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Lamont Shepard v. Bass

December 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence J. O'Neill United States District Judge


I. Background

This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's complaint, filed April 30, 2010, against Defendant Bass for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and is currently set for jury trial before the undersigned on December 18, 2012. On November 12, 2012, Defendants filed motions in limine. (ECF Nos. 98, 99.) Plaintiff filed opposition to the motions on November 29, 2012. (ECF Nos. 111, 112.)

II. Allegations Proceeding in this Action

On March 21, 2010, Defendant Bass and Officer Miranda escorted Plaintiff to a rule violation hearing. During the rule violation hearing, Plaintiff and the senior hearing officer had a verbal confrontation. After the hearing, Defendant Bass and Officer Miranda escorted Plaintiff back to his cell. Plaintiff alleges that as he was placed back in his cell, Defendant Bass removed the handcuff from Plaintiff's right wrist and relocked it by slamming down on the handcuffs causing injury to Plaintiffs' right wrist. Defendant Bass pulled on Plaintiff's waist chain and stated, "Don't ever talk to my lieutenant like that you fucking n. word." Officer Miranda then pepper sprayed Plaintiff in the mid section as Defendant Bass pulled Plaintiff to the cell door food port.

III. Motions In Limine

A. Legal Standard

"A motion in limine is a procedural mechanism to limit in advance testimony or evidence in a particular area." United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2009). A party may use a motion in limine to exclude inadmissible or prejudicial evidence before it is actually introduced at trial. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2 (1984). "[A] motion in limine is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child and Family Services, 115 F.3d 436,440 (7th Cir. 1997). A motion in limine allows the parties to resolve evidentiary disputes before trial and avoids potentially prejudicial evidence being presented in front of the jury, thereby relieving the trial judge from the formidable task of neutralizing the taint of prejudicial evidence. Brodit v. Cambra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003).

B. Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1

Defendant moves to exclude any testimony, questions, or arguments regarding the "Code of Silence" or "Green Wall." (Motion in Limine No. 1 1, ECF No. 98.) Defendant argues that the terms are not applicable here. Defendant further argues that Plaintiff has not introduced any proof that such conditions exist and the introduction of the testimony would be irrelevant, overly prejudicial and an undue consumption of time. (Id. at 2.) Defendant moves to have Plaintiff precluded from making inflammatory arguments, asking inflammatory questions, or presenting any testimony or evidence regarding the "code of silence" or "the green wall." (Id. at 3.)

Plaintiff opposes the motion arguing that arguments, evidence, and testimony regarding the "Code of Silence" and "Green Wall Corcoran Sharks" is relevant and not prejudicial. (Opp. 3, ECF No. 111.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant Bass is a member of the "Corcoran Green Wall Sharks," which is a racist group that attacks black inmates, and knew he was protected from being disciplined. Plaintiff states that Corcoran State Prison is racist against black inmates, as shown by their 100 percent conviction rate. When an officer says an inmate has attacked him it is believed without question. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff states that he has evidence to support his claim from Defendant Bass' personnel file, and if he is allowed to pull every lawsuit filed from 2008 to 2012 he would be able to prove that Corcoran is a racist institution. Plaintiff claims the testimony is not inflammatory because Defendant can present testimony to rebut the claim. Plaintiff requests an order allowing all testimony on the "code of silence" and "Green Wall Corcoran Sharks." (Id. at 4.)

"Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has a tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed. R. Evid. 401. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. Fed. R. Evid. 402. Relevant evidence may be excluded "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 403.

The issue to be decided by the jury in this action is whether Defendant Bass used excessive force in rehousing Plaintiff in his cell. The Court finds that testimony or arguments regarding the "Code of Silence" or "Green Wall" would have little if any relevance in determining whether Defendant Bass used force maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm or in a good faith effort to restore order. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6-7, 112 S. Ct. 995, 998 (1992); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320, 106 S. Ct. 1078, 1085 (312).

Plaintiff has not produced any evidence that the "Green Wall Sharks" exist as a gang or that Defendant is a member of any such group. The assertion that Corcoran officers are racist because all black inmates are found guilty is without foundation and speculative. While Plaintiff states that he seeks to prove that the "Green Wall Corcoran Sharks" ...

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