession was suppressed by the state court judge. Civil rights cases often involve issues regarding the admissibility of events that took place during the underlying criminal proceeding. However, rarely are the determinations made by the state court judge so closely related to the very issues the jury must decide in the civil rights case. Here, the admission of the fact that Deadra's confession was suppressed by the state court judge may very well lead jurors to conclude that because a judge found the confession to be inappropriate for use at the criminal trial, the jury should also conclude that the confession was coerced. But the state court judge's grant of Deadra's suppression motion does not have a preclusive effect in this case. See Paige v. City of Fort Wayne, 2010 WL 3522526, at *5, n.9 (N.D. Ind. 2010) (court noting that it must look to Indiana's law of collateral estoppel to determine whether state court's denial of motion to suppress had a preclusive effect in a § 1983 action, and that Indiana law requires a final judgment for collateral estoppel to apply). While the fact that Deadra's confession was suppressed could be relevant to her damages claim, the Court finds that this probative value is substantially outweighed by the risk of prejudicial effect this evidence could have.

         The Court notes that Defendants do not specifically seek to exclude evidence that the charges against Deadra were dismissed after her confession was suppressed. Much like the absence of charges against Andrea, the Court finds that the fact that Deadra ultimately did not go to trial because the charges against her were dismissed is relevant. Evidence of why the charges were dismissed - because her confession was suppressed - will not be admissible.

         D. The Fact That William's Confession Was Not Suppressed

         Not surprisingly, despite not wanting the jury to know that Deadra's confession was suppressed by the state court judge, Defendants would like the jury to know that William's confession was not suppressed. The Court's analysis of this issue mirrors its analysis above, in connection with Deadra's confession being suppressed. The state court's denial of William's motion to suppress does not have a preclusive effect in this case. Id. (plaintiff's acquittal denied him the “full and fair opportunity to litigate” the ruling on his motion to suppress, which was necessary for collateral estoppel to apply). Additionally, given that the jury in this case will consider the very issue of the legality of William's confession, allowing the jury to know that the state court judge did not suppress the confession would be prejudicial, and this prejudice would substantially outweigh any probative value. Accordingly, evidence that William's confession was not suppressed will not be admissible at trial.

         E. Evidence That the Jury Acquitted William on Certain Charges

         Defendants seek to exclude evidence that the jury acquitted William on the murder and robbery charges at his criminal trial. Much like the fact that Andrea was not ultimately charged, the Court finds that William's acquittal on the murder and robbery charges would provide the jury with context that it will need to resolve the issues in this case. The fact of the acquittal is part of the story of what took place in this case, and not knowing William's ultimate fate would make it impossible for the jury to determine damages should they find liability. Additionally, William could not have pursued his § 1983 claim in this case if he had been convicted in the criminal proceeding. Rodriguez v. Cook Cty., Ill., 664 F.3d 627, 630 (7th Cir. 2011) (“When a person has been convicted and imprisoned, a § 1983 claim that is inconsistent with the validity of that conviction does not accrue until the conviction has been set aside in some other manner…”) (citation omitted). Further, a finding of acquittal does not equate with a finding that William's confession was coerced, so the Court does not find the evidence unduly prejudicial. But the evidence is highly relevant to William's damages. Cf. Coffey v. Callaway, 2015 WL 1970566, at *3 (D. Conn. 2015) (in excessive force case, granting defendants' motion in limine to exclude evidence of the outcome of plaintiff's criminal trial because “the fact of [plaintiff's] guilt or innocence of the charges for which he was arrested is of no consequence in determining whether the officers' use of force in arresting him was objectively unreasonable or unreasonable”).

         Evidence of William's acquittal on the murder and robbery charges will be admissible at trial.

         F. Evidence That the Jury Was Unable to Reach a Verdict on William's Obstruction of Justice Charge

         Having found that William's acquittal on the murder and robbery charges is admissible, the Court also finds that the fact that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on William's obstruction of justice charge is also admissible. There is no sound reason to distinguish between the two types of evidence, and if one type of evidence is admissible then the other one will be as well.

         In sum, the following evidence related to the underlying criminal proceedings will be admissible at trial: (1) the fact that no criminal charges were filed against Andrea; (2) the fact that the jury acquitted William on the murder and robbery charges; (3) the fact that the charges against Deadra were dismissed; and (4) the fact that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on William's obstruction of justice charge. The following evidence will not be admissible at trial: (1) the fact that the state court judge found there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs; (2) the fact that Deadra's confession was suppressed; and (3) the fact that William's confession was not suppressed.

         III.

         The KSP Defendants' Motions in Limine [Filing No. 391]

         The KSP Defendants seek to exclude seven categories of evidence at trial, which the Court will consider in turn.

