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No liability verdict upheld in Police shooting

In Knight v. Miami Dade two Miami Dade Police officers discharged their firearms at the SUV Cadillac driven by the plaintiffs killing both plaintiffs.  The estate filed a complain against the officers and the Miami Dade police department for various civil rights violations and claim arising under Florida state law and this is an appeal form lower court rulings against the Plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were driving in the Cadillac after leaving a Miami night club. A police care began to follow them when they allegedly ran a red light. The plaintiffs denied running any red lights. The officers attempted to make a traffic stop using their PA system, but the care kept driving. When the Cadillac came to a stop at a dead end. The plaintiff’s witness who was a passenger said in a deposition that the car was not moving, decedent’s hand was on his side, and shots were fired into the car. However, in a statement made just after the incident the witness said that Plaintiff started backing up toward the officers and they began firing into the moving vehicle. As the care reversed it collided into the police car.

The case ultimately went to trial on the 1983 civil rights claim and the assault and battery claims against the officers

In the appeal the plaintiffs argue that there were six errors that entitle them to a new trial. The issues raised include the admission of evidence from the defendant’s police practice expert, the exclusion of the plaintiff’s ballistics and reconstruction experts, the exclusion of evidence showing violations of the Police Department’s pursuit policy, the refusal to give a specific jury instruction, the admission of some criminal history evidence, and the failure to address the prejudicial nature of the defendant’s opening and closing statements.

The court of appeals did not find error with the expert’s testimony, as police practices expert who was called as a rebuttal witness to the plaintiff’s expert on the proper police practices. The court found the defendant’s expert properly relied on statements that came from the plaintiffs witness about the incident to support his opinion.

The plaintiff’s ballistic and reconstruction expert was disclosed after the deadline set by the court’s scheduling order and trial court’s discretion in excluding the witness was upheld. The trial court’s decision to exclude the pursuit policy was upheld because the admission could lead the jury to find liability based on a violation of the pursuit policy and not on a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The court upheld the lower court’s decision not to give the plaintiff’s proposed jury instruction that the defendants cannot claim deadly force is justified if their own unreasonable actions created the risk that generated the eventual use of deadly force. Here again the lower court found the instruction would confuse the jury regarding whether the civil rights violation or a violation of regulations could give rise to liability.

The court upheld the admission of the plaintiffs’ criminal history under Rule 404(b) because it established a motive for the plaintiff to flee in the vehicle.