Police Procedures Expert May Not Opine on Correctional Facility Standards of Care


Police ExpertCourt: United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Green v. Harris Cty.,
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108180

Facts

The plaintiffs sued Harris County and numerous security and medical staff of the Harris County jail after their son died of acute bacterial meningitis while incarcerated. Acute bacterial meningitis is caused by Streptococcus sanguinis, a common bacteria found in the mouth but an extremely uncommon cause of meningitis. It was unknown how the deceased developed this rare, non-contagious form of meningitis, how it traveled to his brain, and how long he had the infection before he died.

The defendant filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiffs’ police expert witness, whose opinion was proffered on behalf of the plaintiffs in response to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The Police Expert Witness

The plaintiffs’ expert witness had 21 years of experience in jail and police procedures in Federal and State Courts. He was a self-employed police procedures consultant for 10+ years during which time he consulted on approximately 1,250 cases.

Discussion

In response to the defendants’ plea for summary judgment, the plaintiffs cited the expert’s opinion only for the one following assertion “this policy [of not disciplining officers like the defendant] violates the constitutional rights afforded to all inmates because, where an inmate is seriously ill and a detention officer or other staff does not obtain medical care, the inmate suffered severe, and in this case, fatal, consequences.”

The court noted that the expert was not qualified to opine on medical issues or the standard of duty of care applicable to guards in a correctional facility. The court cited the expert’s acknowledgment that he was not a medical expert and would not offer medical-related opinions He had also conceded that a guard’s response to a non-serious illness was “not in his calculus”. The court thus noted that the expert’s opinions were not relevant, lacked reliable methodology, and constituted legal opinions. Thus, they could not be considered proper expert testimony.

The court also noted that testimony regarding how long it would take for a request placed in the medical box to reach the clinic was not relevant to the claim. Thus, it was excluded from consideration in summary judgment. This was because the plaintiffs cited the expert only to show that if the victim had placed any request in the medical box, it would have been picked up only after 24 hours. There was nothing to show that the defendant officer knew or saw the victim place his request in the medical box or that he had access to the medical box. This rendered the opinion irrelevant in determining whether the victim had faced a substantial risk of harm.

The court also refused to decide on the expert’s other opinions that the defendants had moved against because the plaintiffs cited his opinion only once in the aforementioned context in their response to the summary judgment motion. Thus, any discussion on other opinions would have been moot.

Held

The defendants’ motion to exclude the police expert witness’ testimony was granted in part and denied in part.

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