         A. Detective Jones' Reassignment

         First, the KSP Defendants seek to exclude evidence of Detective Jones' reassignment from his position as a detective to trooper in 2014, after the events relevant to the lawsuit took place. They argue that the reassignment is not related to Detective Jones' ability to conduct criminal investigations or to his job performance, and is instead related to a personal dispute with a supervisor. [Filing No. 391 at 1.]

         Plaintiffs argue in response that evidence of the reassignment is relevant because Detective Jones' “level of experience in conducting homicide investigations” both at the time of the investigation and by the time of trial, is relied upon by Detective Jones to justify his conduct during the investigation. [Filing No. 426 at 17.]

         The Court finds that the fact that Detective Jones was reassigned to a trooper position in 2014 is not relevant to the issues in this case. The KSP Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 1, relating to evidence of Detective Jones' reassignment, is GRANTED. The KSP Defendants are cautioned, however, that to the extent they attempt to bolster Detective Jones' character, experience, or expertise, this evidence may well become relevant.

         B. Detective Jones' “If Not, You're Going to Hang” Statement

         Second, the KSP Defendants seek to exclude Detective Jones' statement to Deadra during her interrogation to tell the truth and “if not, you're going to hang.” They argue that the statement was not “confession-inducing, ” because Deadra had already confessed three times to driving the van on the night in question. [Filing No. 391 at 1-2.]

         Plaintiffs argue in response that the statement is relevant to whether they were improperly coerced into giving false confessions. [Filing No. 426 at 18.]

         The Court finds that Detective Jones' statement “if not, you're going to hang” is directly relevant to the central issue in this case - whether or not Defendants coerced Plaintiffs into giving false confessions. Indeed, the KSP Defendants do not argue that the statement is not relevant. Whether the statement was “confession-inducing” is precisely a question for the jury. And, despite what Deadra may have said before Detective Jones' statement, the statement is still relevant to present the full picture of what took place during the interrogation. The KSP Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 2 is DENIED.

         C. Internal Disciplinary Action Against Detectives Wise and Jones

         Third, the KSP Defendants argue that evidence related to their disciplinary histories should be excluded, including: (1) Detective Jones being disciplined by the Kentucky State Police in 2007-2008 for not properly turning on the videotape recording equipment in his car; (2) Detective Jones being disciplined by the Kentucky State Police in 2014 for mishandling of recovered property; (3) Detective Wise being disciplined by the Kentucky State Police in 2009 for not checking his email promptly; and (4) Detective Wise being disciplined in 2007 for failing to attend a court date. They argue that these incidents of discipline were not related to Detectives Wise and Jones' actions in this case and are not relevant. [Filing No. 391 at 2-3.]

         Plaintiffs argue in response that the KSP Defendants' disciplinary histories are relevant because their “truthfulness, and their conduct and competence as law enforcement officers is squarely at issue in this trial - as are their ability to obtain evidence, appropriately document it, and honestly report it.” [Filing No. 426 at 20.]

         Evidence regarding internal disciplinary action taken against Detectives Wise and Jones is classic “bad acts” evidence, and is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 404. The KSP Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 3 is GRANTED. Once again, however, the KSP Defendants are cautioned that this evidence may become admissible to the extent they present evidence aimed at bolstering the character, experience, and/or expertise of Detectives Wise and Jones.

         D. Suppression of Deadra's Confession in Criminal Case

         For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS the KSP Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 4.

         E. Citizen Complaints Against Defendants

         The KSP Defendants argue that evidence regarding any citizen complaints against any of the Defendants should be excluded. [Filing No. 391 at 3.]

         Plaintiffs respond that they do not intend to present evidence of citizen complaints filed against Defendants, and if that changes - i.e., if they decide to elicit such evidence for impeachment, to refresh Defendants' recollections, or to attack Defendants' credibility - they will raise the issue with the Court outside the presence of the jury. [Filing No. 426 at 22-23.]

         Evidence regarding citizen complaints against Defendants constitutes “bad acts” evidence, and is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 404. The KSP Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 5 is GRANTED, but the KSP Defendants are cautioned that this evidence may become admissible for impeachment purposes.

         F. Evidence Supporting or Bolstering Plaintiffs' Character

         The KSP Defendants seek to exclude “evidence…supporting or bolstering Plaintiffs' character as it would be unfairly prejudicial.” [Filing No. 391 at 3.]

         Plaintiffs argue that the KSP Defendants' motion is too vague, and so they cannot provide a specific response. [Filing No. 426 at 23.] They also argue that they “do not intend to present any gratuitous evidence of their own good character, ” but that some character evidence, including “what Plaintiffs have done with their lives since these criminal cases ended, ” is relevant to their damages. [Filing No. 426 at 23-24.]

         The Court cannot discern what type of evidence the KSP Defendants are referring to in their one-sentence motion, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.