MICHAEL KNIGHT, through Cheryl Denise Kerr, as Personal Representative and Next-of-Kin, LATASHA CURE, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, a Florida County and Political Subdivision of the State of Florida, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT, a Government Subdivision of Miami-Dade County, ROBERT PARKER, former Director, Miami-Dade Police Department, Individually and as an Officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department, JAMES LOFTUS, Interim Director, Miami-Dade Police Department, Individually and as an Officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department, OFFICER RYAN ROBINSON, Individually and as an Officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:09-cv-23462-EGT
MARCUS, JILL PRYOR, and SILER, [*] Circuit Judges.
MARCUS, Circuit Judge:
tragic case began in the late hours of November 12, 2007,
when Miami-Dade Police Officers Ryan Robinson and Michael
Mendez discharged their firearms at a Cadillac SUV driven by
nonparty Frisco Blackwood and carrying plaintiffs Michael
Knight and Latasha Cure as passengers. The shots ultimately
killed Blackwood and Knight and wounded Cure. Two years
later, Knight's estate and Cure individually filed an
eleven-count complaint against the officers, the two
detectives who questioned Cure on the night of the shooting,
Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the
directors of the Miami-Dade Police Department, seeking
damages for various civil rights violations and claims
arising under state law.
court dismissed two of the eleven counts and granted summary
judgment to the defendants on five others. Only Knight's
and Cure's civil rights claims and assault and battery
claims against the officers survived and proceeded to trial.
The jury ultimately returned a verdict for the defendants on
all remaining counts. After the plaintiffs' motion for a
new trial was denied and final judgment was entered for the
police officers, the plaintiffs timely appealed. They alleged
error in six different trial rulings that they claim warrant
a new trial. They also challenged the court's grants of
summary judgment to the County, the supervising officers, and
the detectives who questioned Cure after the shooting.
careful review, we hold that the trial court did not abuse
its considerable discretion in any of the challenged trial
rulings. Further, we conclude that the court did not err in
granting summary judgment to the County, the supervising
officers, or the detectives. Accordingly, we affirm.
undisputed facts in this sad case are these: On the evening
of November 12, 2007, Officers Ryan Robinson and Michael
Mendez of the Miami-Dade Police Department discharged their
firearms, killing Frisco Blackwood and Michael
Knight and wounding Latasha Cure. At
around 10:00 p.m., Blackwood, Knight, Cure, and two of their
friends left a Miami nightclub in a silver Cadillac SUV.
Blackwood was driving, Knight sat in the front passenger
seat, and Cure and her two friends sat in the second row of
seats. Cure was seated directly behind the driver. The two
friends were dropped off and Blackwood, Knight, and Cure
continued driving. The passengers were all unarmed.
Cadillac was traveling north on North Miami Avenue when a
police car that had been idling at the intersection of North
Miami Avenue and Northwest 62nd Street did a U-turn and began
to follow it. The police car was occupied by Officers
Robinson and Mendez, who were on duty as part of the Robbery
Intervention Unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department. The
officers contend that the Cadillac ran a red light, while the
plaintiffs say they were stopped at a red light when they
noticed the police car begin to follow them. According to
Cure's sworn statement taken shortly after these events,
the plaintiffs drove north on North Miami Avenue, made a
right turn on Northwest 67th Street, sped up, drove a few
more blocks, and then made a right turn on Northeast 2nd
Avenue, with the officers in pursuit. The Cadillac sped up
and drove a few more blocks before turning right again, now
heading westbound on Northwest 65th Street. The officers also
sped up and continued following the Cadillac.
officers attempted to effect a traffic stop by using their
P.A. system to order the Cadillac to pull over. The Cadillac
continued driving and, after crossing North Miami Avenue
going west, it entered a dead end and stopped. The officers
parked their car behind the Cadillac, turned on their
spotlight, exited the car with guns drawn, and ordered the
plaintiffs to exit the Cadillac.
much, the parties agree. But when it comes to the details and
the events that followed the cars' arrival at the dead
end, the facts become more muddled. This is because the only
surviving passenger of the Cadillac -- Cure --presented
drastically different accounts in her sworn statement taken
the morning after the shooting (November 12, 2007), and then
later in her deposition, which was conducted some three years
and two months later (February 1, 2011).
Terry Goldston and Richard Raphael of the Miami-Dade Police
Department took Cure's sworn statement after the
shooting. According to that statement, when the passengers
noticed the police car following them, Knight said, "Oh,
shit. Squally's [police] behind us." After driving a
few more blocks, Blackwood asked Knight, "Should I bring
it?" Knight responded, "Bring it, " which Cure
said she interpreted as meaning "[d]on't stop for
the police officer." Cure said that when the Cadillac
stopped at the dead end, Blackwood's hands were on the
steering wheel and the car was in reverse. The officers
approached the car on both the driver's side and the
passenger's side. Blackwood then rotated the steering
wheel clockwise and accelerated backward, causing the car to
swing toward the officer standing by the driver's side
window. The officer quickly moved to avoid being struck by
the car, and then both officers began firing into the moving
vehicle. As the car reversed, Blackwood slumped over to the
side and the shots continued; the Cadillac then collided with
the police car, two stop signs, and a parked car before it
ultimately stopped against a fence.
to Cure's deposition testimony, however, when the
plaintiffs noticed the police car following them, Knight said
"something about squallies [police] behind us."
Cure testified that the police car had its headlights off. At
this point, they were traveling approximately fifty miles per
hour in a thirty-five mile-per-hour zone. Blackwood asked
Knight what he should do, and Knight responded, "just
hit it. Get out of here." Cure said that when the
Cadillac stopped in the dead end, Blackwood's right hand
was down on his right side and his left hand was obscured
from her view. The officers turned on their headlights and
spotlights and got out of the car with their guns drawn; one
approached the driver's side and the other approached the
passenger's side. Cure then heard a low noise like a
"clink" followed by a single shot aimed directly at
the driver from the officer standing next to the driver's
window; at this point, the car was not moving. After that
shot, Blackwood's body slumped forward and to the right;
the car then began to accelerate in reverse. The path of the
reversing car forced the officer who had fired on the driver
to quickly move to avoid being struck by the car. While the
car reversed, the officers continued to fire until the car
came to rest against a fence.
officers' shots ultimately killed Blackwood and Knight.
Cure was shot once in her right thigh. After the shooting,
Cure was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital where she
underwent surgery to remove the bullet and suture the wound.
After the surgery, Detective Goldston approached Cure and
said he would drive her home once she was discharged. Rather
than go with him, Cure checked herself out of the hospital
and left with a friend at about 1:30 a.m. to go back to the
scene, where many of her friends had gathered. While she was
there, Detective Goldston called Cure's cell phone and
told her that he needed to take her statement at the police
station. Cure then left the scene with a friend to return to
Cure got home, Detective Goldston was waiting for her. Cure
agreed to accompany him to the police station; they left for
the station before she had a chance to go inside and change
out of the hospital scrubs she was wearing. They arrived at
the police station at about 3:00 a.m. and Cure was placed in
a conference room. She remained there for about an hour
before Detectives Goldston and Raphael returned to begin
their questioning. The Detectives questioned her
intermittently for about forty-five minutes and then left her
alone for another hour. Cure testified that, while the
officers were gone, she "kept dozing off and going back
and forth to the bathroom." She also testified that
while they were asking her questions, they were writing notes
to each other on a napkin and passing the napkin back and
forth. At 8:20 a.m., the detectives brought in a court
reporter and took an official sworn statement that lasted
until 9:13 a.m. Cure testified that, by this point, her pain
medication was wearing off and her wound was bleeding through
her hospital scrubs. After she gave her statement, Detective
Goldston drove her home.
years later, on November 12, 2009, Knight's estate and
Cure individually filed an eleven-count complaint in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of
Florida against Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade Police
Department, Former Police Department Director Robert Parker,
Interim Police Department Director James Loftus, Officer
Robinson, Officer Mendez, Detective Goldston, and Detective
Raphael. The counts included § 1983 claims by Knight and
Cure against Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade Police
Department, Officer Robinson, and Officer Mendez for
violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendments due to excessive use of force (Counts 1, 2, 9, and
10); wrongful-death claims by Knight against the County, the
Police Department, Officer Robinson, and Officer Mendez
(Counts 3 and 4); assault and battery claims by Knight and
Cure against the County, the Police Department, Officer
Robinson, and Officer Mendez (Counts 5, 6, 7, and 8); and a
§ 1983 claim by Cure against Detectives Goldston and
Raphael for violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and
Fourteenth Amendments due to coercive interrogation (Count
the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on
qualified immunity, immunity under Florida law, and failure
to state a claim. The court dismissed the Miami-Dade Police
Department from the action entirely, and it also dismissed
the state-law claims against the County. The court denied the
motion to dismiss the remaining nine counts. The case was
then referred to a magistrate judge, with the consent of all
parties, for further proceedings including trial.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 73(a).
discovery, all of the defendants moved for summary judgment
on the remaining counts. Officers Robinson and Mendez and
Detectives Goldston and Raphael argued that they were
entitled to qualified immunity, while the County claimed that
it was immune from suit on the state-law claims and that the
plaintiffs had failed to show the existence of an official
policy or an unofficial custom or practice necessary to
subject the County to liability. Directors Parker and Loftus
moved for summary judgment as well, urging that they, too,
were entitled to qualified immunity and that they had never
been named in any counts of the complaint.
court ultimately granted summary judgment to the County,
Directors Parker and Loftus, and Detectives Goldston and
Raphael on all counts levelled against them, as well as on
the wrongful-death claims pending against Officers Robinson
and Mendez. However, the court denied summary judgment on the
assault and battery and § 1983 claims against Officers
Robinson and Mendez, concluding that the officers were not
entitled to qualified immunity. Officers Robinson and Mendez
appealed the denial of summary judgment. On December 19,
2013, a panel of this Court affirmed the denial of summary
judgment in an unpublished decision. See Knight v.
Miami-Dade Cty., 548 F.App'x 607, 608 (11th Cir.
2013). We concluded that the court did not err in finding
that genuine issues of material fact remained regarding the
officers' conduct. Id.
the case returned to the trial court, the court made several
rulings on evidentiary issues including, as relevant to this
appeal, the admissibility of various expert witnesses'
testimony and the admissibility of criminal-history evidence.
Trial started on June 9, 2014. Among other rulings, the trial
court limited the plaintiffs' cross-examination of the
defendants' police-practices expert to one hour. Evidence
of the Police Department's pursuit policy, proffered by
the plaintiffs, was excluded. And the trial court declined to
give a jury instruction that had been requested by the
plaintiffs -- that "the Defendants are not justified in
using deadly force if their own objectively unreasonable
actions created the very risk that generated the eventual use
of deadly force."
the plaintiffs rested their case, the defendants moved for
judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a).
The trial court deferred ruling on the motion, and, after the
defendants rested, they renewed the motion. At the conclusion
of the trial but before the case was submitted to the jury,
the plaintiffs in turn moved pursuant to Rule 50(b) for
judgment in their favor on all affirmative defenses; again,
the trial court reserved ruling until after the jury's
19, 2014, jury instructions were given and the jury began its
deliberations. After seven hours of deliberation spanning two
days, the jury informed the court that it was ready to
consider itself a hung jury. The judge ordered them to
continue deliberating and, eventually, the parties consented
to receiving a verdict by a supermajority (at least six to
two). The jury ultimately rendered its verdict by a vote of
seven to one for the defendants on all counts. As for Knight,
the verdict questions read this way:
1. Do you find from the greater weight of the evidence in
Plaintiff Michael Knight's favor on the federal claim of
excessive use of force against Defendant Ryan Robinson?
. . .
2. Do you find from the greater weight of the evidence in
Plaintiff Michael Knight's favor on the federal claim of
excessive use of force against Defendant Michael Mendez?
. . .
3. Do you find from the greater weight of the evidence in
Plaintiff Michael Knight's favor on the state law claims
of assault and/or battery against Defendant Ryan Robinson?
. . .
4. Do you find from the greater weight of the evidence in
Plaintiff Michael Knight's favor on the state law claims
of assault and/or battery against Defendant Michael Mendez?
jury answered each question in the negative; again, the split
was seven to one. The same verdicts were rendered for Cure.
the verdict, the plaintiffs moved for a new trial. They
alleged that the trial court committed error in excluding
evidence of any violations of the Police Department's
pursuit policy, admitting testimony from the defendants'
police-practices expert, failing to give the jury a proffered
instruction, and admitting some criminal-history evidence.
The trial court entered an omnibus order finding no error on
any of the points raised and resolving certain other disputed
issues about costs. Accordingly, an amended final judgment
was entered on the same day reflecting the apportionment of
costs between the parties. The plaintiffs timely appealed.
undoubtedly a heartbreaking case. But on appeal, the
plaintiffs do not argue that the jury's verdict was
rendered against the substantial weight of the evidence.
Rather, Knight and Cure say that six discrete errors entitle
them to a new trial: the inclusion of the defendants'
police-practices expert; the exclusion of the plaintiffs'
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, finally, the failure to address the prejudicial nature
of the defendants' opening and closing statements.
timely motion for new trial is addressed to the sound
judicial discretion of the trial court"; therefore,
"[a] decision denying a new trial motion is reviewable
only for an abuse of that discretion." Hercaire
Int'l, Inc. v. Argentina, 821 F.2d 559, 562 (11th
Cir. 1987). In evaluating whether specific trial errors
warrant a new trial, we apply the harmless-error standard of
Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. In accordance with Rule 61, we will conclude
"that a new trial is warranted only where the error has
caused substantial prejudice to the affected party (or,
stated somewhat differently, affected the party's
'substantial rights' or resulted in 'substantial
injustice')." Peat, Inc. v. Vanguard Research,
Inc., 378 F.3d 1154, 1162 (11th Cir. 2004). We take each
alleged trial error in turn.
and Cure first say that they are entitled to a new trial
because the trial court erred in admitting testimony from W.
Kenneth Katsaris, the defendants' police-practices
expert. Katsaris was called as a rebuttal expert to the
plaintiffs' police-practices expert, Robert Pusins.
Pusins had testified that the officers' behavior was
objectively unreasonable under the circumstances of this
case. In rebuttal, Katsaris testified that the officers
"acted objectively reasonabl[y] and in accordance with
what is recognized as training throughout the country."
Before trial, both sides moved to exclude the others'
police-practices witness for various reasons; the trial court
denied these motions to the extent that they sought to
exclude the witnesses entirely, but it did place limits on
the scope of the testimony. Specifically, the court ruled
that the police-practices experts could not be questioned on
"the constitutionality of the Miami-Dade Police
Department's policies" or on "any ballistics,
bullet projectile, or accident reconstruction issues, "
and that they could not "testify, reference, or analyze
any caselaw before the jury." After the verdict, the
plaintiffs argued that the inclusion of the defendants'
expert entitled them to a new trial.
review for abuse of discretion the district court's
decisions regarding the admissibility of expert testimony and
the reliability of an expert opinion." United States
v. Frazier, 387 F.3d 1244, 1258 (11th Cir. 2004) (en
banc); see also Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael,
526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999) ("[A] court of appeals is to
apply an abuse-of-discretion standard when it reviews a trial
court's decision to admit or exclude expert
testimony.") (quotations and alterations omitted). Under
this standard, "we must affirm unless we find that the
district court has made a clear error of judgment, or has
applied the wrong legal standard." Frazier, 387
F.3d at 1259.
starting point in our analysis is found in Rule 702 of the
Federal Rules of Evidence, which controls the admission ...